Eberhardt faces dealer, image issues

Big to-do list for new N.A. head of Jag, Land Rover

Eberhardt faces dealer, image issues

Joe Eberhardt: "My retail experience ... gives me a unique perspective on how the OEM and retailers need to work together to succeed."
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Joe Eberhardt, named last week as president of Jaguar Land Rover North America, faces the challenge of improving not only the sales but the image of the two luxury brands he'll lead in the U.S. market.

Three key tasks will be:

• Revamping Jaguar dealerships as the brand prepares for an onslaught of new vehicles.

• Boosting Land Rover's subpar customer service ratings.

• Continuing to dual Jaguar and Land Rover franchises under one roof so dealerships have a full range of cars and light trucks.

German-born Eberhardt, 50, spent 18 years at competitor Mercedes-Benz, including a stint as head of sales and marketing in the United States. He was also CEO of the United Kingdom sales arm, overseeing both Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler Group brands.

Eberhardt gained notoriety while he was executive vice president for global sales, marketing and service at Chrysler from 2003 to 2007. During that stretch, he faced the wrath of dealers angered over the factory's production of too many vehicles. He left Chrysler seven years ago and became a consultant and owner of a Mercedes-Benz dealership in California.

Answering questions from Automotive News via e-mail, Eberhardt said he sees potential for growing both brands in the U.S. market. The United States is Jaguar's second-biggest market worldwide and the third largest for Land Rover, whose SUVs and crossovers are sold as Land Rovers and Range Rovers.

Calling Jaguar and Land Rover "two of the great brands in the business," he said: "Jaguar is carving out a new niche as a modern British challenger brand with products like F Type and Land Rover is the benchmark luxury SUV brand."

Jaguar wants to get on more shopping lists and spiff up its image with new marketing offensives and halo products such as the new F-Type convertible that went on sale earlier this year and the coupe that debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The brand plans to introduce four new models by 2018, including a compact sedan, crossover, coupe and station wagon.

In the past two years, Land Rover has launched the new compact Range Rover Evoque crossover and redesigned the iconic Range Rover and Range Rover Sport.

Eberhardt supports the company's continued push for more dual Jaguar/Land Rover dealerships. "I do believe that dual branded JLR Centres provide the best experience for our customers and a strong business opportunity for our retailers," he said.

Dealers have been encouraged to buy or sell their franchises by management. There are 231 Jaguar or Land Rover dealerships in the United States, and 60 percent of the two brands are housed in a dual-branded store.

Another issue is growing sales. Jaguar's and Land Rover's U.S. sales are on the rise as the brands introduce a flurry of new vehicles and engines. Jaguar sales rose 41 percent through November to 15,408 cars and Land Rover was up 15 percent to 44,246 vehicles. But Mercedes-Benz and BMW each sold more cars last month than Jaguar did in 11 months and their light-truck sales through November were significantly higher than those of Land Rover.

But Jaguar Land Rover executives have said they want U.S. sales to grow to 100,000 units -- a level the company hasn't reached since 2002, when sales hit 102,191.

Eberhardt said boosting customer satisfaction is one of his measures of success on the dealer side.

Jaguar was ranked third among luxury brands in the 2013 J.D. Power and Associates U.S. Customer Service Index Study. But Land Rover has been the lowest-ranked luxury brand in the survey for three years.

Eberhardt brings retail experience to his new job, having been the owner of Mercedes-Benz of Oxnard in California since 2009. He also ran the company-owned Mercedes-Benz of Manhattan store in the early '90s. Eberhardt said he doesn't run the Mercedes' dealership on a day-to-day basis and has an exit plan but didn't provide details. Mercedes-Benz USA said he hadn't sold the store as of last week.

You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at dkurylko@crain.com. -- Follow Diana on Twitter

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