ROME - Wolfgang Schrempp made a strong impression in his first public act as head of DaimlerChrysler Italia.
The brother of Jurgen Schrempp, DaimlerChrysler's CEO, launched a program that protects the rights of customers who order a car from a dealer that goes out of business before the vehicle is delivered.
The program, called Customer First, is the first of its kind in Italy. Now other carmakers may be forced to do the same. Even
the Italian government praised Schrempp, 50, who took over the job in April.
'Initiatives like this have to be encouraged,' said Italian transport minister Pier Luigi Bersani. 'They cover a hole in the existing legislation - a hole we are currently working to eliminate.'
Schrempp's plan guarantees that buyers get the car they ordered, on time, at the agreed transaction price and used car trade-in price - even if the dealer collapses.
That tactic surprised auto companies in Italy, one of the few western European countries where carmakers can escape legal responsibility in such cases.
Problems with car dealers - including bankruptcies and fraud - are reported to affect around 1 percent of total sales in Italy, or more than 20,000 cases a year.
The problems associated with ordering a car in Italy have hurt the image of the car industry, and resulted in large numbers of customers losing deposit money or even the entire cost of their car.
In cases of dealer bankruptcy or wrongdoing, Mercedes-Benz will now take responsibility. Italian law does not require automakers to do so.
'We are not in the position to offer legislative solutions or to judge Italy's complex laws,' Schrempp said. 'We simply want to underline our effort as a carmaker to making a positive change to the customer role in Italy.'
Sandro Bufacchi, chairman of the Mercedes-Benz Italian Dealer Association and a Mercedes-Benz and Smart dealer in Rome, called the move 'revolutionary in terms of customer protection.'
Other manufacturers were surprised by Schrempp's announcement, made here on July 17.
'I consider it an extraordinary marketing operation,' said Vincenzo Malago, chairman of the Italian Car Dealer Association and a BMW dealer in Rome. 'As a rival dealer representing BMW, it is an initiative which created high interest and the credit goes to Wolfgang Schrempp.'