If there was one word to describe Eva Wiese, it would be focused.
“In Germany, we say the first car is sold by a salesman and the second car is sold by the service, and I truly believe in this,” Wiese, 46, told Automotive News Canada.
Mercedes-Benz Canada’s new CEO embraces the idea of the customer journey, from purchase and ownership to, hopefully, more Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
She sees it broadly, providing not just maintenance but other services to enhance ownership experience. For instance, as passenger transportation migrates to electric vehicles, an automaker should ensure EV owners have access to charging networks, she said.
Wiese is Mercedes-Benz Canada’s third CEO over the last year. She follows Dimitris Psillakis, who was named to the top post in Canada in September before becoming head of marketing and sales for Mercedes-Benz Cars North America at the start of 2021. Psillakis was preceded by Brian Fulton, who led the brand’s Canadian unit for about four years.
Parent company Daimler AG announced in November that Wiese, a German native and 20-year industry veteran, would take over the Canadian unit.
Her career track has included posts on three continents and positions at Mercedes-Benz headquarters, including strategic product management at the automaker’s passenger-car unit and head of marketing and product management at Mercedes-AMG.
Crucially, before arriving in Canada in February, Wiese ran a corporate-owned group of dealerships in Germany while also helping set up Mercedes-Benz’s customer-experience-management department. Her two-year stint at the sharp end of sales was especially valuable for her new position.
“There is no better place to gain experience as to what does the customer need, what do they want, than in retail. “I truly believe that the backbone of our success is our dealer network, and I think it is very helpful for a president responsible for a market to understand how does retail work, what are the needs of our dealers, what are they up for.”
In the first quarter of 2021, the automaker’s Canadian sales rose 14.7 per cent to 9,132 units, according to the Automotive News Research and Data Center in Detroit. In 2020, sales fell 23 per cent to 35,396 units from the non-pandemic year of 2019.
Mercedes-Benz’s dealer network comprises 52 franchises and seven corporate-owned stores. Wiese has begun physically distanced visits with them and praised their experience and professionalism amid current challenges. “I see how ambitious they are, and they are adapting quickly to the currently ever changing circumstances given the pandemic.”
Digital retailing, she said, warrants further attention. “You need to find new ways to stay in contact with your customers. Our dealers have done this very well, but I think this is definitely something that we could work on.”
Wiese was reluctant to pinpoint places with potential for growth outside Mercedes’ major Canadian cities.
“I would rather take more time to evaluate the market itself,” she said, adding it’s important to find the right balance between market potential and nurturing existing dealers’ successes.
Wiese discussed a broad range of issues facing the industry.
ON BEING THE FIRST FEMALE CEO AT MERCEDES-BENZ CANADA
While on the one hand I hope we soon see the day where it is no longer news that a woman is leading a major company, I am also proud to serve in this role based on my experience in the industry. If I can inspire even a few young women in Canada to jump into the exciting automotive world, I would be very happy.
ON DEALING WITH SUV DEMAND WHILE MAINTAINING SEDANS
I think we are able to adapt to the customer demand. I would not try selling people things they don’t really need or want. Since we are a global automaker, we always have the possibility to shift between the markets. Luckily, it’s not that always every market wants the same thing at the same time, so we’re in quite a good position.
ON THE COMPANY’S DECISION TO TRIM A LA CARTE OPTIONS
I think it is a good and wise thing to do so, because at a certain point we achieved a level of complexity that was too much for the customer, for the dealer, as well as for the company …I think the best thing is to have an easy-to-understand offer and also some space for individuality. We were a bit over the top with our choices.
ON WHETHER THE AUTOMAKER IS LATE WITH EVs
I would say we’re a bit late to the party. But if you’re coming late to a party you have to make sure that you’re the best-dressed person in the room. This is what we’re trying to do now. I think given the feedback on the teaser on the EQS [utility vehicle], I feel pretty confident that at least we’re making a good appearance and we will present something that is more than state of the art.
ON THE NEED FOR AN EV ECOSYSTEM
There will not be a significant share of electric cars if people cannot charge them. I think this is something where we need a common approach, the automotive industry, together with the governments and with the cities in order to have a good use of the cars.
LESSONS FROM A 20-YEAR CAREER AT MERCEDES-BENZ
What I wanted to learn is to have a comprehensive understanding of the whole value chain of the cars themselves, and on the other hand have a full understanding of the customer journey, from interest in the car, through buying a car, ownership and even re-buying [another Mercedes] car.
ON THE CONCEPT OF LUXURY
I think luxury should not be limited to a certain segment or even a certain price tag. I think luxury can also be a question of refinement and individuality.
ON CONSUMER EV REBATES
I don’t think we’re at the point yet [where incentives are no longer needed]. I think incentives will definitely help. If you really want to push the technology, then you should encourage the customer. But I think even more important is the charging network.
ON WHETHER EVs ARE A GAMBLE FOR AUTOMAKERS
The bet is on and we will try to have the best offer. ... We will receive only benefits for the environment if the car is not only offered but if the car is sold and driven. ... I prefer a customer-centric look on what we’re offering. It’s not only offering the car, it’s also being able to help the customer see where he or she could charge the car: How do you find the charging station? How do you pay the charging station?