Mercedes dealers were satisfied with a promise from Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. that it will not sell vehicles to anyone other than franchised dealers, said Chip Ott, chairman of the Mercedes-Benz Retailer Board.
Dealers demanded a similar pledge from many brands at the NADA convention. In a speech opening the convention, outgoing NADA Chairman Jim Willingham said NADA earlier sent letters to all manufacturers asking them for a firm commitment to franchised dealers, as opposed to Internet-based middlemen.
'MBUSA has absolutely agreed and committed to us that they will not under any circumstances go outside us to sell cars - and they recommitted to that today,' Ott said, after the Mercedes make meeting. He owns R&S Imports in Fort Washington, Pa.
Paul Halata attended his first make meeting as Mercedes-Benz USA president. He succeeded Mike Jackson on Oct. 1, after Jackson quit to head AutoNation Inc. Ironically, that makes Jackson a Mercedes dealer, but he did not attend the make meeting.
Mercedes had record U.S. sales of 189,437 cars and light trucks in 1999, including record December sales of 19,118. That made Mercedes the No. 1-selling luxury brand in the United States, import or domestic. The brand should top 200,000 this year, roughly twice its old 1986 sales record.
Dealers are not exactly complaining, but there are some problems, Ott said.
'We're close to 200,000 units, and when you sell that many more cars, you have got to have some growing pains, such as occasional parts shortage, but the commitment is there for them to fix that,' he said. 'One of the fortunate things is that the really tremendous growth has been in the United States, as opposed to the rest of the world, so that has allowed them to shift some production our way.
'The key to the whole thing is to build better parts in the first place, so you don't need so much service, and they are doing that.'
Dealers at the make meeting also asked Mercedes to do more product-specific advertising, as opposed to more generic brand advertising. Ott said there are product-specific ads coming for the C class, E class and M-class sport-utility.
The C class is due for a redesign for the 2001 model year. At the end of the 2000 model year, Mercedes will offer special editions of the C class, with discounted options, such as a CD player. 'We are expecting real strong demand this year,' Ott said.