‘GLC completes Merc’s SUV portfolio’

Alka Kshirsagar Pune | Updated on January 20, 2018

BORIS FITZ, Vice-President, Sales & Network Development, Mercedes-BenzIndia

Last year, Mercedes-Benz India saw SUV sales grow by 100 per cent, and the company’s portfolio in this segment is set to be further beefed up with the GLC, the mid-size SUV that is due to be launched on June 2. It will take on existing models like the BMW X3, the Audi Q5 and Land Rover’s Discovery Sport. This, the sixth offering in its SUV portfolio in India, is also being launched in a petrol variant like the GLA and the GLE and comes with the trappings that include a 9-speed transmission, intelligent lighting systems and multiple driving modes to choose from. Speaking at a preview of the new vehicle in Coorg, Boris Fitz, Vice-President, Sales & Network Development, Mercedes-Benz India, told BusinessLine that the GLC pretty much completes the company’s line-up in the SUV segment. Excerpts:

Where does the GLC fit in your SUV line-up? Are there any more SUVs in the India pipeline?

There was a gap between the GLA (compact SUV) and the GLE that was left unattended as we did not have a mid-size SUV product. The predecessor to the GLC (built on the C-Class platform) was the GLK which was the biggest seller in the SUV portfolio with 6.5 lakh units sold during its lifecycle, but was not available in right hand drive. The new generation (of the GLK) was planned also as an RHD version, so we could bring it to India and are finally are able to close the gap.

So now with the GLA, GLC, GLE, GLE Coupe, the GLS and the G-wagon, we will have the widest range of luxury SUVs and I think it pretty much completes the range for the moment. We are always looking at opportunities available from our global stable where there are a number of products but these are not (currently) fit for India.

So what are the highlights of the new vehicle?

First, it will come in both diesel and petrol variants, and no, the petrol was not as a counter reaction to the diesel ban. The petrol engine is a brand new 1.99 L engine. It has 20 mm extra ground clearance than its European counterpart and drivers can select between Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and individual.. so it is essentially five cars in one. It also offers three modes — off road, slippery and incline. We have decided on a completely built unit route — cars will come from Bremen — and we will see how it pans out before we take a call on local assembly.

Mercedes was one of the two most affected by the diesel ban in the NCR. How have your numbers been impacted? And what are your plans to counter the effects?

Delhi and now Kerala (we were caught a little by surprise on Kerala) have put a bit of a dent into our aspirations.

The numbers are in line with what we had expected and in the first quarter 2016 we grew 3 per cent to 3,622 units and we did not have the huge growth we had anticipated. As a counter measure we have asked for additional allocations on petrol engines.

Are you concerned that the ban may spread to other cities?

There is a bit of concern and we are not the only ones voicing it. This does not help the auto industry. We do understand that something needs to happen, but industry needs a planning horizon that investments will pay off. It needs a road map and the government needs to articulate where we are heading.

Even the customer needs to know what is going to happen, so we just need some clarity and consistency in policy.

What is new on the marketing and network growth initiatives?

We are adopting a multi-pronged approach. First, we will add eight new dealerships that will take the number to 91 by the year-end in 40 cities. To tap the non-urban markets, we will increase the focus on the star showcase pop-up to showcase our products in tier-III towns where we don't have a dealership. In the metros, we will continue the pop-up store initiative of putting up a store in a hip location that has a branded menu for a month. We started at the Blue Frog in Mumbai and plan to take this to Pune, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and Delhi this year.

Published on May 31, 2016

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