Mercedes expects 25% of sales will go online by 2025

Britta Seeger: "We have to be fast. We have to have the right mindset." Photo credit: GLENN TRIEST

UPDATED: 1/17/18 12:02 pm ET - corrected

Editor's note: Earlier versions of this story misstated when Mercedes estimates the percentage of online sales will reach 25 percent. It is the year 2025.

DETROIT -- Mercedes-Benz estimates that 25 percent of its new- and used-vehicle sales will be completed online by 2025.

That is one way the industry shift taking place will transform established business models, Mercedes global sales boss Britta Seeger said Tuesday at the Automotive News World Congress.

"In digital, we want to offer even more in the future and a different experience, and we are aiming to offer this in a seamless way," Seeger said. "In order to drive this journey, this is a huge effort that we together with our dealers have to undertake."

The brick-and-mortar Mercedes dealer network, with its Autohaus-design buildings, is one of the company's key assets, Seeger said. Mercedes is working with its dealers globally to develop new platforms and formats to engage customers, some of whom might not be the typical Mercedes-Benz buyer.

Seeger described Mercedes Me stores that have opened around the globe in places such as busy urban districts and airports. The company also has operated pop-up shops for short periods of time.

"The customer or prospect or just somebody who wants to drop by is taken into a Mercedes world without a feeling of Autohaus," she said. "This is very much appreciated. We have excellent results from the customers. They just love to come."

The U.S. got its first pop-up store late last year in an Atlanta shopping mall. More are planned this year.

The industry shift taking place will disrupt the conventional business model in other ways, Seeger said. She talked about Daimler AG's CASE strategy -- the automaker's shorthand for connectivity, autonomous driving, shared use and electric drive systems -- means for sales and marketing. Seeking new customer groups is part of the plan, and in 2017, Mercedes launched sponsorships in the field of eSports -- multiplayer video games played competitively for spectators.

"Many of you would say, 'Hmm, is this really a sport?'" Seeger, 48, said. "Yes, we consider it an important trend in the world. Yes, hundreds of millions of customers are e-gaming, and this is a very important customer and prospect with whom we want to interact in the future."

Mercedes also is entering electric racing series Formula E.

"This is important," Seeger said. "We want to go where the customer is."

Mercedes will continue to build on the strengths of its core business, she said. The brand just completed its second straight year of leadership in luxury sales both globally and in the U.S. market. While pursuing the CASE strategy demands a lot of resources and investment and creates question marks about the future, it also opens a lot of opportunities, she said.

"We truly believe this is a huge chance for us," Seeger said. "We have to be fast. We have to have the right mindset."

You can reach Amy Wilson at awilson@crain.com -- Follow Amy on Twitter: @theamywilson

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