The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION FROM AUTOMAKER TO DEALER
Mercedes-Benz Canada understands the importance of dealer relations. At the company’s Toronto head office, Stephanie Ramey is the link: She’s the national manager of network development and customer experience.
“My responsibilities are the overall dealer network structure and strategy, which includes dealer profitability, financial statements, facilities, the customer experience survey and the business content for national dealer meetings,” Ramey said.
She also manages buy-sell transactions, when stores are available for sale, and evaluates the potential dealer partners.
The 42-year-old “loves solving problems” so she majored in psychology in university. She joined Chrysler Canada in her native Windsor, Ont., in 2003, in the customer relations call centre. Two years later she was promoted to district sales manager in the Montreal office and then Atlantic Canada, calling on dealers in her territories.
“Having that retail experience helped me in my current role,” she said. “I make the connection with dealers and understand the challenges they have and the reality of their day-to-day.”
Ramey took a voluntary buyout that Chrysler offered during the financial crisis and in 2009 applied to Mercedes-Benz. She was hired as the business development centre manager for the corporate stores the automaker had at the time but has since sold. Ramey moved into human resources before starting her current job in 2021. She now leads a seven-person team.
“Most of my world is meetings, but I take dealer calls and make a lot of dealer visits across Canada,” Ramey said. “As much as we have a history as an automaker, all of our dealer partners have a similar history building their own businesses.
“It’s a constant discussion to make sure we have clear priorities and that our goals are achievable. You have to choose the highest priority and focus on that.”
PASSION AND PRACTICALITY DRIVE VEHICLE PLANNING
Foreseeing the future of the auto industry has never been easy, and it’s tougher now as electric vehicles (EVs) enter the mix. But Patrick Danielson, director of product planning for Volkswagen Canada in Ajax, Ont., looks forward to the challenge.
“It’s one of the most interesting times in auto history to be a product planner, because we’re at a point where EVs are no longer a sideshow,” he said. “We know people want them, but we can’t transition by snapping our fingers. It’s going to be difficult keeping internal-combustion vehicles around while having EVs. You’re funding two portfolios, with all those challenges.”
Volkswagen Canada has a team of four product managers, each responsible for a portion of the vehicle lineup. Danielson heads up the team and is “tasked with strategic integration for the whole organization.” On a new vehicle, that can include outlining its features to the marketing department, getting accessories created for it, or working with the sales department to develop financing based on the intended customers’ income levels.
Danielson, 35, earned a degree in business administration but always intended to indulge his love of cars.
“I gravitated more toward the corporate side than dealership because I wanted to be closer to that point of origin.”
He began in customer service at Hyundai Canada in 2009, then moved to public relations and to product planning.
Danielson, a fan of Volkswagen cars, joined the automaker in his current position in 2019. He credits his success to understanding the balance of product and consumer.
“You can be a passionate auto enthusiast, but if you don’t have business sense, you won’t make the right decision. But if you’re only about business, you’ll miss the passion [customers] have. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing something you worked on go from an idea on paper to a physical object in your neighbour’s driveway.”