Mercedes-Benz USA is likely to set a sales record this year as growth for luxury brands continues to exceed that of the mass market, said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA.
Mercedes expects impetus from its new products, including the all-new front-wheel-drive GLA crossover that goes on sale in September and the redesigned C-class sedan.
Cannon, 53, was named CEO in January 2012.
He was interviewed at Mercedes' headquarters in Montvale, N.J., by Staff Reporter Diana T. Kurylko.
Q: Mercedes-Benz USA beat BMW last year, and Mercedes was the top luxury brand in the United States for the first time since 1999. Will Mercedes set a record in 2014?
A: Yes, emphatically, yes, and driven on the back of amazing product. We have the S class setting the benchmark at the top of segment. We have the CLA defining a new price point and opening up the brand. Our only challenge on CLA has been availability, and that will increase in the second half of the year, so we will have a steadier product flow that our dealers are very anxious about.
We will have two products at the entry to our brand, one sporty crossover and one superstyled four-door coupe. The GLA goes on sale in September and will complement the growth of the CLA. And we will add another halo product, the S coupe, in October.
Mercedes is also adding a new-generation C-class sedan, built in Alabama, this fall.
Yes, the C class -- the first time in seven years we get to renew that. What is so exciting is that the exterior and interior will set the standard in that segment.
With the new C-class range, Mercedes will build a coupe and convertible from the ground up for the first time. How significant is that?
We love the amount of differentiation from the CLA. The C class is a more grown-up car. The car has S-class styling cues. The interior is a clear differentiator from the entry CLA. It is more crafted, more luxurious and more stylized. The whole cockpit has a feeling of attention to detail like the S class.
From a technology standpoint, the C class will boast all of the Intelligent Drive attributes that the S class has and that will not be available on the CLA. This is the fastest we have ever migrated the top technology from an S-class platform onto an entry product -- nine months.
What will be different with the C-class coupe?
This time, the differentiation with the coupe and sedan will be spectacular. In the last generation, we re-engineered a coupe on a sedan. This time they were engineered from birth. Which means it is more aggressive and sportier than ever before. On top of that, we will add the cabriolet. It will give folks the option of open driving at a new price point for Mercedes-Benz. The E class was the entry convertible before.
How long after the sedan will you roll out the C-class coupe and convertible?
A one-year gap.
Will the B-class Electric Drive roll out in targeted markets? Will some dealers not get the B-class electric?
We still start in the 10 ZEV states in July. Eventually, we will roll out in every state, including television commercials. We will be overt in announcing to the world that we are in the zero-emission game.
Will every dealer be able to sell the electric car?
Every dealer will have access. It will be on an order-only basis outside the ZEV states. For us, it is most important in the 10 states, including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and California. In that batch, you have covered a big hunk of our market.
What are you doing to the MB Select program whereby you pay dealers $2,500 to solve an S-class problem and $1,000 for a C-class issue?
We are about to roll that out to the entire lineup. We made a few tweaks based on a discussion with the dealers. Essentially, we are making it a co-op program to fund this in order to create a resource, a pot of money to solve problems on the spot.
It is more about the process than the dollar value. The process is solve the problem with the customer on the spot; that is the goal. We are delegating and pushing authority to our dealers.