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Merc, BMW going for 'keep it simple'

2014-10-03 11:19

STANDARDISATION TAKE-OVER?: Mercedes-Benz and BMW are aiming to sell more standardised cars while still offering a bespoke option. The 4 Series coupe (pictured) is an example of this. Image: BMW

  Video

Watch how engineers try to explain how they're bringing wireless inventions into cars during a spirited drive with Formula E driver Nelson Piquet Jnr behind the wheel of a Formula E's official safety car - a modified BMW i8.

PARIS, France - Premium automakers Mercedes-Benz and BMW want to sell more "standard" cars and services to boost profits by simplifying the complex list of options while also offering upmarket extras if they're wanted.

The move is partly aimed at attracting customers who might struggle with the ever-growing list of model variants, multimedia features and safety technology available in new cars, the companies said at the 2014 Paris auto show on Thursday.

Ian Robertson, formerly with BMW SA but now BMW Germany's board member responsible for sales and marketing, said the new 4 Series coupe was being offered with four trim choices and the i8 hybrid sports car in only three.

(Editor: Not mentioned is the fact that automakers producing originally high-specced cars can avoid base-price increases by offering once original-spec items on future models as options. A new-vehicle price rise is thus avoided by reducing a vehicle's production cost (drop the leather, perhaps, and charge for it on later models?) and used units can be sold for more because they have the extras now being charged for.)


HIGH COMPLEXITY

"We have packaged a number of trim levels to help the customer and ourselves because the complexity was very high. Clearly understood was the M sport package," Robertson said, referring to cars equipped with the performance luxury trim that comes with fancier bumpers and spoilers and top-end engines.

Standardising equipment also helps the market to gauge the second-hand value of a car.

Robertson said: "It helps customers to understand what is available. That also helps with the residual values of the car and therefore the leasing rates."

Standardisation is also a response to the polarisation of customers' tastes in various countries. He added that BMW had, for example, stopped proactively offering manual transmission versions of its sports cars in markets such as the US and tended to push all-wheel drive versions in markets such as Austria where snow is normal in winter.

Customers nonetheless had the option to order a bespoke vehicle, Robertson pointed out, adding that that was still a key part of the premium buying experience.

'PRODUCT GENIUS'

Mercedes-Benz is also looking at ways to strike a balance between standard and custom-build. Ola Kaellenius, head of sales for Mercedes-Benz, said in an interview: "There are two approaches: you build to order or you build to stock. In Germany the classic approach is to build to order but in the US the dealer orders the cars and waits for customers to drive them out of the showroom. We offer both."

The growing number of model variants and the expanding range of trim, safety and multimedia options have, however, led Mercedes to simplify some of its offerings into brand packages. Mercedes digital connectivity and some customer interactions with servicing and dealership personnel are now being bundled under the "MercedesMe" brand.

Customers who prefer to go through the detailed specification list before ordering Mercedes will in future be able to call on a member of staff dedicated to this services. Kaellenius explained: "We now have a product concierge, comparable to a product genius in an Apple computer store, whose only job is to help customers understand the car before buying it, to take care of them during delivery, and to be available after the sale.

"Mercedes has a breathtaking pace of offering new innovations. We want to ensure that customers can understand it all. Despite all the digital tools for specifying cars, you still need the human touch."
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