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MERCEDES-BENZ: Open for business

Date: 13 March 2012

New Mercedes-Benz fleet boss Nick Andrews says the German brand is over its 'arrogance' with regard to the fleet market, and its doors are now open as it builds up to a pivotal 18 months in the business car sector, as Paul Barker discovers

Having cut his teeth in Audi's corporate department during the firm's rapid growth and then followed that up by reshaping Seat's fleet operation, Nick Andrews is well-placed to understand the task ahead of him.

As Mercedes' first true head of fleet, his job is to set up a fleet structure that can deliver growth to put the company at least on a par with rivals BMW and Audi, two brands that have in recent times massively outperformed Mercedes in the corporate sector.

"Four months in and I feel very much a part of this organisation. It feels as though I have always been here," Andrews tells BusinessCar. "These are very exciting times for us as a brand and organisation, and I'm so happy to have been given this opportunity. There wasn't an overall leader of the fleet department."

He readily admits there are perceptions that need changing about Mercedes-Benz and its attitude to the business car arena. "To a degree we have been fairly arrogant as an organisation and brand, and in part expected customers to come to us," he confesses. "Now we want your business. We'll be very engaging, you'll find us easy to do business with and we'll deliver the best customer experience and solutions around these areas. I don't think we've done that before to that level."

Mercedes has a stated aim to become the world's number one premium brand by 2020, and Andrews says it "recognises that fleet and business sales is an area of the market that is a growth opportunity for us".

A lot of that will be down to the new A-class (see 'Top of the A-class?', right), but there are a series of other measures including a complete restructuring of the corporate team that will help build fleet and leasing volume.

"Make no bones about it, the company's range from a fleet perspective will be a one-stop shop for the fleet and business market," says Andrews. "We've got a simple three-pillar strategy of increasing sales and market share, ensuring we deliver the best fleet customer experience, and ensuring we have sustained profitability for the dealer network."

Part of the corporate department's restructuring has brought together the three leasing and four key account managers that deal with 300-plus fleets, both working under new national fleet sales manager Sally Dennis, who follows Andrews across from Seat. "Previously those had been separate, but we have recognised that 90-95% of 300-plus goes through leasing companies," he says.

"We will bring a lot more visibility and transparency. We will have a sales culture within the organisation, more so than in the past. Our doors are very much open for business compared to what they have been before," declares Andrews. "We are ultimately trying to get sales growth, ensure it's profitable and ensure the customer service is delivered at all times. We have a mission to be number one and we have a very clear idea how to do that."

Buying Solutions

Andrews says a better organisation and structure will help with sectors such as selling into the Government through its Buying Solutions programme, where he feels some premium brands sell up to 50-times the volume Mercedes achieves. "We sell a very, very low amount into that," he says.

Chauffeur fleets are another target: "We have the best products for the market but we don't have a national transparent programme. I want us to be famous for our service to the chauffeur industry going forward. I want the first company they think of to be Mercedes-Benz."

Communication is another key issue. "We have the best demo service in the industry but no one knows about it," claims Andrews. "We are investing a significant amount of money to support the fleet industry and there's no point if we don't tell anyone. It's a huge investment we're putting into the sales process and we're not telling anyone about it."

Mercedes' fleet boss also promises that information flow will improve. "The development of a direct sales programme is imminent, which will support the leasing industry and is ultimately there to make us a lot easier to do business with," he states. "If you ask a leasing company at the moment how easy Mercedes-Benz is to deal with, they would say pretty complex." The issue is consistency of offer, with a previously retail-focused Mercedes changing its offers on a quarterly basis. "Direct sales puts consistent offers out there and we know Mercedes-Benz will feature consistently on choice lists, so we are then appealing to the widest choice of company car drivers possible. We need to get into the system so when the driver is looking for a replacement vehicle, months before they can see our vehicles." Andrews is targeting vehicles being on quoting systems six months before launch, which he says was achieved with the new B-class that recently went on sale. "It's a sign the business is changing."

Communication with the industry to change perception is also a target. "I'm delighted with where we are from a whole-life cost perspective, but I'm not delighted with people not being aware of it," he says. "We need to challenge people's perceptions regarding the affordability of Mercedes-Benz. We're trying to challenge the perception that we're expensive because we're not."

One example of a new focus on business drivers is the new E-class Executive SE, introduced "purely with fleet customers in mind" according to Andrews. "There's a small premium over the SE but with leather, satnav and alloys. It's a great proposition for the company car market and you will see more of that.

"In 2012 we're looking for modest growth of around 7% across the total business, and part of that growth is to continue the expansion in 2011 from the fleet and business perspective," Andrews concludes. "We're just scratching the surface in the industry."