Dr. Till Conrad is Head of Region Overseas, Mercedes-Benz Cars at Daimler AG. He was in India for the launch of the new C-class in New Delhi on November 25, 2014. During his trip here, he took time to be a part of the latest Mercedes Dialogues session with Mr. Eberhard Kern, the MD & CEO of Mercedes-Benz India.
The concept behind Mercedes Dialogues is simple. ‘Everything you wanted to know about the stars. Straight from the stars themselves. You ask. They answer.’
This is the fourth edition of the Mercedes Dialogues that has in the past hosted stars like F1 champion Nico Rosberg, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Mercedes-Benz Cars, Ola Kallenius, renowned tennis champion Boris Becker and Mario Spitzner, Director of Branding, Marketing and Sales, Mercedes-AMG.
Dr. Conrad took questions from automobile enthusiasts and Mercedes owners from all across the country. Here are some of his answers to the fans’questions.
You can watch the full interview here
Q. How important will the Indian market be, according to you, in the next 10 years?
A. India is a very, very important market for Mercedes and especially for Daimler. As you’re well aware, we entered the Indian market 20 years ago and this was a long-term commitment. Actually, we’re very positive where the Indian market is concerned. It’s key among emerging markets for us and our short-term and mid-term target for India is to double our sales by 2020. And we see a lot of potential because if you look at the share of the premium markets compared to the overall market, it’s small. It’s about 1.5 percent. There is tremendous potential for growth.
Q. Which is the largest-selling Mercedes-Benz car in India to date?
A. Till today, it’s the E-class. It is performing very well. And worldwide, it's the C-class.
Q. How do you see the luxury SUV market in India shaping up?
A. It’s very promising, the SUV market. Not only in India, but also worldwide. And if we take a closer look at India, we’ve realised that the growth is currently 100 percent. If we look at our M- and GLA-class sales, we are performing very well. And I see this trend continuing in the future.
Q. What is the greatest challenge for Mercedes-Benz in the Indian market?
A. The challenge is, of course, to enlarge our portfolio here because if you compare the portfolio that is offered in India and compare it with other markets, there’s plenty of potential. And as I mentioned before, we want to grow here. I think it’s the challenge to balance CKD sales with CBU sales in the upcoming years.
Q. What is the new S-class Maybach?
A. The S-class Maybach which was launched in the US and Los Angeles auto show recently is a combination of the best product worldwide, which is the technology-rich S-class with the ultimate exclusivity of the Maybach brand. It is the revival of the Maybach brand and product which we had launched a couple of years ago.
Q. We often see Mercedes cars that are imported from Germany. Can we expect a role reversal in the near future and more locally produced cars?
A. I think this pertains to the question of exports. To have exports, we need to have a certain kind of volume that is reasonable from an economic perspective. Currently, I don’t see this in India. But, as I have mentioned already, we might see more locally produced cars because our mid-term perspective is to have may be 90 percent of our cars manufactured here.
Q. How many Mercedes-Benz cars are sold per month worldwide?
A. I think everybody is aware that Mercedes is very well on track, every month we scale new heights. The year 2014 will be a record one for us. To give you an idea, we sold more than 1,40,000 cars in October, which were the best numbers in the month ever.
Q. What is your favourite Mercedes-Benz car?
A. That’s an easy one. That’s a 300 SL Gullwing, out of the '50s and a legendary car.
Q. What is the impact of the recently launched AMG GT?
A. We’re really overwhelmed by the positive reaction we’ve gotten so far with this car. It's really exceeding our most challenging expectations. So the feedback we got, from not only the press but from the customers as well, is very positive. We’re absolutely convinced that the car will be a great success.
Q. What would you say is the best part about working for Mercedes-Benz?
A. First of all, it’s the people. Because in the end, people always make the difference and it’s really an amazing experience to work in a worldwide organisation with such diversity.
Q. What is Mercedes-Benz's sales growth across the world?
A. I mentioned already, we are on a record year and are running currently on a two-digit growth rate. We’re trying to achieve a sales number which is beyond 1.6 million cars and I’m very confident we'll achieve this.
Q. Which country has proved to be the most successful in terms of sales for Mercedes-Benz?
A. That’s a difficult one because it depends, first of all, on the criteria you set. At the end, you have to look at both current growth and previous years. But there's also market share and absolute market share. There are some countries, for example Germany and South Africa, where we have a very high market share. Then there are others where we are growing tremendously on the low prices. Of course, we are very happy to achieve a growth rate of 16 percent here in India, but there are other countries that are performing very well at the moment as well. Our biggest markets would be the US and China.
Q. What can we expect next after the success in Formula One this year?
A. We can expect a continuation of the success story, but it's a pretty challenging environment. It’s very combative in Formula One and, in the end, it’s not one driver who is generating success. It’s a combination of drivers, it's a combination of the engineers, and engineering of not just the engine but also aerodynamics. So we will continue our efforts to stay on top, but the competition is not sleeping either. It'll be a challenging situation for next year.
Q.Will we see hybrid technology transferred into cars as well?
A. Of course, that’s very important. Yes, Formula One engines and normal engines are different, but there’s certain components like hybrid technology which is one-to-one in our cars. We just launched, for example, the S-class hybrid globally and there you can really see, feel and drive this F1 hybrid technology.
Q. Is the C-class the new E-class for Mercedes-Benz fans?
A. It depends on how you look at it. We’ve improved the new C-class a lot in terms of quality and design. And we’ve also made the design a lot more appealing. But, of course, you can expect a lot on the new E-class as well, because we won’t stop our efforts in putting more emphasis in terms of equipment and light weight technology; there are lots of ideas for the new E-class. So C-class is still C-class and on the E-class, you can expect a lot more.
Q. Can we expect the A-, B- or GLA-class to be manufactured in India?
A. I’m happy to announce that the sixth locally produced model is the CLA-class. Please understand that we are analysing further opportunities, together with the Indian organisation. But we won’t announce any decisions to the public before we have made up our mind internally. We are aiming to increase production to 20,000 units and that process is underway. I think that target is going to be realised in the first quarter of 2015. Once we have that capacity, we’ll be able to achieve future goals and you may see more models getting manufactured over there.
Q. How is it visiting India?
A. It's almost fascinating and I very much appreciate visiting India. I have been here 15 to 20 times, and my first visit was in 2003. This is my third visit this year and it’s always a great experience.
Q. How have the GLA sales been in European markets?
A. It's been doing very much like the AMG GT – both cars are performing very well. First of all, it’s a segment with very high growth rates, not only in Europe but also worldwide. And we’re very happy to have a product to tackle that segment. The GLA is performing very well and we seem to have hit the correct customer demand point.
Q. What role does Daimler play in the Mercedes-Benz Corporation? What is Daimler and what is Mercedes-Benz?
A. Daimler is the mother company of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars; so Mercedes-Benz is a sub unit of Daimler. I think in India, we have four organisations – Mercedes-Benz India, the commercial vehicles division, the R&D centre and financial services. They are located in Chennai, Bangalore and Pune.
Q. After China, do you consider India as the fastest-growing market in Asia?
A. We’re very happy with the growth rate of 16 percent in India. So India is performing very well. But I have to admit that there are other markets performing very well, like South Korea and even Japan. What I can say is, we have a strong brand and a strong product portfolio worldwide and therefore, our sales figures seem more or less alike almost everywhere.
Q. Do the AMG models run on a special grade of petrol?
A. Well, I'm not an engineer or an expert, but for the AMG engines, we recommend 98 Octane, super unleaded petrol. There’s a possibility that it’s not available, in which case you can run it at 95 or at a 91 RON, but we don’t recommend it for a longer period of time. I drive an AMG, so I’m facing some of these challenges.
Q. What is the importance of hybrid models in the AMG universe?
A. So far, we don’t intend to launch any AMG hybrid models because if we talk about AMG, we are talking about really high-performing cars. Of course, the consumption is important but maybe not the first criterion for customers who decide on such kind of a car.
Q. What can we expect in 2015 from Mercedes-Benz in India?
A. You can expect a lot. We will continue our fireworks with future launches because we want to continue our success stories of 2013 and 2014. So we won’t lay back and relax.
Q. Why is Mercedes-Benz the best in luxury?
A. We have the best product portfolio and the strongest brand worldwide, and this, at the end, is what makes luxury.
Q. The year 2014 saw a lot of launches from Mercedes-Benz. What’s the secret behind the successful year?
A. A team of very strong designers and engineers are working together to launch these great products, starting with the compact cars in 2013 which continued in 2014, and we’ll be continuing to do the same in 2015. There was the new S-class and now there's the new C-class. In the future, we will emphasise a lot on our SUVs though.
Q. What is the difference between AMG, Kompressor and Brabus?
A. The three things are completely different. First of all, AMG is the performance brand within the Mercedes-Benz universe. Kompressor deals with engine and technology while Brabus is an independent tuning company that Daimler has no stake in. We have no official co-operation between Brabus and Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, but there is an agreement for the Smart (two-seater).
Q. Can you tell us about the new upcoming technology that Mercedes is working on, like automated driving?
A. Yes, automated driving is a technology we are focusing on and if you see what we've offered in the new S-class, you get a certain idea of what to expect. But we need to conduct tests for a while before it is absolutely feasible. It’s just a question of time when you see the first car that truly drives autonomously. There are some legal issues and, of course, if you develop these kind of features then it has to fit through the West’s requests and European requests. We have to pay a lot of attention to legal challenges. But, you know, Daimler is investing a lot in technology because being a leader in technology is also a major part of our DNA.
Q. Is Mercedes planning to enter the two-wheeler market industry anytime soon?
A. I don't think we have any plans from the Daimler-Mercedes perspective, but as you are well aware, we just bought a stake in Augusta. So, in the future, we’ll also have a two-wheeler brand in our portfolio. If you look closer, especially at the Augusta customers, we find that they’re pretty close to our brand, especially when high-performance cars are concerned. There's a lot of similarity between AMG and Augusta customers.
Q. What car do you personally drive?
A. I’m absolutely crazy about cars, especially when high-performance is concerned. I’m driving a CLS AMG S model. It’s a great car especially on German motorways. I have petrol in my blood. I’m happy to see the success of the AMG brand here in India, which is performing very well. So there is a market for these cars more or less worldwide, not only in Germany, but also in India.
Q. How does Mercedes contribute to a greener world?
A. We are investing a lot where emissions are concerned. We are launching a lot of hybrid models. We were the pioneers where electric driving is concerned. We pioneered the segment with smart electric drive. We’re focusing a lot on this issue of a greener world. It’s not only about hybrid cars, it’s also about our footprint in production. We put in a lot of effort; spend a lot of money to reduce emissions. We have very environment-friendly ways of painting. So, we do a lot. We installed a solar power plant and a water recycling plant in Pune and are planting new trees as well.
Q. How is the CLA-class different from the C-class?
A. It is always a question of personal evaluation, but from my perspective and also for a lot of our customers, they are completely different cars. First of all, the C-class is a trusted car which is redefining the segment. But it’s more or less a traditional sedan concept. And if you want to go for a younger, more dynamic car, you may opt for the CLA and I think, Eberhard, you would agree that we are happy to have these two cars in our portfolio because our customers can decide whether to go for the CLA or C-class.