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Interview with Mercedes sales manager Schmidt: 'Numbers are not the most important thing to us'

Interview with Mercedes sales manager Schmidt
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Audi wants more than 200,000 units in China this year sell, BMW 120,000. And you?
Schmidt: More than 100,000. How much more, I won't tell. We do not allow ourselves to be carried away by announcements from the competition. We have been the fastest growing premium brand in China for years. We are already number 1 in China when it comes to Luxury Perception. We don't have to fix that to numbers.

Because of course you have a lot of catching up to do ...
S chmidt: ... and therefore, as I said, the highest growth rates.

Let's get to production: Audi wants to produce its compact Q5 crossover in China, BMW wants to produce the X1. When will you follow with the Mercedes GLK?
We are reviewing this step. But there has not yet been a decision.

This would make a lot of sense, since you are already building the C-Class, on which the GLK is based, in China.
Schmidt: That is correct. But we go one step at a time. We have been building the C-Class in China for two years now, and production of the extended E-Class especially for the Chinese market will start shortly. This year we are also going two tracks and are offering the locally produced long E-Class and the E-Class imported from Germany in China. Beyond that there is no decision.

Are you going to develop China into an export base?
Schmidt: No, the market is so big that we can also have to operate from here. In addition, manufacturing in China is generally not as cheap as you might think. Because you always have to develop a local supplier industry here and use at least 40 percent of the components from local production, otherwise high import duties will arise. We import many parts, such as basic engines, from Germany. This means that Mercedes produced in Beijing are initially not significantly cheaper to manufacture than those that roll off the production line in Sindelfingen. A third aspect: Exporting from China to neighboring countries does not always make sense, because we do not yet have a cross-border free trade zone.

You have big growth targets not only in China, but also globally. In 2015 around 1.5 million Mercedes-Benz vehicles are to be sold. How many Smart and Maybach are on top?
Schmidt: A few hundred Maybach and well over 100,000 Smart. We don't want to be any more precise today.

So you have no plans for the brandTo give up Maybach?
Schmidt: That was pure speculation. We are clearly sticking to Maybach in order to address a particularly exclusive group of customers. It is of course no secret that we did not reach the numbers we had announced many years ago in a completely different world economy. This segment in particular has come under particular pressure.

Rolls Royce is doing a better job. Maybe you should upgrade the product substance and expand the portfolio.
Schmidt: We have given the Maybach a high-quality overhaul, as you can see from the facelift that we presented at Auto China 2010 in Beijing. In addition to the changes to the exterior, we now offer our customers large screens, internet and a reclining seat on the passenger side, even in the short Maybach version, and much more. We have invested in Maybach and we are continuing to look after it. This is an excellent car, which our customers confirm again and again. They are very satisfied!

BMW wants to sell two million vehicles in 2020. Can you keep up with that?
Schmidt: You know our growth targets up to 2015. In addition, I do not consider such long-term forecasts plausible and expedient. In general, the number of pieces is not the most important thing for us, but the strength of our products, our brand and the result.

But in 2009 you came in last among the three German premium brands.
Schmidt: The first quarter of 2010 Hopefully you have seen it too. We are very satisfied with that. And you can be sure: it wasn't a flash in the pan. Thanks to the success of our E- and S-Class models, our product mix is ​​the strongest of all premium manufacturers. Our S-Class was the market leader in its segment last year, despite new models from competitors. We are also better off than our competitors when it comes to sales. We take our competitors seriously, of course, but our primary concern is to do a good job and maintain our brand.

When will the announced new brand campaign come?
Schmidt: In the first half of the year.

And will it include the claim 'The best or nothing'?
Schmidt: Let yourself be surprised.

Of the 1.5 million Mercedes sales announced in 2015, how large will the proportion of electric and plug-in hybrid models be?
Schmidt: With the S-Class we entered the hybrid segment very successfully last year. In future, without exception, we will design all new models so that they are hybrid-capable. The market will decide whether they will actually find their way into all model series. We also already have a vehicle on the electrical side.

At the moment the Smart Electric Drive.
Schmidt: This year we will even hand over more than the planned 1,000 units to customers.

How much more?
Schmidt: It will be around 1,200 to 1,300 because the demand is so great. A total of around 200 come to Germany, the majority to the USA and other important markets abroad. We already have a very high level of technology when it comes to electric drives. However, market penetration is more a question of costs. The Smart Electric Drive rental rate is currently 700 euros.

For that I almost get an S-Class .
Schmidt: Therefore the crucial question will be: Are customers willing to pay a surcharge for an alternative Drives to pay? Manufacturers can certainly subsidize a few cars. But we are also of the opinion that the state should create incentives so that significantly more can be achieved. By the way, we will start series production of the Smart Electric Drive in 2012.

What sales potential do you see from 2012?
Schmidt: A sales in the low five-digit range would be a great success! But that is only a vague forecast. Because it depends very much on how much the customer is willing to pay for an electric car. And how much government funding is. In France there are 5,000 euros per electric car. It will be relatively easy there.

Of course, the question also arises of how many zero-emission vehicles you will simply need in the future to be able to sell vehicles in markets like California.
Schmidt: This aspect is becoming increasingly important.

What potential do you see in the smart Carsharing ? 1,000 cars each for 30 metropolises?
Schmidt: I don't want to be that optimistic at the beginning. We take a step by step look at major cities in Europe and the USA and believe in the long-term international success of this concept.

Will you also include Mercedes vehicles in car sharing offers?
Schmidt: No. This concept remains limited to Smart. The Smart Fortwo is simply ideal for city traffic.

How else do you counter the important trend of downsizing?
Schmidt: The small and compact car segment offers great growth potential. That is why we will be expanding the product range in the compact car segment from two to four models from the end of 2011 with the successor generation of today's A- and B-Class, and want to achieve disproportionate growth. And we will win new and younger customers with it. The small andAccording to our forecasts, the compact car segment will grow by around a third worldwide by 2015.

2011 will be an uphill battle in the compact class: with the new edition of the BMW 1 Series and Audi A3. How do you want to stand out from the competition?
Schmidt: We will be the A- and B-class successors, the MFA family as we call them, from two to four models Remove. We will then offer four different models, which we do not see as brother and sister, but as a very independent offering with a different design and its own positioning. We will start the rollout of the first two models until 2012. We want to double our volume in this segment across all variants. As you know, we are expanding our production capacities with our new plant in Hungary, which will start operations in 2012.

What potential does the Daimler-Renault pact offer for your compact segment?
Schmidt: We are expanding our engine portfolio as part of this strategic cooperation additional, highly efficient entry-level engines for our new compact vehicles. These entry-level engines with smaller cubic capacity create the opportunity to address new customer groups and thus generate additional sales for the new generation of compact cars. In the commercial vehicle sector we will also offer a small van.

And what about an entry-level model from Infiniti on the A- and B-class platform?
Schmidt: This is at a very early stage of the discussion. But you can also see in the interest of other premium manufacturers how attractive our future cars in the compact segment will be. Overall, we are in an excellent position there.

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