An increasingly digital future is vital for Mercedes-Benz if the brand is to remain a leading force in the motor industry, according to sales and marketing boss Ola Källenius, talking to Autocar at the recent New York show.
“Almost all businesses in all industries are going digital, so you have to stay ahead,” he said. “If you visit the CES [Consumer Electronics Show] in Las Vegas, a few years ago there were no cars there. Now there are lots of cars, and even the tech companies have cars on their stands. There will be tremendous development over the next five to 10 years.”
Källenius explained that as part of Mercedes’ big push for digitalisation, it created Mercedes Me, an online portal and app designed to make it easier for customers to do things such as book car servicing or an appointment at a dealership.
“You can configure a car or even order one online, so we are already making it easier to be part of the Mercedes experience with this online ecosystem,” Källenius said.
Digitalisation will also help to improve the experience of customers when they are on the move, with Källenius citing recent improvements to car connectivity as a key area for 'car-to-x' development. Car-to-X communication involves vehicles swapping information with other vehicles electronically, as well as with traffic infrastructure.
Källenius said: “Now we’re going from 3G to 4G to 5G, you will have the best connectivity wherever you are. It means our models can communicate with your phone, each other and even our back-end servers.”
However, this investment in internet-based technology is not expected to lead to a decrease in traditional face-to-face services and systems.
“When it comes to the customer touch point — selling cars, servicing cars — the key is to do both [digital and physical],” said Källenius. “I think especially for a luxury brand like Mercedes, the human touch is maybe even more important today to set us apart.
Källenius described the recently expanded Mercedes Me network of stores as “brand experience clubhouses” that apply the same logic to customer service as Louis Vuitton stores do.
“With Louis Vuitton, you get your own personal experience when you walk around, with a shop assistant there to help you,” he said. “Really, it’s just an experience to be there.”