The newly appointed CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA says his immediate priority will be to prepare customers and dealers for the launch of compact vehicles that haven't been sold in this market.
Steve Cannon, 50, takes the helm at the Mercedes' U.S. sales unit on Jan. 1. Rather than bring in an outsider or an executive from the parent company in Germany, Daimler promoted Cannon from his post as vice president of marketing.
"I have the real luxury of coming into a highly functioning organization. You could not say that five years ago," said Cannon, who left in 2000 and rejoined Mercedes-Benz in 2007 after consulting in e-business and a stint with an outside advertising firm.
A former U.S. Army lieutenant who was stationed in Germany and is fluent in German, Cannon is a fitness buff known for his early arrivals at the office. He has nine children.
Cannon's predecessor, Ernst Lieb, who was abruptly fired in October for alleged ethics violations and misuse of company funds, brought Cannon in as part of a team charged with turning around the brand, which had suffered quality problems.
Cannon takes the helm as Mercedes-Benz prepares to launch a range of small vehicles in the U.S. market to attract young buyers. The new generation of A- and B-class vehicles will begin to arrive in two years.
Meanwhile, the brand is battling BMW for the 2011 U.S. luxury sales crown, after past leader Lexus lost sales because of supply problems. Mercedes' U.S. sales, excluding Sprinter and Maybach, have climbed 12 percent to 219,491 units this year through November. During the same period, BMW's U.S. vehicle sales were up 12 percent to 221,073.
Cannon said that although Mercedes has narrowed the gap with BMW to about 1,600 units, he'll be content if finishing on top "happens naturally."
Cannon joined Mercedes-Benz in 1991 as executive assistant to the CEO of Mercedes-Benz of North America.
He later relocated to the automaker's global headquarters in Stuttgart and joined a small team assigned with the development, manufacturing and launch of the M class.