Mercedes-Benz to bring B-Class model here next year

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Mercedes-Benz to bring B-Class model here next year


Harald Behrend

As part of its strategy to strengthen its small car lineup, Mercedes-Benz Korea said it plans to introduce the new B-Class in Korea next year, Harald Behrend, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a recent interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily.

The new B-Class was shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Behrend said compact Mercedes-Benz models are very popular among young Korean customers. With larger headlights and front grill, the new B-Class looks younger and sportier.

Mercedes-Benz Korea, the second most popular foreign brand in Korea in terms of units sold, had record sales this year and surpassed 1 trillion won ($869.6 million) in annual sales for the first time last year.

The biggest challenge Behrend has had in the last four years was low acceptance of the purchase of luxury imports, Behrend said. In the past, Korean businessmen were afraid of driving pricey foreign vehicles in case it gave them a bad image, he said.

Times changed and luxury imports are more socially accepted. “It is on right track,” he said.

Behrend hopes Korea’s free trade agreements with Europe and the United States would contribute to even bigger acceptance for foreign vehicles.

Behrend also said that while he was in Korea, he came to like Korean food, especially kimchi. He enjoys it so much that he recommends it to his friends and relatives in Germany. He once carried 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of kimchi to Germany to give as gifts. “That was a challenge,” he said.

Q. Please tell us about MBK’s performance this year. What are MBK’s plans for the rest of the year?


A. We are having another very successful year. Our sales have been growing consistently since 2003. We sold around 14,559 cars this year through September, and that’s an increase of 21.7 percent from a year earlier. We are quite happy.

What was your biggest challenge while you were in Korea in the last four years?

The biggest problem for the imported-car industry is low acceptance. Some years ago, local businessmen didn’t dare to drive expensive imports because they were afraid that would have a negative impact on their businesses.

This is gone nowadays. You can either drive a Korean car or a foreign car. I think nowadays imports are well accepted and are not considered a threat to the Korean economy. Now, driving a foreign luxury car is socially accepted. I believe it is on the right track.

In fact, we are supporting the economic development in Korea by creating a lot of jobs within our industry, including parts suppliers and dealerships.

With global enterprises like Hyundai, LG and Samsung, you cannot only export. You also need to import.

Openness in the market will grow after Korea signed free trade agreements with Europe and the United States.

Have you noticed any changes in sales since the Korea-EU FTA took effect in July?

Showroom traffic in dealerships increased, and we expect a positive push in the mid to long-term as tariffs will be reduced step by step in the next few years. Cars will become more affordable. There is no change in strategy yet. The FTA has some psychological effect. It has increased acceptance of import cars in Korea. With the growing presence of local automakers like Hyundai and Kia, Korea itself is becoming a global player in the market.

The portion of small-car sales in the country’s imported-car market is growing rapidly. Does MBK plan to launch more compact models in Korea?

The new B-Class had its world premier in September at the Frankfurt Motor Show. It is the smallest in our lineup. We’ll introduce the new B-Class next year in Korea.

Is there a reason why you haven’t launched the A-Class in Korea?

Currently, as you already know, we will develop more compact cars. Next to be introduced to the market is the A-Class. We’ll definitely introduce additional compact cars to the Korean market as soon as they are launched by headquarters.

We started off in Korea mainly with the high-end premium segment, such as the S-Class to E-Class, and then expanded our range to smaller models. Now we have the C-Class, which is extremely successful. More than 1,500 units in the C-Class were sold. Young people especially like our smaller models.

We will start with the B-Class and then A-Class. Of course, we will wait for new models to be launched.

Korean parts companies are becoming more important partners for German carmakers.

We already have 38 Korean suppliers who provide components to our worldwide production network.

Here, we have a procurement office in our unit. They do nothing but look for new suppliers in the Korean market and manage existing suppliers.

Korea is a very important base for parts supply because of the success of the local auto industry and the improving quality of Korean cars.

Due to high fuel costs, there is much interest in energy-efficient models. Do you plan to offer more diesel or hybrid cars in Korea?

When we look at Daimler in general, it is one of the few automakers in the world that currently invests in all green technologies.

Diesel, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell and gas, you name it. We’re investing enormous amount of money in research in all the different technologies.

We have diesel vehicles in all our model ranges. For the S-Class, we also offer a hybrid version.

The country’s imported-car market is growing at rapid speed. With such growth, do you have any problems with after-sales service?

We have put a lot of effort in developing service centers within the last four years. The number of such centers increased to 26 this year from 18 last year. Planning for next year, we’ll have 32 by the end of next year.

Why did you start a social-contribution program with Korea National University of Arts?

Several weeks ago, we launched the program with KNUA. On one hand, we support traditional arts and culture, and on the other, we support three new Korean artists from various disciplines.

As a global brand, we engage in humanitarian, social and cultural programs worldwide.

I think it is very important that we support people from different areas and fields of art. We’ll help promote Korean culture nationwide and hopefully worldwide as well.

We also give special support to traditional Korean art because, in the modern world, it is difficult to preserve a country’s own heritage and culture.

While you were here, did you come to like Korean culture and food?

I am not a fan of heavy drinking, but I love Korean food and cuisine very much. I am a big fan of not only Korean barbecue but other traditional foods such as dakgalbi.

I also belong to the group of foreigners who love kimchi. I can even distinguish good kimchi from bad kimchi.

By Limb Jae-un []

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

“1억원 넘는 S·E클래스 판매량 한국이 세계 4위”

벤츠코리아 하랄트 베렌트 사장
“일본 3년 전 제쳐 … 판매신장률 1위”

“한국 시장에서 벤츠는 보수적인 경향의 상류사회 중·장년층에서 압도적인 경쟁력을 보이고 있다. 앞으로 이런 기존 고객을 유지하면서 30, 40대 신흥 부자를 흡수하는 데 주력하겠다.”

메르세데스-벤츠 코리아의 하랄트 베렌트(50) 사장은 최근 본지와의 인터뷰에서 “지난해 벤츠의 전 세계 120여 개 해외 지사 가운데 한국이 최고의 성장률(전년 대비 81%)을 기록해 본사에서 판매왕 상을 받았다”며 “올해는 상대적으로 부진했던 디젤차와 소형차 판매에 주력하겠다”고 말했다.

한국은 독일 다임러 그룹에서 중국과 함께 가장 중요한 해외 시장으로 꼽힌다. 한국 판매량의 70%가 대당 평균 가격이 1억원 정도로 이익이 많이 나는 중·대형차에 몰려 있어서다. 지난해 판매대수(1만6124대)만 따지면 세계 15위이지만 대형 세단 S클래스와 중형 E클래스는 한국이 미국·독일·중국에 이어 4위다. 일본은 이미 3년 전 제쳤다.

이 같은 성장세에 따라 올해 벤츠 코리아는 직원 수를 기존 대비 10%가량 늘릴 계획이다. 또 판매 딜러도 서울 동대문·목동에 이어 수도권과 부산 등에 5개 이상 확충한다. 아울러 상대적으로 경쟁사인 BMW에 비해 부진했던 디젤차 마케팅에 주력하기로 했다. 베렌트 사장은 “최근 나오는 벤츠의 디젤 엔진은 연비가 하이브리드 차량에 못지않을 만큼 친환경적”이라며 “정숙성과 진동도 가솔린 엔진 이상으로 개선됐다”고 설명했다.

그는 이어 “벤츠의 A·B클래스 등 소형차는 안전성이나 실내공간에서 경쟁차에 비해 우위에 있다”며 “내년 초 신형 B클래스를 들여오고 A클래스까지 출시해 소형차 판매 비중을 끌어올리겠다”고 말했다. 하지만 경차급인 스마트의 공식 수입계획은 가격 조정이 쉽지 않아 당분간 없다고 했다.

베렌트 사장은 “한국의 부품회사들이 본사에서 높은 평가를 받고 있다”는 말도 했다. 현재 30곳이 넘는 한국 부품업체들이 다임러 그룹에 납품하는 것을 두고 하는 말이다. 그는 “현재 30여 개사 전체로 연간 1000억원 정도를 납품하고 있다”며 “평가가 좋아 앞으로 납품 규모가 늘어날 것으로 기대한다”고 덧붙였다. 그는 이어 “서울모터쇼에서 벤츠의 신차 라인업뿐 아니라 한국 사회와 동반성장하기 위한 사회공헌 프로그램도 선보일 것”이라고 말했다.

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