The upcoming lineup of Mercedes’ high performance luxury cars were put through their paces in late September outside Stuttgart.
In this case, however, it wasn’t the carmaker’s professional testers behind the wheel of the AMG models but directors on the company’s dealer advisory board – including its chairman Tommy Baker.
“We drove the new AMG products through the countryside,” he said last week in Charleston. “To be able to drive and see the future, that’s a highlight of my career,” he said.
Baker, who heads Baker Motor Co. in Charleston, traveled to Stuttgart last week for a meeting involving the 13-member dealer board and Daimler AG directors. Corporate brass included “Dr. Z,” – Dieter Zetsche, Daimler’s board of management chairman and head of the Mercedes-Benz Cars division.
The carmaker’s executives fielded tough questions from the dealer group, Baker said. Among the highlights:
-- The carmaker is well capitalized with $18 billion in cash and has spent $4.5 billion on research and development on its upcoming models.
-- Mercedes-Benz is not interested in another merger like its parent Daimler’s failed matchup with Chrysler. But the automaker may share engines, and other technologies, with rivals such as BMW.
-- Mercedes is focused on hybrids and expects many models to operate with lithium-ion batteries by 2015.
-- The company is planning a new entry-level line priced below the C class at $25,000-$30,000.
-- Mercedes intends to reduce production of its AMG vehicles to heighten demand.
-- Ernst Lieb, president and chief executive Mercedes-Benz USA, received a two-year contract extension for his accomplishments since 2006 bolstering sales in the vast U.S. market.
“We left Stuttgart feeling extremely positive about the future of Mercedes-Benz and investments in the store,” Baker said. “We spent a lot of money on the facilities in the past few years. It certainly pays off.”
Meanwhile, Baker provided updates on the dealership’s franchises:
The brand just introduced a hybrid, the S400 sedan, which is the first production gas-electric car with a lithium-ion battery. Also on tap is an M class crossover hybrid. Then next spring, Mercedes will come out with an E class cabriolet and the 2011 SLS AMG with gull wing doors priced at $270,000.
The ultraluxury brand is selling 1,000 a year in the U.S. “Mercedes-Benz has to decide whether to continue,” Baker said. If so, Maybach would develop a new model or two. It has two now, the 57 sedan and 62 limousine.
The sports car maker introduced its Panamera sedan, and the dealership is trying to land “every one we can get our hands on,” he said. Next month, Porsche is rolling out its new 911 GT3 expected to cost $112,200. “Usually, the first to come back in the (down) automotive market is Porsche because Porsche follows the money,” he said. In other words, big spenders start buying again when they feel confident in the economy, and Porsches are what they want.
“I am literally out of Land Rovers,” he said. “I could use 2-3 more truckloads desperately.” The sport-utility brand has come out with 2010 versions of its LR2, LR4 and Range Rover models.
The carmaker joined the Baker fold earlier this year. “We’re so new with it,” he said. “But we love it and are pleased with its success.” The 2010 Jaguar XF, XJ and XK series are coming out or have arrived.
Thus far, the fortwo is the only model, “We are looking for future products,” Baker said. A four-door sedan powered by a 3-cylinder engine is likely within two years.
“We’ve had good years,” he said, even selling a few pre-owned Maseratis, The Italian carmaker is planning a new four-door convertible based on the sporty Gran Turismo that should arrive sometime next year.
The luxury line of Japanese carmaker Nissan has come out with a new rag top for its popular G37 sedan as well as a two-door coupe and sports coupe versions. Also expected is the 2010 M45 sedan. And on tap for next spring is the new M56, to be unveiled as a 2011 model priced at $56,500. “The quality is next to none,” he said.
No decisions have been finalized, but Baker Motor is at least in the running for one of the 120 or so Sprinter van franchises to be doled out by Jan. 1. Mercedes took over Sprinter operations from Chrysler Corp. in exchange for selling its remaining stock in the U.S. manufacturer. Sprinter has a plant in Ladson that’s involved in assembling the vans.
Baker Motor last year cleared out space on its west end for an expanded pre-owned operation. “For every new car we sell, we sell a used one,” he said.
Baker Motor intends to hold onto its vacant parcel on U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant for “future growth,” he said.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tommy Baker, making a point in a recent interview, is chief executive of Baker Motor Co. He is also chairman of the Mercedes-Benz Dealer Advisory Board and traveled to Stuttgart two weeks ago to meet with top company executives among others.×