One fine November morning, 40 discerning guests from Mumbai and Pune settled into a range of chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz cars to be whisked to the company’s plant in Chakan, near Pune. They alighted outside a modernist building housed in the north-western corner of the facility to be greeted by a board that read,
‘Centre of Excellence’.
The Centre of Excellence is a customer-focused initiative started by Mercedes-Benz that allows its customers to experience the brand, in its entirety. Mercedes-Benz is more than just a maker of cars. It is an experience that largely revolves around its cars but also transcends them. This is what the Centre of Excellence aims to underline.
The guests started their day with hand-crafted beverages at Café Mercedes, before settling down for a presentation by Michael Jopp, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Mercedes-Benz India. Jopp shed light on Mercedes’ past in India, its current operations and its plans for the future. It was especially interesting to hear about what the reputed carmaker has in store for India in the coming years, ranging from exciting new technologies to futuristic powertrains.
After Michael Jopp’s presentation, the guests spent some time admiring the Mercedes-Benz vehicles put on display at the Centre of Excellence. The Mercedes-Maybach S-class attracted many a guest: it’s hard to not be awed by its superlative luxury. The Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 4MATIC Coupe also garnered much attention on account of its gorgeous profile and sporty cabin. Guests also tinkered with the iConfigurator – a unique program that allowed them to virtually explore the near-endless customisation options available on Mercedes-Benz cars.
Next on the schedule was a truly unique experience – an exclusive chance to step into the space where Mercedes cars are born. A part of the Centre of Excellence experience is a visit to the Mercedes-Benz India assembly lines at the Chakan plant. Armed with state-of-the-art headsets, the guests were taken on a guided tour of the Mercedes-Benz India assembly line, where they watched – with great awe – the complete manufacturing process of a Mercedes-Benz car. The process starts with the body shell, immaculately painted and lifted onto the production line. From there on, all the components, systems and parts that form a Mercedes are fitted on – by hand – on a high-tech, state-of-the-art assembly line. The majority of components of Mercedes-Benz cars in India are imported to maintain quality levels on par with those prevalent internationally, and are then hand-fitted into vehicles by highly-trained staff.
It was a heartening experience for guests to watch the transformation of a body shell into a fully-functional, road-ready car. Current owners of Mercedes cars felt a greater connect to the brand after watching how their prized possessions come into existence, while potential customers of the brand got a rare glimpse into the high quality of craftsmanship that goes into the making of these cars. In the words of Amal Tanna, a car collector and connoisseur from Mumbai, “I am currently a Mercedes owner and seeing the facility probably justifies me owning a Mercedes-Benz. It makes me proud to own it and even justifies any future Mercedes-Benz purchases that I will make.”
The Centre of Excellence experience was not over yet, though. Guests were whisked from the plant in GLE 350d 4MATICs to an off-road course specially created by Mercedes-Benz to showcase the go-anywhere ability of its SUVs. The course was a daunting one, consisting of steep inclines and declines, along with pits, trenches and 35-degree side inclines. As the GLEs effortlessly navigated this course, one could see guests gasp in shock and disbelief at the capabilities of these cars. At more than one occasion, the GLE had at least one wheel suspended mid-air, compelling the 4MATIC system to redirect power to those wheels that did have some traction in order to move the car along. According to Abhishek Mantri, a Pune-based DJ, “I used to think the GLE was only a luxury vehicle, but now I think it can take a serious bashing. I think it’s a great vehicle, and it’s been a great experience.”
After a day of immersion in the full three-star experience, guests were visibly elated. “This was a very different type of experience,” says Samit Hede, a business owner and Mercedes-Benz loyalist. “I have attended most of these events, like the Star Drive and the Luxe Drive, but this was quite unique.”
Rajen Shah, a Mumbai-based jeweller, quite enjoyed his experience at the Centre of Excellence, too: “My trip here has been worth every bit,” he said. “We went around the plant, we experienced the off-road track – the whole experience has just been outstanding.”
After a hearty gourmet lunch, the guests started leaving one by one, stepping into the chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz cars to be whisked away in style and luxury back home.