NEW YORK - Many of the biggest Mercedes dealerships in the United States are changing their names to 'Mercedes-Benz of (name of city)' as part of a corporate brand-image campaign.
The name changes are not required, and only exclusive dealerships are being allowed to make the change, said Paul Halata, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA Inc.
Thirty-one of the brand's 192 exclusives have made the change, and another 35 are in the process, the company said.
'We have backed off some' on pushing dealers to rename, Halata said in an interview last week in Stuttgart, Germany.
'It's an emotional issue. I've had dealers come up to me and say, `Hey, this is my father's name, or my grandfather's name,' on the dealership. So it's an emotional issue.'
Until about 18 months ago, Mercedes prohibited dealers from using the company's name in their signage. But as more dealerships became exclusives, the company decided to push to have the Mercedes name highlighted at stores in the top markets.
GM's Saturn Corp. and Toyota's Lexus Division have a similar naming policy.
Dealers have mixed feelings about changing names, said veteran dealer Chuck Ghesquiere. His family-owned Mercedes stores in suburban Detroit are now named Mercedes-Benz of Bloomfield Hills and Mercedes-Benz of Novi.
'We really hated to give up the name,' he said of the Bloomfield Hills store, which was known as Estate Motorcars Ltd. until Jan. 1.
'But it's good for the franchises. It tells people what you do and where you are. That's pretty powerful.'
Ironically, Ghesquiere said Mercedes turned him down two years ago when he asked to change the name of the Novi store from Manor Motorcar Co. to Mercedes-Benz of Novi. The company later changed its mind, and the new signs went up earlier this month.
But another veteran Mercedes dealer, Morty Zetlin of Arlington, Va., said he will keep his dealership name for both practical and sentimental reasons, even though it is an unusual one: American Service Center Associates.
'We have this sort of funny name because, originally, the dealership started out as an Amoco station. We have spent literally millions of dollars promoting it, and it does not make sense for us to change the name, with what is now the third generation running the store,' he said.
'We're just not emotionally ready to change it.'