For the first time in more than five decades, iconic luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz lost its position as India's largest premium car seller when arch rival Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) overtook it last year. BMW sold 3,619 units against 3,247 for Mercedes-Benz in 2009. Both the German giants are locked in a battle, trying their best to lure the high-end Indian buyer. In an interview with Swaraj Baggonkar, Mercedes-Benz India MD and CEO Wilfried Aulbur talks about Mercedes' plans for 2010, which has become the most crucial year for the company. Edited excerpts:
Last year was not as great as the company would have wished for. BMW raced past Mercedes in sales...
Quiet frankly, we got what we had expected. In fact, we exceeded our own expectations. The fact of the matter is that we had limited availability (of kits) of the E-Class and we made some changes to the network. I believe we have fared well. But 2010 is going to be much better for us — we expect significant double-digit growth.
So, will you regain the number one position?
I am not worried about number one (position), I am worried about sales numbers and profit. Profit with growth is what is necessary, because without profit we cannot reinvest in the market. As you know, we have so far invested on the scale of Volkswagen in terms of our presence in India.
Where do you see your sales by year-end?
Our growth will certainly be much higher than last year, simply because of increased sales numbers from the E-Class, where we have already sold more than 400 units in two variants in two months. We added two more engine variants to the car. This, along with numerous other launches, is expected to shore up volumes.
Is there a special strategy to counter the BMW threat?
Our investment in customer relationship is very significant. There is a whole range of customer activities planned throughout the year, wherein we will engage our customers beyond normal advertising and new vehicle launches.
How do you see 2010 shaping up?
We believe it will be a very busy year for us with lots of launches lined up, but it will be tough to comment on them at the moment. We sold 210 completely-built units last year, with the M-Class growing at 70 per cent. We have an opportunity to grow the M-Class this year, as well as the GL-Class. We have confirmed bookings for the SLS, too.
The demand for sports cars is increasing. Sales of Porsche and BMW have risen, while Nissan has launched its sports car too. What's your take?
The demand for our sports car range has been inline with the overall growth of the market. Going forward, with increasing disposable incomes and with luxury car purchases becoming more and more common, we will see people investing in, say, a CLS or an SLK, because people always want that little bit more to say, ‘this is me’.