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Kelly: 'customers must come first'

Dermot Kelly, the executive behind the controversial reorganisation of the Mercedes-Benz retail network in the UK, urged delegates at Automotive Management's autumn conference to put customers first.

He told delegates at the event – Beyond Block Exemption – that for Mercedes, its brand came first.

Mr Kelly, UK director of Mercedes-Benz Passenger Cars, said the company saw itself as more than a producer of cars. “We take a brand-view of Block Exemption because we have one of the most respected brands in the world,” he said.

“The debate about any changes to it can be an excuse not to act and to put on hold action we should be taking. We are looking beyond Block Exemption because we are responding to customers' needs.”

Mr Kelly said his objective was to create the best method for customers to buy cars and gain the best value.

The decision to open brand centres in London, Birmingham and Manchester – and used car centres branded Mercedes Direct – was not defensive.

“The strategy is designed to satisfy our customers, and to do that we have to develop new methods,” he said. “We will never satisfy all our customers all the time.

“Most of them know nothing about Block Exemption, nor detailed mechanics – they would not know a crankshaft if they fell down one.”

Mr Kelly said Mercedes would keep trying to attain new levels of customer satisfaction, though it already had 'best practice' “in some dealerships, in some departments”.

The conference, at Birmingham's International Convention Centre, was held as automotive professor Garel Rhys questioned the European Commission's approach to Block Exemption revision.

The director of Cardiff University Business School's Centre for Automotive Research said: “The EC wants to help consumers and believes that revising Block Exemption to increase competition will bring consumer benefits.

“This is not necessarily so. A free-for-all could destroy so many dealers that market dominance by a few chains will result. As these will be the multi-franchise outfits, consumers will face a world of take-it-or-leave-it rather than the land of perfect competition.”

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