Mercedes-Benz USA is coming off a year in which the brand reversed a two-year sales slide. And retailers have more reasons to be upbeat, says Mercedes-Benz Dealer Board Chairman Jeff Swickard, with manufacturer support for advertising and digital retailing and flexibility on facilities requirements.
"The company has been very supportive of my success; they really do care about the success of the dealers," said Swickard, who is dealer principal of three Mercedes-Benz stores — in Seattle, Atlanta and Wilsonville, Ore., outside Portland.
Swickard, 47, gave Mercedes-Benz high marks for marketing and advertising support and responsiveness to dealer feedback. He has nine new-vehicle dealerships, mostly in the Northwest, including franchises for BMW, Ford, Honda, Toyota and Volvo.
After a record 2016, Mercedes' U.S. sales dropped for two years straight. But in 2019, sales rebounded 1 percent to 357,729, according to the Automotive News Data Center. That total includes commercial vans but not the now-discontinued Smart brand.
Swickard is a relative newcomer to auto retail. He started acquiring franchises five years ago after a career in telecommunications, with no prior experience at dealerships. The following are edited excerpts from Special Correspondent Jim Henry's phone interview with Swickard, including some follow-up questions via email.
Q: How would you rate 2019 in general, for the industry and for the Mercedes brand?
A: From my maybe unique perspective, I've only seen "ups" since I've been a dealer the last five years. The last five years have been pretty good for dealers in general and for M-B in particular. I think 2019 was a great year for M-B. The products are strong; the programs — leasing, incentives, dealer support, sales and service — are strong. I genuinely feel like they listen to us and change programs around to the benefit of both MBUSA and the dealers.