NEW ORLEANS -- The mood at BMW's make meeting was captured when the brand's national dealer advisory board chairman and the company's North American CEO stood up to give each other a warm hug.
"We enjoyed all-time record sales in 2013, and we fully expect to set a record again in 2014," Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America Inc., said outside the meeting room, repeating the message he brought to the dealers in New Orleans. "The products we have coming will keep the success coming."
But Willisch also alerted dealers that BMW wants to see improvements in customer satisfaction across the network and that it wants new commitments for dealership and showroom investment. He admitted that BMW senior management in Germany was unhappy that BMW dropped below Mercedes-Benz in sales last year in the United States.
Willisch believes improved customer satisfaction will help business. "We need to do a better job," he told dealers.
Some dealers said that better employee retention would help boost CSI scores at many stores, but that auto retail sales and service wage rates are becoming uncompetitive and making it harder to hang on to luxury-class employees.
Steve Late, president of BMW of Austin in Austin, Texas, and the newly elected dealer board chairman, predicted CSI scores will rise this year with the launch of new products, including the electric i3 early in 2014, followed by a new M3, M4 and the new 2 series.
"When customers see the products that are coming this year, you'll get an automatic shake in CSI," Late says.
BMW told dealers it expects some CSI gain this year from a customer effort it launched last November called the Encore program. With an eye toward improving owner satisfaction, dealers are inviting new owners back to the showroom 60 to 90 days after their vehicle purchase for a second walk-around and a more thorough technical presentation.
"Customers are usually pretty excited when they first take delivery of a new car," says Thomas Moorehead, CEO of Moorehead Properties Inc. Automotive Group of Sterling, Va. "They might not take in everything they need to know. The second visit 60 days later will help answer more questions."
BMW also informed dealers that it will introduce a two-way factory information system in the first quarter called BMW Dealer Direct. BMW expects the system to speed up communications.
BMW officials said at the meeting that the first 130 of its 380 dealers have committed to upgrade their stores by mid-2015. The rest of the network will follow.
"They've asked me to make store upgrades, and I don't mind," said dealer Dan Fields, whose Fields Auto Group in Winter Park, Fla., owns four BMW stores. "This is the perfect time to do it. They've got great products and more coming, and I'm bullish."