By : RACHNA TYAGI
Martin Schwenk, Managing Director and CEO, Mercedes-Benz India, tells TURN OF SPEED (TOS) about “the new normal,” how their product launches for this year remain unaffected, as well as how the response to their Digital initiative has been overwhelming. Read on...
TOS: Tell us about the preparatory steps that you, at Mercedes-Benz, have taken in order to ensure that your employees who return to work are safe in your office and at the plant?
MS: We started our production facility form 6th May and [have been] gradually ramping up operations. We started in a graded manner, which means we have partial operations with restricted manpower, right now around 40-50% of our employees have resumed work. We have implemented all safety measures - temperature check during entry and exit, sanitisation every couple of hours and strict use of masks. We are also strictly adhering to social distancing protocols in the cafeteria, bus transportation and our work station. Our sales and customers services teams are fully operational including our warehouse operations.
TOS: What is happening with the dealers? How are the dealers ensuring that potential buyers who will visit their showroom, (Post Lockdown), especially the ones who wish to physically test drive your new vehicles continue to remain virus-free?
MS: We have started opening up dealerships zone wise, Orange and Green zones had the first set of dealership openings, followed by the Red Zone. We are following the guidelines stated by the state and the central government. Currently around 70% of our showrooms and service facilities have opened again, and we expect the numbers to increase step by step. Our safety measures will be a reflection of the best practices incorporated across all our dealers. Ensuring complete sanitisation of showrooms, proper fumigation of the cars, especially of the door handles, seats, etc., PPE kits by drivers, specific covering on our steering wheels and the seats and many such method are incorporated as a part of the protocol to ensure utmost safety.
TOS: Everyone is talking about the "New Normal" now. What according to you is going to be the "New Normal" at Mercedes-Benz in the coming months?
MS: The ‘new normal’ will be an integrated and seamless approach between online and offline presence and processes. Two main trends will dominate, a) Work from Home integrated with Work from Office and b) Online sales and traditional sales integration which is the new way of managing, that isolation has stretched us to adopt. Work from Home, no travel and shift our meetings to Skype, Webex, etc., that was hard to imagine three months ago, is the new normal. At the same time stepping up the physical work at the factory and office. We have seen new trends of customer behaviour emerging and that is towards online consumption, and with our digitization journey that we initiated in 2019, we already are meeting this evolving preferences in a very unique and comprehensive manner with our online platform www.shop.mercedes-benz.co.in. Our initiative #MercfromHome will continue to be an enabler. The response so far has been overwhelming - we have generated over 4000 leads and sold 100+ cars in less than 30 days.
TOS: Mercedes-Benz stated earlier, that there are a lot of big plans for the Indian market this year. Now, with the Coronavirus affecting most businesses, how are you planning to take things forward? (Will there be a slowdown, a "let's wait and watch policy" or will you go full throttle as planned?)
MS: In view of the current spread of COVID-19, the economic effects can neither be adequately determined nor reliably quantified at this time. However, luxury car industry is not immune from the current challenges. This lockdown however has also opened new avenues for brands and consumers alike, providing a unique experience of online shopping. With 'Merc from Home' initiative, we continue to provide ease, convenience and support to our customers at all times. Ramping up operations efficiently, launching our key products with minimum delay and a fast acceleration with our online sales channels are few areas of focus to sustain our business. Our overall outlook for the mid to long term remains positive and we hope for an uptick in market sentiment during festive season.
TOS: Your V-Class Marco Polo Luxury edition really created a lot of excitement because of the numerous possibilities it offers. What has the reaction to it been, in the very little time it has been out there before Coronavirus became News?
MS: We witnessed a very high level of visibility and customer interest for the V-Class Marco Polo Camper during and after its launch at Auto Expo 2020. However, the lockdown meant we have to hold on to the sales and we are now eagerly awaiting for things to stabilize first and then seek customers' interest level once again.
TOS: Your EQC was scheduled for April this year, when are you planning that for now, and also, what aspect about it excites you the most? What will be its USP, besides the obvious?
MS: Our electric offensive is our top priority. We have witnessed a potential for the EV market in India and that is the reason we launched the EQ brand in Jan-2020. As next step, we will launch the first-ever EV in India from Mercedes-Benz this year - the EQC. The launch of our product fits perfectly with our Ambition 2039, which aims at a carbon neutral sustainable future – every facet of EQ brand perfectly fits the approach of Sustainable Luxury. The fact that ‘Electric now has Mercedes’ is very exciting to me
TOS: Considering "Personal Mobility" is really going to be a big thing, post-Coronavirus, will Mercedes-Benz also do a re-think in terms of their line-up for this year and re-consider launching models that will cater to potential buyers who are seeking smaller luxury cars?
MS: Product Offensive has been one of the major reasons for our success over the years and the product launch plan for the year is intact. We will be launching 10+ fascinating products this year for our discerning customers. We are set to launch the two new Mercedes-AMG models tomorrow, the Mercedes-AMG GT R and C 63, we will also soon launch the A-Class Limousine and some powerful SUVs. Our first-ever electric vehicle EQC is also scheduled for launch this year.
TOS: Everybody is aspiring to go "Digital" in terms of car sales, you have also introduced it. What is happening on that front at Mercedes-Benz, especially in these dreadful times? Have more potential customers evinced interest? Are Indians warming upto the idea to buy an expensive luxury car via the "Digital" route?
MS: We started our online journey last year and the response from our customers has been overwhelming. We believe that buying a Mercedes should be as easy as buying food online for our customers. We expect that 25 percent of our worldwide passenger car sales will be made through online channels by the year 2025. With Merc from Home, customers can now explore, choose and customize a product, consult a MB product expert, pay online and get a Mercedes-Benz home delivered: this entire process is now available online!
TOS: Most car manufacturers in India have gone all out and helped India and the Indian Govt. during this pandemic. Mercedes-Benz, from the time of its arrival, has never shied away from being at the forefront when it comes to helping out during a crisis. Could you tell us about how Mercedes-Benz has eased people's lives during the COVID-19 crisis please?
MS: Mercedes-Benz India has set up a temporary hospital with 1,500-bed isolation wards for Coronavirus patients at Mhalunge-Ingale village, Chakan, in association with local authorities. It includes other necessary infrastructure and medical equipment, required to create a temporary OPD and also stretchers, wheel chairs, PPE kits and santisers. We have donated ventilators to Grant Medical Foundation, Pun. We have also collabroated with NGO to support 1600 families of daily wage workers. in Chakan. In addition to this, there is also voluntary contribution of one day basic salary by employees, equally matched by MBIL to CM Relief Fund.
TOS: How long do you think before things return to normal? Your thoughts...
MS: In view of the current spread of COVID-19, the economic effects can neither be adequately determined nor reliably quantified at this time. We think a strong brand like ours can withstand challenges - this has been a temporary setback - however, I am glad to share that our supplies are intact, our plans in place, there are no furloughs or reduction in worksforce or any labour issues that we have faced. Our overall outlook for the mid to long term remains positive and we hope for an uptick in market sentiment during festive season.