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Mercedes addresses age-old C-class concern

Date: 30 April 2007   |   Author: Tristan Young

Mercedes' sales boss Simon Oldfield talks to BusinessCar's Tristan Young about the launch of the new C-class - probably the most important launch the firm will do this year.

The Mercedes C-class may be one of the most desirable upper-medium cars around, yet it has never succeeded in the company car market the way the BMW 3-series or Audi A4 has.

That's partly because, historically, the C-class has carried a more retail image, with the average age of its drivers higher than that of the 3-series or A4.

It's something Mercedes sales director Simon Oldfield is looking to change with the all-new C-class, positioning it as an alternative to the BMW and Audi in the business car market, but without losing its current audience.

"We've been more retail-focused in the past," admits Oldfield, "perhaps not as appealing to the younger, 30-35 age-group - the aspiring middle managers."

Key to unlocking this area of the market is the development of a distinct Sport model that is more than just a trim level difference in the model range. Picking the 'Sport' model means Merc's three-pointed star moves from bonnet to the grille and grows in size, while the car also gains a more aggressive bodykit.

"You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see what we've done," says Oldfield. "With the Sport model we hope to capture younger middle managers - conquest sales. The Elegance level is more for our traditional customer.

"Model mix can be what it is from a production point of view, but we think it will be about 30% Sport, 30% SE and the rest Elegance."

With the new car Oldfield predicts the sales split to fleet will rise to an "overall corporate sales take-up of about 50%". And while Mercedes doesn't do sales predictions Oldfield pointed out that the "previous best year was 21,000 C-class saloons". This means more than 10,000 have to come from fleet.

“You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see what we've done. With the Sport model we hope to capture younger middle managers - conquest sales. The Elegance level is more for our traditional customer.”

Simon Oldfield

To reach this target Mercedes has put in place a host of measures.

"The car has already been seen by the key fleets and we're doing a teaser campaign to fleet managers too. The corporate launch will be at M-B World (we'll take it over for a family weekend in June). You'll be able to drive the car and other cars on the track and we expect a lot of uptake from younger drivers. Anyone taller than 1.5m can drive the dual-control A-class.

"We'll have a large corporate demo fleet too," adds Oldfield, who wants to make sure the right people have "driven it and seen it".

Mercedes will use its dealer network to do much of the legwork in selling the car to businesses.

"We've got a team of 10 corporate development managers working hard with the retailers to professionalise their business sales.

"They're making sure the right people, the right databases, the right direct mail and the right activities are all in place. That's the advantage of the market area approach [Mercedes' dealer structure] - it means there's investment in corporate sales."

* Read about Mercedes hybrid plans