More light trucks headed to Mercedes dealerships

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Dietmar Exler, CEO, Mercedes-Benz USA

NEW ORLEANS — Mercedes-Benz will distribute more SUVs and crossovers to its U.S. dealerships this year, answering dealers’ pleas for more inventory.

Dietmar Exler, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, told dealers about the inventory boost at the brand’s make meeting at the NADA convention here. It’s too early to estimate a percentage increase in trucks for 2017, Exler told Automotive News, but he expects the same pattern as in 2016, where the U.S. brand leaders worked with parent company Daimler AG to increase truck inventory to the U.S.

"They supported us pretty well last year," Exler said. "As the year goes on, month by month, we’ll get more and more trucks. They’re doing everything they can over there to crank up the number of trucks produced. I’m pretty sure we’ll get a fair share for the U.S."

In 2016, the brand’s sales of luxury SUVs and crossovers rose 15 percent while its car sales fell 11 percent.

Dealers particularly are crying out for more GLC compact crossovers. That vehicle was introduced late in 2015 and has been a hit. Mercedes has said it will add production of the GLC to a contract manufacturing plant in Finland this year.

With that plan, U.S. dealers can expect to get "quite a few more than last year," Exler said.

The expected increase in truck inventory is "good news," said Ken Schnitzer, a Texas dealer with four Mercedes-Benz stores and chairman of the Mercedes-Benz Dealer Board.

In 2017, the dealer board aims to work with Mercedes to take complexity out of the system and improve dealership profitability. After streamlining some training requirements in 2016, the dealers and automaker will look jointly for more opportunities in 2017.

"There’s other areas where we can make it a little bit simpler," Exler said.

The new-car margin structure was simplified for 2017, Schnitzer said, eliminating certain training qualifiers, for example. Both parties will consider further adjustments for the 2018 margin structure. Increasing the level of profitability is the top goal for dealers this year, Schnitzer said.

The average profit for Mercedes dealers in 2016 hasn’t been finalized, Exler said, but preliminary results suggest it was "pretty much on the same level overall for the network compared to 2015."

One area Mercedes and the dealer board have identified for improvement, Exler said, is aftersales. He declined to provide specifics but said, "We think we can jointly do a better job, where we’re leaving business on the table."

Overall, Mercedes anticipates a small gain in its luxury sales in 2017, Exler said. Helping will be a full year of sales for the redesigned E-class sedan, the introduction of the redesigned E-class coupe and convertible and a freshened version of the S-class sedan, which will go on sale this summer.