Premium rivals may have stolen a march on tax-cutting low CO2 models and fared better in recent fleet opinion surveys, but Mercedes-Benz’s growth in the corporate sector continues unabated.
Car sales year-to-date are up an impressive 17% in a market up by just 11%, boosted by a near doubling in E-class registrations.
Meanwhile, a new fleet strategy is being rolled out via retailers and leasing companies to help maintain this momentum into 2011.
Mercedes-Benz forecasts an 11% rise next year in a market it believes will increase by less than 2%.
However, national corporate sales manager Colin Niklas recognises that further improvements can – and will – be made.
He accepts the charge that Mercedes-Benz has not been transparent in its pricing policy and that there is a general lack of understanding about its products and how it operates as a business.
This, he asserts, is about to change.
“We aim to be the market leader in every segment that we operate in fleet,” he tells Fleet News in the AMG-themed meeting room at the company’s head office in Milton Keynes.
“We need to raise our profile in fleet. Our volumes are expected to grow; product activity will generate neutral demand but we will also change our processes and structure to increase sales.”
The company’s retail network will play a much more active role in finding and securing sales from local businesses, while specialist dealer agents employing dedicated fleet staff will be appointed in the areas of greatest opportunity.
“We have to create a fleet community within our retail network to increase sales volume at a local level,” Niklas says.
“We also have to increase service traffic and loyalty within our customer base.”
The relationship, he adds, needs to be more than simply a transactional one.
Under consideration are service contract support terms and nationally or regionally standardised labour rates.
Smart, Mercedes-Benz’s micro car operation, also gets a corporate makeover, with retailer targets for the first time next year.
Sales have been sporadic, with notable success in public sector and NHS fleets. Mercedes-Benz is looking for more, though.
“We have an opportunity to drive sales, for example in London,” says Niklas. “We will look to do this through our retailers.”
In keeping with its fleet aspirations, Mercedes-Benz has bolstered its contract hire team headcount in a bid to deepen relationships with leasing companies and their end-users.
And it is upfront about the need to strengthen its relationships with larger, 600-plus car accounts with better communication and more visits.
“We need to develop an alliance rather than a transaction price discussion, tying contracts in for a long period of time,” Niklas says.
“By having a relationship with the customer we can nurture that relationship to development incremental volume as a result.”
This is particularly pressing for companies operating cars, vans and heavy trucks. A growing number are seeking a total transport solution, comprising each type of vehicle. Mercedes is uniquely placed to supply vehicles in all categories and is discussing internally how to best offer a group deal to customers.