Steffen, appointed last year to oversee DC's three brands – Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler and Smart – believes the UK, and in particular its dealers, has plenty to teach the German and American head offices. “Our retail partners are very professional in training, commitment, investment, focus and customer service. The UK is a role model for the rest of Europe, and whatever happens here will happen in the rest of the EU eventually,” he says.
Steffen is placing a lot of emphasis on building up the Smart brand in the UK. A product offensive will see one model launched every year until 2006. Existing retailers, who sell the car from their Mercedes showrooms, will have first choice on taking up the franchise as a standalone brand. Steffen believes sales could reach 25,000 in the mid-term, up from 9,744 last year. “This justifies standalone showrooms, and possibly some standalone 'experience centres',” he adds.
“But it has to work – we're not the Salvation Army. We and our dealers have to make money.”