It was short and sweet, but this year's Mercedes-Benz make meeting assured dealers of two things: A few product changes this year will help charge sales, and the line will post record sales in 2003.
Paul Halata, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA LLC, acknowledged that retailers face economic uncertainties and the specter of war. "But we have a very powerful brand, and we are very confident."
Speaking after the meeting, Halata declined to make a specific forecast for Mercedes sales, to estimate the likely range of growth in sales this year or to put a figure on the sales of specific Mercedes models. "But we can say it will be a record year," he said.
During the meeting, Halata outlined the product changes coming this year. A restyled E class is coming, and Mercedes will make its 4MATIC all-wheel-drive option available in each of its model classes. The franchise also is awaiting the CLK Cabriolet and the ultraluxury Maybach. He told dealers the 4MATIC feature will be marketed as a safety enhancement.
Quality problems did not come up in the meeting, says dealer council president George Grinzewitsch Jr., owner of Mercedes-Benz of Sacramento in California.
Mercedes has been stung by low numbers in the industry rankings of J.D. Power and Associates, when compared with other luxury brands. Grinzewitsch said those numbers are improving, and dealers are more focused on growth.