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Mercedes sales boss Kaellenius sees great years ahead

Kaellenius is particularly confident about sales of the new C class, which launch in Europe and the U.S. this year.
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Mercedes-Benz must grow faster than rivals BMW and Audi to meet its goal of becoming the world's No. 1 premium automaker by 2020. Mercedes is counting on Ola Kaellenius, the 44-year-old former CEO of its high-performance AMG subbrand, to lead it back to the top after slipping to No. 2 behind BMW in 2005 and to third behind Audi in 2011.

Kaellenius, who started as sales and marketing boss at Mercedes and sister brand Smart last October, expects the automaker to set new global sales records in 2014 and 2015. He is bullish because his portfolio includes all-new models such as the CLA and GLA as well as new generations of strong sellers such as the S class and C class. The Swedish national is particularly confident about the new C class, which goes on sale in Europe this spring and in its largest market, the United States, late this year.

Kaellenius shared his views on Mercedes' future in separate interviews with Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Douglas A. Bolduc and Matthias Krust, a reporter at ANE sister publication Automobilwoche.

Do you agree with forecasts that Europe's sales will grow again this year?

The market as a whole saw green shoots in the second half of 2013 so maybe we have crossed the bottom part of that valley. We are cautiously optimistic but it would be fair to say that we expect moderate growth.

The C class and GLA launch in Germany next month. Are you confident that Mercedes' European sales will grow this year?

If we talk about overall share, we started gaining vis-à-vis the whole market in 2013. I think there's a pretty good chance that we will gain share again in 2014. We've got momentum.

What are your goals for 2014?

We want to continue to increase the appeal of the Mercedes-Benz brand, execute our growth initiative with new products and put the customer more strongly in focus.

What does that mean?

The Mercedes-Benz brand sold more than 1.4 million vehicles in 2013, setting a record. This year, we want to do more than 1.5 million and more than 1.6 million in 2016. We are bringing out our fourth compact model, the GLA SUV, this year, and the S-class coupe is heading to the starting line in the premium class. But the C class will play the most important role; 2014 is clearly the year of the C class.

The C class is Mercedes' highest-volume model line, right?

That's right. The C class is an extremely important model for us as far as volume and profitability are concerned. But we still see greater opportunities because the global segment is growing – above all in the U.S. and China. This model line won't merely appeal to our loyal customers, but to customers from other brands who are looking for an attractive product in this segment as well. Here I see considerable conquest potential.

You will add U.S. production of the C class this year. Will this result in many more sales?

A production footprint that adds another plant into the mix will hopefully lead to a greater success. So, yes, it's clearly our goal that this new C class surpasses its predecessor.

Meet the sales boss
NAME: Ola Kaellenius
TITLE: Executive VP Sales and Marketing, Mercedes-Benz Cars
AGE: 44
MAIN CHALLENGE: Lifting Mercedes back to No. 1 in premium car sales after falling to No. 3 behind BMW and Audi

What makes the new C class special?

As an overall package, the C class will represent an extremely competitive offering because it has many characteristics that are familiar from our premium models. This ranges from the high-value look-and-feel of the interior, to a set of driver assistance systems, all the way to the sensationally low fuel consumption, to name just a few aspects. It doesn't matter where you look, you will see that the C class is taking a huge step in terms of development compared to its predecessor.

With so much technology won't your margins suffer?

That shouldn't happen in car manufacturing, and naturally not with the C class either. For the first time, the C class is sitting on our new rear-wheel-drive architecture and is the first model line benefiting fully from the modular platform.

You want to put the focus on the customer. What does that mean?

We have systematically aligned our sales organization with the passenger car, truck, and van business areas in the individual markets. Other functions, such as centralized replacement parts storage, will stay the way they are.

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You can reach Douglas A. Bolduc at dbolduc@crain.com.

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