Since September last year, Wolfgang Bremm von Kleinsorgen (52) has been CEO of Mercedes-Benz Benelux. He took the alternative Mercedes motor show event ‘Defining Class Star Days’ in his own headquarters as an opportunity to talk to the outside world for the first time.
The new CEO originates from Aachen, Germany, and knows Belgium fairly well, having spent many holidays on the Belgian coast and in other parts of the country. After his studies as a mechanical engineer, he got an MBA in Paris and an internship at Renault.
But his heart was already with Mercedes. In the 26 years of his career at the German premium manufacturer, he occupied several managerial functions, leading him via strategic product management functions to a job as CEO at Mercedes Luxembourg (2013) and highest responsible for Central and Eastern Europe (2019), leading five countries out of his Praag headquarters.
As an opener to our conversation, he says not to be surprised about the position of three leading German premium brands in the top five of registrations in the Belux in 2023. “The market is company car driven here. They now represent 67% of the total market in 2023; this is really huge.”
You are the CEO of three countries: Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. These markets couldn’t be more different, and some of your competitors have, therefore, abandoned the idea of one joint organization for the Benelux. But Mercedes seems to be persisting…
“You know, before I came here, I was CEO for Central and Eastern Europe, regrouping five countries with many different languages and cultures. To me, diversity in the market is a big advantage. You can learn from very different settings. And, after all, customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal. We try to absorb the differences and turn them into a positive story without concerns for the customer.”
In your presentation at the Star Days, you clearly referred to the Concept CLA shown in Munich last year. In the past, although, there were some serious hints and communication about Mercedes wanting to leave the lower segments of the market and concentrate on the upper luxury segments.
“I think there has been a misunderstanding here. We never planned to leave what we call the ‘Entry’ segment (A and B Class, grosso modo). In Belgium, the Entry segment represents more than half of our sales (in volume) and works well in the fleet sector. We won’t slaughter a goose that lays golden eggs.”
“We’re definitely going to rationalize the offer, something we will also do in other market segments. It makes no sense to have an A Class sedan and a four-door CLA on offer. They’re too close to each other to make them both. So it will be the CLA that survives, and for the whole Entry segment, this means we’re going from 7 to 4 models. It will always be a search to find the best balance between standardization (in underlying technology and production) and individualization (in design, connectivity, and luxury aspects).”
Newcomers are the CLE Coupé and (somewhat later) the Cabrio. Isn’t the market completely shrinking for this type of car?
“Here, we want to be proactive. We’re still convinced that there are still a sufficient number of clients for these vehicles. They also want to show some personality with their car, and they simply love the open air/freedom feeling the cars procure. But on the other side, you’ve also noticed that here we’ve combined two classes, C and E, to offer a coupé and a cabrio.”
Unlike many competitors, Mercedes has chosen to have a sub-brand, EQ, for its fully electric vehicles. Will it stay like that in the future?
“We were aware that if Mercedes wants to offer pure electric vehicles, they must be as good, comfortable, and reliable as the ICE ones. That’s why we developed dedicated platforms and a special design adapted to the drive. And that’s why we put them on the market as a dedicated sub-brand. In the long term, our whole portfolio will be under one brand name again because all the cars will be electric or at least electrified.”
Speaking of electric vehicles, the Chinese manufacturers are manifesting themselves very strongly. Do you see this as a danger?
“You know, Mercedes-Benz has a long history. In fact, we were pioneers in the automobile world. Nowadays, a car has to be a complete offer, and brand image plays a significant role. We also want to reconfirm what we were always standing for in the new electric era. If we succeed in this, we don’t have to be afraid of anyone. The most important for us are happy customers.”
One last question. There’s a lot of commotion around the distribution of cars. The smaller car dealers disappear, big international groups take over, everybody talks about the agency model, and some manufacturers want only to sell online. What’s your vision here?
“We see online mainly for its information and reservation function. Online sales will grow in the future, but in the end the potential customer will always arrive at the dealer. He will still have an important role in the future. Our dealer network will probably be a mix of international groups and smaller family-owned dealers. We want to have a good relationship with both kinds and expect them to be real professionals, giving our clients the best possible service. That’s how to make a difference and survive in the long run.”
Mercedes Belux in 2023
In 2023, Mercedes-Benz sold 35 263 cars in Belgium and Luxembourg, 20,4% more than the year before. It just wasn’t enough to keep third place in the sales rankings (Audi beat them by 133 units), but the company is nevertheless very satisfied with its 7,4% market share.
At the moment, Mercedes offers 52 electrified variants on the market; 43 of them are plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and 9 are fully electric. In total sales, we see that 26% are pure electric and 43% are plug-in hybrids, meaning that almost 7 out of 10 Mercedes cars in 2023 were electrified.
In the Entry segment (A and B Class), we see that 30% is fully electric and 37% plug-in hybrid. In the Core segment (C and E Class), the equation is 21% BEVs and 57% PHEVs. Finally, also Mercedes drivers are very fond of SUVs. Half of the total sales are SUVs, with the GLC as a best-seller (28% of total SUV sales).