Joe Eberhardt is on a fast track.
At 34, he has been named vice president of marketing at Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc. He replaces Mike Jackson, who was named president of the company in March 1997.
Eberhardt's main challenge is to solidify the gains Mercedes-Benz has made in the United States. Sales have almost doubled since 1992, from 63,312 to 122,265 in 1997.
'We certainly cannot continue at that pace,' Eberhardt said. 'We're looking to consolidate our position and make sure we hold steady in the marketplace.'
Like other automakers, Mercedes-Benz is building a database made up of all contacts with each of its customers and potential buyers.
Eberhardt said Mercedes-Benz wants to paint as detailed a portrait as possible of each of its customers in order to cultivate individual relationships.
'I see us going from mass marketing to an era of individual marketing and relationship building,' Eberhardt said. 'It all starts with knowing your customer.'
In addition to marketing, Eberhardt is responsible for service, parts, customer care, marketing communications, retail development and engineering services.
Mercedes-Benz now has a flat management structure, Eberhardt said. All department heads sit at the same table to solve problems.
'From marketing to technical support, we'll get feedback from the customer, and it will loop all the way back to the factory in Germany,' he said.
He brings unusual experience to his new job.
In 1993 and 1994, Eberhardt was general manager of Mercedes-Benz of Manhattan Inc., a factory-owned dealership with showrooms on Park Avenue and at 41st Street and 11th Avenue in New York City.
'That is one of the most valuable experiences I have had in my career development,' he said. 'There's nothing that replaces dealing with customers face to face and getting a feel for what is really important to our consumers.'
Eberhardt started his career with Mercedes-Benz's parent company, Daimler-Benz AG, as a business analyst in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1985.
Eberhardt roller blades and bicycles. He also enjoys museums.
'You need to take in outside influences,' he said, 'Otherwise, you can't perform at the best level.'
Aside from his own product line, Eberhardt said he admires Jaguar E types, BMWs, Toyotas and some U.S. luxury models of the 1950s.
'There is a lot of stuff to be learned from each and every automaker,' Eberhardt said. 'But naturally, nothing beats a Ferrari.'