'Even during the lockdown, we have received many online enquiries and subsequent bookings.'
Despite the coronavirus challenges, Mercedes-Benz said it will go ahead with its planned 10 launches.
Martin Schwenk, managing director and chief executive officer, Mercedes-Benz India, told T E Narasimhan that the company has strengthened its online offerings to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.
What has been the impact of COVID-19?
The economic impact cannot yet be adequately determined or reliably quantified.
We temporarily suspended our operations as a precautionary measure since March 21.
This was followed by closure of all dealerships.
We have strengthened our online offerings and witnessed positive momentum.
Even during the lockdown, we have received many online enquiries and subsequent bookings.
We expect to see a shift of consumer mindset towards online purchase, going forward.
We have seen bookings of 150 pre-owned cars in the February-March period and now we have the entire range of new Mercedes-Benz vehicles along with a host of online services.
How is Mercedes-Benz handling the crisis?
We have restarted our production in a graded manner, following the state government's directives and have implemented all social distancing protocols and safety and sanitisation measures.
Our suppliers and select dealers have restarted operations, following local authorities's directives.
We will gradually restart production and also reopen select dealerships.
Our online sales platforms under 'Merc from Home' campaign has seen good initial customer response.
We have also been working closely with our dealer partners along with DFS India to ensure cash flow to them so that they can manage their overheads.
We have also supported customers by rolling out support packages like standard warranty extension, protection against lapsed service, grace period to purchase extended warranty and insurance support.
The company is planning to launch 10 products in the next 12 months. Any change in plan?
We will proceed with our planned launches and there will be no cancellations in our plans.
Due to the current situation, there may be some delays.
We will try to minimise the impact on our customers.
Mercedes-Benz has one of the most diverse portfolios in the entire automotive segment, comprising more than 20 model offerings across body shapes and segments.
We are confident that our product offerings will address the consumer demand adequately.
We are now going to enter the electric vehicles segment in India with the launch of EQC.
What are the lessons the company has learnt from COVID-19, especially when it comes to supply chain and medium of sales, including digital?
Experience to date with the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how stable and flexible our supplier network is.
Our supply chains have proven to be very robust.
For many unforeseen deviations, we already have standard processes in place that help us in situations like these.
Our learning from this crisis is that, over time both online and offline experience will complement each other.
While physical dealerships will continue to remain essential touchpoints, digital shopping will enhance the customers's brand journey and deepen the brand connect and trust.
How are you planning to retain your share?
We are confident of retaining our market position and our focus remains on having a profitable and sustainable business for us and our partners.
We have a strong line-up of new vehicles ready for market debut in the next few quarters and we are confident that it will excite customers.
When do you expect the market to open up? What should the government do to revive demand?
We cannot predict any timeline to recovery at this current moment as we have only started to reopen our dealerships gradually since last week.
It will take months for things to stabilise and we hope for positive customer sentiment around the festive period.
A short-term policy push from the government would be a major boost that can spur growth back in the sector.
How are other businesses, including used cars, rentals as well as shared and leasing doing now?
Mercedes-Benz has completed five successful years of its pre-owned car brand 'Mercedes-Benz Certified' and today Mercedes-Benz India has the highest market share in the organised pre-owned car market.
Mercedes-Benz Certified has sold over 20,500 units of pre-owned cars over the last five years and witnessed 20 per cent cumulative growth.
Owning an asset is still very much in preference over leasing, and that has been our experience, as a car purchase in India is driven by emotions.
Also, the interest structure for independent leasing bodies and tax benefits to individual buyers are some areas that will be looked into to make leasing popular.