NEW ORLEANS -- Mercedes-Benz USA is benchmarking the best luxury retailers in the country and is launching a wave of training for dealers and their employees.
Two training initiatives will help Mercedes continue to focus on improving customer service, dealers and company executives said. It will wind up training for dealers this year.
"We are going to double down on this commitment to customer experience," said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. "We have two major commitments that we are launching this year.
"We told dealers, 'We will ask more of you than we have ever asked before, but if you want to be a Mercedes-Benz dealer, you have to make a commitment, and that commitment is not just facility. It is people, training, leadership and culture.'"
The first initiative is the Mercedes-Benz Leadership Academy for dealer principals, general managers and other key management employees from sales and parts and service. It will begin midyear at a site to be determined.
About 3,500 dealership employees will be trained in phases, Cannon said.
"All the leadership teams of all 362 dealerships will have to invest in training. This will be ongoing," he said.
The second initiative, the Mercedes-Benz Immersion Center, will begin midyear at the factory in Tuscaloosa, Ala. This year, about 5,000 dealership employees will attend the two-day program that focuses on driving, the brand's culture and learning about the factory, Cannon said.
In the coming years, about 20,000 dealership employees will attend.
"It's even good for long-term employees," said Joseph Agresta Jr., president of Benzel-Busch Motor Car Corp. in Englewood, N.J., and chairman of the Mercedes-Benz Dealer Board. "We will send all different levels of the dealership staff."
Mercedes didn't disclose targets but said U.S. sales will set a record in 2014, Agresta said. Last year, Mercedes was the top-selling luxury brand in the United States, posting a 14 percent sales increase to a record 312,528 units.
In 2014, Mercedes-Benz will launch the B-class Electric Drive plug-in hatchback, the GLA front-wheel-drive compact crossover and a redesigned C-class sedan that will be built in Tuscaloosa.
Dealers also were told that Mercedes wants to double sales of its Sprinter commercial vans in the next several years and add 30 Sprinter dealers. In 2013, Mercedes sold 21,816 Sprinters, up 4 percent from a year earlier. The Sprinter is sold through Mercedes and Freightliner dealers.
Because of record sales, Cannon said, Mercedes dealership profitability hit a 10-year high in 2013.