Tim Reuss, president of Mercedes-Benz Canada, said that if 2014 was the year of the shovel and hardhat given the slew of groundbreaking ceremonies for dealership projects around the country, 2015 would be the year of the scissor to cut the ribbons at all the grand openings.
After a flurry of activity on the dealer network in recent years that has seen the network balloon to 12 corporate retail operations and 43 authorized stores, the German luxury brand has seen its hard work pay off in growing sales, increased market share and the ever popular luxury volume crown.
But despite closing 2014 up 9.6 per cent with 40,555 in combined sales (Mercedes-Benz, Sprinter and smart) marking its best year ever in Canada, Reuss said his team and the network are not resting on their laurels this year.
Canadian AutoWorld caught up with Reuss recently to discuss what is on the radar for 2015 and beyond.
Canadian AutoWorld: Let’s talk dealership activity. What’s up for 2015?
Tim Reuss: We have a lot of operations coming online in 2015. The Thornhill point will be operational and we’ll move in sometime in May or June. Around the same time we will have our new point in Brampton finishing construction.
We’ll also have Rive-Sud in Montreal opening and another store opening in Montreal East that is a new point.
We have another facility in Edmonton under construction and we should also start construction shortly on the third point in Calgary.
As it stands now, are there any open points for Mercedes-Benz in Canada?
Two or three but I’m not ready to talk about them now. We don’t want to rush into these things. If we find the right partner and the right fit, then yes, if not, we’ll wait. These are important but not urgent.
What about service capacity? You have previously said that was lacking.
Beyond new facilities and new builds, we have another eight to 10 expansion projects going on in the dealer network to expand service capacity right now.
Even a small point like Saint John is expanding its service department by four work bays. That may not seem like a lot, but for an operator of that size, it’s a huge deal.
Mercedes-Benz Franke in Ste-Agathe is adding six bays.
Are those projects OEM mandated?
Those conversations were easy. I didn’t have to mandate anything. The dealers came to us talking about growth and fixed ops and looking to expand and incorporate new things like the new CI and updating from blue to black.
Sales were up again in 2014 to a combined total of 40,555 units. Mercedes-Benz passenger cars and light trucks sales hit 33,928 giving you the top spot in the luxury segment. What’s the target number for 2015?
More. The goal is growth.
More conquest sales?
With new products into new segments it has to be conquest sales. Though I don’t necessarily think the conquests will come from other German manufacturers, with one exception [referencing new AMG GT pulling customers from Porsche], but that’s not a volume product.
Your U.S. counterpart Steve Cannon said in January that a top priority of the U.S. operation is to improve the customer experience. Is that high your list as well?
Absolutely. It’s my number one priority to improve customer experience this year.
We’re approaching it from all different aspects be it a systems point of view, process point of view, IT and more. It’s about not just the minds but also the hearts of staff.
We will probably be using the brand immersion centre in Tuscaloosa. I was down there to start the week with our Canadian dealer advisory board. We went through the two-day training program so they could get a sense of what it is going to be. And that’s one component of a much broader approach to improve our customer experience.
Now it starts with having the additional service capacity operational, which we didn’t have before.
If you’re still having to wait 10 or 12 days for a service appointment in certain cities and certain circumstances, that is not what we consider a great customer experience.
First component is happening and we can click the other pieces in place and that will happen this year.
We are also about to open up a training centre in Laval for Eastern region sales and service. Before that, eastern operations would have to send staff to Toronto for training.
Were you not happy with customer service metrics – J.D. Power, wait time, etc.?
No. I was not happy at all and nor were our dealers.
How bad do wait times get?
I wouldn’t call it wait times but rather missed opportunities. I know wait times on the S-Class Coupe or the AMG GT will be long, but we’re not alone in this game around the world. Quite frankly, when I look at the allocation from headquarters, even though we didn’t get everything we wanted last year, we were treated more than fairly so I can’t really complain.
Having said that, I know we missed opportunities.
Has production and allocation been an issue for Canadian operations?
Yes. I could have sold more than the 33,928 last year. How many more, I can’t tell you. We could have sold more, especially SUVs and CLAs.
Will the pipeline be a little fuller this year?
Yes. We already have volume front loaded now. And again, it’s not just about the total number but when you get it as well.