Dr Wilfried Aulbur, managing director and CEO, DaimlerChrysler India P Ltd tells Sourya Biswas what makes Mercedes the the preferred luxury car among Indian buyers (View exclusive domain-b video interview with Dr Wilfried Aulbur) Mercedes-Benz has been one of the earliest entrants in the field of premium cars in India. How has the segment developed over the years and what has been Mercedes-Benz's response to it?
We have been the number one luxury carmaker in India. We pioneered the segment and entered the market in 1995. Since then, we have been able to build up a good network across the country. We have a hub-and-spoke concept where today, presently on the passenger car side we are in 28 cities alone, and then on the truck side, we are currently in four locations. As far as the development of the luxury car segment is concerned, we have seen steady growth over the years and we have picked up growth in the last two years. We have grown at 11 per cent in 2006, 18 per cent in 2007. We wanted to go a little higher but we have run out of the C-class. So overall, the segment has developed quite steadily, similar to the overall market, and now we are seeing a tremendous acceleration over the last few years.
You are showing the new C-class at the Auto Expo. The new C-class is definitely bigger. How much better is it than the older C-class?
See, what we do, and that is also our aim, is we make sure that a new vehicle is actually on a totally different plane. If you look at the M-class, it was a clear step up as compared to the old M-class; the new S-class is a much, much better vehicle than the old S-class, and the C-class again is setting a number of records. It has a fantastic design, a tightrope walk between aggression and style, very refined interiors. It has an enormous amount of new technologies that are incorporated into the vehicle. There's first 'agility control', that gives you an opportunity to drive this vehicle in a very sporty manner, to experience driving a Mercedes rather than just being driven.
You have a range of safety features. We have 'pre-safe' in the vehicle that basically makes sure that if an accident happens, you are protected, your seat belts are strengthened, various windows are adjusted, the seat positions are adjusted to make sure you are
fully protected. We have 'neck-pro' in the vehicle, so a whole range of technologies that give you real agility at your fingertips, agility within your control, and at the same time keeps you safe. Beyond that, the fact that the vehicle is bigger gives the passenger in the rear seat more leg room, more space, which is very important in a country like India.
Yes, you will drive your vehicle, but you may not drive it every day, you will still have a chauffeur who may take you to work, and that's where the suspension, which is sort of an interplay between a sporty drive and a comfortable drive, makes a difference. The fact that you have significant space in the back makes the difference for Indian customers and that is clearly confirmed by all the automotive journalists that have driven the vehicle.
The Mercedes-Benz has always been a great car for the chauffeur-driven passenger. How much is it a driver's car?
As I said, basically, the C-class for us, is probably the vehicle in India that will have most punch in terms of driving it. Not only does it have agility control but it also gives you more direct steering, 6 per cent more than its predecessor. We have also increased torque and power. The petrol-version torque and power went up by about 10 per cent, the diesel-version by about 20 per cent, so you get a nice punch when you are driving on Indian roads. At the same time, the dimensions of the C-class are still small enough, so that for you as a driver it is actually fun to drive even in large cities like Delhi or Mumbai.
You already assemble some cars here while bringing others in as imports. Any plans of assembling more of those cars here?
Looking at our portfolio and what we can do in addition, at this particular point in time we don't have any plans to bring in any additional vehicles as locally produced vehicles.