The new India head of Mercedes-Benz, Eberhard Kern, says he can’t wait for the launch of the new A-Class compact in India. “I don’t know if you’ve seen or driven the car. I drove it and I think it’s terrific,” he said. The car, he believes, will be a big hit with the young, sporty. The thinking is, along with the B Class, Mercedes can land a one-two on rivals which have been accelerating ahead. Kern spoke to media at the launch of its biggest showroom in Asia-Pacific in Delhi, belonging to T&T Motors. Edited excerpts:
When is the A-Class launch?
We should do it in the summer.
It should be somewhere between July and September. Before that, in April-May, we will have the G-Class debuting.
Will the A Class be just petrol like the B Class or have a diesel variant too?
It will have both, petrol and diesel. We didn’t get the diesel B Class because India is a Euro 4 diesel market and we didn’t want to cart in a Euro 5 engine. But we will launch the B Class diesel variant soon enough with Euro 4.
You talk of making the Mercedes brand young…
It’s a young brand. It is the oldest as well as the youngest brand in the world. We were recently named the No. 1 among youngsters, and No. 9 among all brands -- across product categories, based on a Nielsen survey.
Your loyalists — the CXOs and the loaded gentry — swear by the three-pointed star. But not many in emerging, young India have that perception because there haven’t been many moves by Mercedes to change that perception...
You know, we didn’t have a normal market situation in India. We were a monopoly for quite some time, till 2007-08. This is really not normal because the Big Three (Mercedes, BMW and Audi) — we fight each other everywhere in the world and India was really an exception. What happened is we have a normal situation now. So we are doing all those things to rectify.
You are the No. 3 now…
No, that’s not my perception at all. You have to compare apples with apples. In the luxury segment, we are still ahead, in SUVs and sedans. Anyway, this is not only the volume game, it’s about sustainable profit too. There is a new segment growing, the entry premium. Here we have to say, OK we are just about in with the B Class petrol. We are working on that with the A Class. The M Class, on the other hand, is a thorough success. The product has one problem worldwide — it’s sold out. In India, we face some difficulties because there are a lot of customers waiting for the M Class — and Indians don’t like to wait.
Are your designs future-proofed for that brand difference — especially with the CLA and A-Class coming in?
A lot is happening at the moment. There is a new design language, whichstarted with the B Class. New cars shaping up have a new design language with the core values of Mercedes of quality, safety, reliability intact. What we are focussing more on is the fascination that you can engender due to design, sportiness, etc.
If you look at the international reaction to the A Class… a lot of people, before we launched the car told us – “Oh, the old A Class was such a pretty good car, spacey, you sit higher, the Sandwich platform, you’ll lose the customers you had”, and so on. But wherever we have launched the new A Class, it has seen tremendous success. So this design language is obviously being liked by people.”