Mirko Plath

“We Have a Premium Brand That is Not So Much Affected by Recession”- Weststar Boss, Mirko Plath

Weststar Associates Limited, Authorized General Distributor of Mercedes Benz, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram in Nigeria, recently, launched four new Mercedes-Benz models into the Nigeria market. After the launch, Motoring World’s Lagos Bureau Chief, Rotimi Asher, accompanied by Rasheed Bisiriyu of The Punch, Mike Ochonma of BusinessDay and Daphne Udeneje of the Nigerian Pilot Newspaper, cornered the company’s Managing Director, Mr. Mirko Plath, for a chat.

Aside throwing more lights on why his company launched four luxury Mercedes-Benz Models at a go, Plath revealed his market projections for 2017.

Is Mercedes-Benz under any pressure to set up auto manufacturing plant in Nigeria? His answer to this very question is revealing.

EXCERPTS;

In spite of the economic situation in the country, your company is launching four good intimidating luxury vehicles. Why doing this now?

PLATH: What Nigeria is going through at the moment is actually not peculiar to the country -you have difficult situations everywhere in the world. Mercedes-Benz is a proactive company and our aim of course, is to meet customers’ demand at all times therefore, we won’t go to sleep simply because there is economic crisis.

We have to keep on exciting our customers by launching new products and services into the market. You can’t just abandon things or your business, because there is recession. For us, we have structured the market launch of certain products in order to retain our market share in Nigeria. So far, so good, in spite of the recession in Nigeria, our brand is doing well.

What is your projection for these cars in term of sales?

PLATH- Being a new model for 2017, the E-Class is an important car for the Mercedes-Benz brand. We believe this product will definitely drive a good market share for the year 2017 and further.

The E-Class will have as usual, a market share in the premium segment of approximately 42-47 percent in Nigeria. This is a good motivation for us. That is why there is a need to re-design, re-invent and offer a car which will deliver the kind of elegance you expect in the future in terms of utmost driving.

People are concentrating on other things besides the driving process itself. It could be more connected multi-media wise, safety wise and, like I said, utmost driving one day. I believe Mercedes-Benz is in a good way to achieve that.

Since there is a recession, there is the possibility that people will cut down on luxury items, which you deal in, how is the business like now?

PLATH- Of course, when there is a crisis like this, there is bound to be a change in consumer behaviour. In the premium segment, we sustain the market share throughout last year and the year before. We don’t really see a big risk in our sector. However, we see a need for us to penetrate the compact car segment with more suitable products beyond what our competitors are doing and this we have already announced during our event in January.

What is actually motivating you, despite the recession in this kind of economy?

PLATH: We have a long tradition in Nigeria – more than 60 years now. That means for over 60 years, the brand has been here. Truth is we have a responsibility in Nigeria – not only to serve but also to make sure our customers are satisfied – satisfied with our after-sales services, trainings, employment and investments. This is what we have successfully done over these years, which shows our dedication and commitment to our market.

As I mentioned earlier, the Nigerian market is relevant to the brand just like every other market in the world, therefore we cannot fold our hands and say we are stopping our plans for Nigeria. No, that is not the way it works. We are here for Nigeria and Nigerians to ensure that the brand remains successful even in years to come.

Not many luxury auto dealership companies have joined the assembly crusade in Nigeria. Are you under any pressure to start an assembly plant?

PLATH: I won’t call it pressure, because wherever Mercedes-Benz brand is represented in the world, it always takes its time, and this is because we embark on things we can sustain. It is not helping anybody, neither the Nigerian stakeholders nor the brand Mercedes-Benz to rush into an adventure that is not sustainable. From that point of view, we take our time to evaluate all the intricacies.

As you may know, we also represent the commercial brands -the Mercedes trucks, mini-vans, buses and here we have very advanced project already, which we are implementing now. We want to see how that plays out.

How many are you looking out for to break even?

PLATH: Realistically, we are looking at 500-700 units to start with, and we will see how this develops even though the framework right now does not really justify the concept. But we have to start from somewhere. The SKDs and CKDs have started successfully though.

Are you looking at Nigerian market alone?

PLATH: You know the Nigeria market is huge with a population of more than 180 million people, if I am not mistaken. The country is big enough to absorb the Mercedes-Benz brands. So, we have no intentionat the moment to export from here.

The one you are bringing in now, what is the motivation and what have you done to ensure you get it right?

PLATH: First of all, we evaluated whether there is the need for us to come in with these products, because in the segment we want to enter, there is a lot of competition in existence. We have to do something to top it, make it better and wider in terms of service quality. It is a very exciting project for us and I am very much convinced that all the support we receive from our manufacturers and from our partners here in Nigeria, who are helping us with this project, will make it a successful venture.

If you have the opportunity to speak to the government now and they are requesting for your input, what will you be asking for?

PLATH: It will be to protect the interest of the brand and also have a sustainable concept in Nigeria.

What provision have you made in terms of after-sales for these newly launched products?

PLATH: We have a strong network of dealers nationwide, who are appointed only for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars and commercial vehicles sales and service, because the brands are quite different.We have a strong after-sales philosophy in Nigeria therefore; we invest as well in after-sales and our service support level is indeed extraordinary, and this we intend to keep up.

“…wherever Mercedes-Benz brand is represented in the world, it always takes its time, and this is because we embark on things we can sustain. It is not helping anybody, neither the Nigerian stakeholders nor the brand Mercedes-Benz to rush into an adventure that is not sustainable. From that point of view, we take our time to evaluate all the intricacies.”-Mirko Plath

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