So will Bridge be making any big changes in the marketing strategy set out by his predecessor Peter Lambert?
He told us: ‘I don’t think I’ll be making any fundamental changes. If you look at our previous year-on-year results you’ll see we’ve been incredibly successful, but there’s always room for improvement.
‘We’re looking at the business and streamlining all aspects. We’ve realised there are opportunities out there, and working with our dealer network we’re putting in place procedures and working on strategies.
‘Training dealer staff and giving them the tools to drive the business forward is a key to our operation and future growth.
‘Working with the UK’s suppliers and guiding the customer through the body builder process is something I’m interested in and will look at.
‘We aim to partner the customer and drawing on experience guide them through the process, constantly making sure that when the vehicle is delivered it’s fit for work and meets all expectations. After all it’s a Mercedes-Benz – we offer quality, safety and reliability and we expect body builders to offer the customer the same.’
Mercedes-Benz sales have actually fallen this year, so – we asked – was the three-pointed star losing its shine?
Bridge said: ‘If you split the market into segments we’re on target with 2005. Vito stands at 6,325 units for 2006, Sprinter at 11,329 and Vario at 409 units. If you drill into the models both Vito and Vario are doing well. Sprinter is now coming on and sales are gaining momentum.
‘As the new Sprinter body variations come through, we’re able to offer a greater range and attract additional interest from both fleet and retail customers. In a year when you have a model run-out and a new model introduction, maintaining market share and sales equal to the previous year is difficult. This is something that we’ve managed to do and sales for new Sprinter are starting to ramp up.
‘Vito is doing well and with the introduction of new engines, featuring Piezo injectors and additions to the option list, it is appealing to a wider audience.’
So how is the new Sprinter being received by Britain’s fleet buyers?
Bridge said: ‘Lets start with the outgoing model. Managing a successful run-out campaign has an important impact on the new vehicle and how it performs in the first few months. This is something we planned and I can report now we achieved aims. Of course it helped that the outgoing model was still at the top of most fleet and retail customers’ shopping lists. The dealer network staff at all levels had all been trained on the new vehicle and were showing great enthusiasm.
‘Launching the new model range was a real success. From the off customers, both new and old, showered us with rave reviews. This in itself gave us greater levels of confidence and cemented our views that we have a splendid product to move forward with. We were astounded by the number of leads we took – in fact we took half our expected during the first day of the CV Show.
‘As with any new model introduction, the variation and option lists keeps growing and new opportunities and doors open. With the new Sprinter we’ve been able to appeal to the 3.5-tonne plus markets with both panel vans and increased chassis-cab configurations.
‘We are now able to offer a 5.0-tonne 17 cubic metre panel van for example. The outgoing model rewrote the rule books for safety, economy and driver comfort, but the new model brings even more. Higher levels of safety, security, comfort and lower wholelife running costs ensure that once again the Sprinter sets the mark.
‘From first viewings, fleet operators have raved about the new vehicle and we’ve had some major successes. Looking forward, the order bank looks good and positively healthy. Now that we’re seeing some other variants coming through sales are back as expected.
‘The customers continue to view the product as the best available and reports from both the dealer network and show stand staff again prove positive. But as good as the Sprinter is we never take our eye of the competition.’
Name: Steve Bridge
Title: Van sales & marketing director
Brief career history: seven years at Mercedes-Benz, four years at GE Capital, 10 years at Lex Vehicle Leasing, two years at dealership
Favourite book: Michael Cain’s Auto Biography
Favourite fil,: Goodfellas
What three records would you take to a desert island?: No Tomorrow, Orson; Don’t stop me now, Queen; Let me entertain you, Robbie Williams