Dermot Kelly, managing director of the Mercedes-Benz UK Car Group, says: “Our dealers were nervous at first but they have now visited the site and believe they will benefit from it.
“Mercedes owners will continue to buy cars from their local dealers but many will come here occasionally to refresh their enthusiasm for the brand.”
Kelly says Mercedes-Benz Glasgow, a former Reg Vardy dealership now owned by Pendragon, has arranged a visit for a group of owners next spring. The centre has more than 100 Mercedes on display, with zones for Maybach and Smart.
The cost of Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands has not been revealed, but Kelly does not deny a suggested figure of around £40m. Research suggests 300,000 visitors per year; admission is free, with charges for driving on a small circuit or a 4x4 route alongside the centre.
DaimlerChrysler will also claw back its investment, and pay the 240 employees at the centre, from sales of new and used cars. Small business rooms, each equipped with a computer, can be booked by owners waiting while their car is serviced.
Mercedes has a historical link with the site, winning on the first race day in 1907. The centenary will be marked by a major event next summer.
DaimlerChrysler removed chemical pollution and thousands of old tyres from the 155-acre site and has given a 60-acre town park to the local community.
The company has tried for two years to persuade local planners to allow a revolving Mercedes star at the top of the galleried front of the centre that resembles its cars’ bonnet.
Kelly says banks and other businesses are booking events, which include a magazine’s awards evening when the guest speaker will be Chris Bangle, head of design at BMW.
Mercedes-Benz World has caused some disruption within the manufacturer’s own retail network. Neil Williamson, managing director of DaimlerChrysler UK Retail, says he has closed the Tooting outlet, with 80 staff transferring to Brooklands (an aftersales centre continues at Mitcham).
“We have also shut our outlet at Walton after 20 years,” he says, “and our leased premises in Mayfair close at the end of this month.”
Dieter Zetsche, the DaimlerChrysler chairman, and head of the Mercedes-Benz board, explained the purpose of the centre when opening it.
“The automotive world is a highly competitive one and the success of all brands is constantly under attack,” he said. “As manufacturing and design standards have risen in all cars, brand differentiation becomes more and more difficult.”