The power of positive energy

Mercedes-Benz’s Vans Division forecasts a strong finish to the sales year, with consumer appetite for reliable, durable and refined light commercial vehicles remaining keen

Nadia Trimmel, vice president of Mercedes-Benz Vans South Africa, is looking forward to a strong finish to the division’s sales year. Despite market challenges, she sees opportunities for the products that fall under her portfolio, with pedigreed vehicles such as the Sprinter, V-Class, Vito and X-Class maintaining powerful momentum in the segments in which they compete.  “Tough times help to make us stronger,” she says.

“Whatever the model, there’s nothing quite like a Mercedes-Benz,” she says. “In terms of sales, all of the vehicles that fall under the Vans Division’s umbrella do us proud. Consumer appetite for reliable, durable and refined products remains keen.”

Trimmel regards the unveiling of the third-generation Sprinter earlier this year as a highlight of the brand’s launch calendar, the new model having successfully reinforced its position as the vehicle of choice for South Africa’s long-distance taxi industry.

“A large number of the Sprinters we sell locally are bought by taxi operators,” she says. “However, we are highly active in other areas of the market, too, and demand for Sprinters as leisure vehicles such as camper vans, mobile homes or tourism carriers is expanding. There’s also been positive take-up of the model from the emergency services sector – by ambulance operators, for instance.”        

She attributes the vehicle’s success not only to its versatility, but also to its dependability and fuel efficiency, along with the aftersales support the brand offers. “Research shows that we are giving customers what they want,” she says. “That’s what people expect from Mercedes-Benz.”

She’s equally positive about the fortunes of the luxuriously fitted V-Class multi-purpose vehicle which, following a facelift in the third quarter, has continued to sell well. “Like the Sprinter, the V-Class has maintained market dominance in its segment – and it, too, has a very loyal customer base.

“It’s a fantastic product that, in terms of providing executive-styled transport, is highly popular in a number of sectors – in the tourism industry where it is used as a hotel shuttle, for instance, and in the corporate world where it becomes a boardroom on wheels.

“With regard to the latter, we anticipate that soon some of the bigger corporates, many of which have held onto their fleets a little longer than usual, will be looking to replace aging vehicles – and let’s not forget its popularity as a road-tripping vehicle for family holidays, which augurs well for end-of-year sales!”

Similarly, the more aggressively priced Vito has made inroads in terms of fleet business sales, the Tourer model being a popular choice for rental companies. “Also, a lot of entrepreneurs who have decided to start their own businesses have found the model to be ideal as a cost-effective, dual-purpose vehicle, so factoring in those sales contributes to our positive year-end outlook,” Trimmel says. 

She adds that loyal customers have played a prominent role in the success of the Mercedes-Benz Vans Division. “They are our ambassadors,” she maintains. “Some have been with the brand through many generations of commercial vehicles, including trucks – and many also drive Mercedes-Benz cars.”

On that point, she says the launch last year of the X-Class – the first premium bakkie to be introduced to the market – was seen as a bold and unexpected step for the brand, and loyal customers were attracted to the vehicle for exactly that reason: its premium qualities.

“We are satisfied with sales under the current market conditions,” she says. “Many of our X-Class customers are second-vehicle customers – they already have a Mercedes-Benz in the garage, but are in need of a comfortable, versatile off-roader that meets a need for adventure while still offering everything they are used to.

“The X-Class fits the bill. Some have even upgraded their four-cylinder models to the latest variant in the range – the turbocharged, V6 version, which was launched a little later than the original. That’s how loyal they are.”

It’s not only loyalists, though, who are attracted to the brand. Trimmel says sales to newcomers are common across the Vans Division’s line-up. First-time customers express appreciation not only for what the Mercedes-Benz badge is perceived to offer in terms of premium qualities, but also its reputation for reliability, aftersales support and, in the long term, the value for money it represents.

“Feedback from first-time customers has been positive,” she says. “Many are surprised to discover just how affordable a Mercedes-Benz is to run, and they are very appreciative of that fact. There’s a lot of responsibility on our side to ensure that every need is met, whether it’s on the sales side, or the aftersales side. All of our people are highly professional in their approach – and again I think that’s what customers expect from Mercedes-Benz. We only make promises we can keep.”

As head of the Vans Division, Trimmel is tasked with driving forward all aspects of the business, a role she relishes even if, she says, she joined the motor industry somewhat by default. Holiday jobs working for a windscreen manufacturer had given her insights into the automotive world, but she thought her interest in marketing would take her to a career in the fast-moving consumer goods industry, or in pharmaceuticals.

It wasn’t until an opportunity arose to join a graduate programme run by a rival motor manufacturer that she became fully immersed in the auto industry – and she found she enjoyed it immensely. “I felt a bit intimidated at first,” she says. “But that feeling lasted all of three weeks. To be successful, I realised I’d have to look beyond what I was seeing – I’d need to read between the lines.

“I believe that we learn something from every experience and, when things get difficult, there’s an opportunity to learn the most. I’ve applied that ever since…”

She moved to Mercedes-Benz South Africa in 2014 as national sales manager, vehicles sales and aftersales, in the words of some of her colleagues: “Bringing a new dimension of inspired leadership and competence to the position.”

Key responsibilities included the development and implementation of an effective van sales and aftersales strategy for the brand, in which she spearheaded a number of important initiatives. Less than three years later, she was appointed head of Mercedes-Benz Vans.

“As head of the division I’ve tried to create an environment in which we, as a team, make things happen whatever the challenges – we strive for excellence, because that’s inherent in the brand. We work to get things right the first time, and we never give up.  That truly South African trait of resilience is ever present in our ranks. Getting everyone to see every opportunity every day is part of the job – and I enjoy it! I love nurturing positive energy!”

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is one of the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publications in southern Africa.
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