On a hot sunny afternoon, The Peak joined Mercedes-Benz Malaysia on the Ultimate Luxury Drive up to The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat in Ipoh. The drive also happened to be the last in Malaysia for the company’s vice president of sales and marketing Mark Raine participated in before he started his new position at Mercedes-Benz South Korea. Following a sumptuous dinner at Jeff’s Cellar, we managed to catch up with Raine to look back at his time at Mercedes-Benz Malaysia.
What would you say is your biggest contribution to the growth of Mercedes-Benz Malaysia?
I would like to say that I have made the brand much more aspirational. While Mercedes-Benz Malaysia has always been renowned for their luxury limousines. I also needed to make the brand more progressive, edgier and youthful to make it more desirable for people in a younger age group.
When I arrived in Malaysia back in 2014, there was a strong need to transform the product portfolio as it was too thin. To address this, I implemented a strategy and direction to dissect our portfolio into four product groups. The compact cars, limousines, premium SUVs and the Dream Cars.
I would also like to say that I helped create sub-brands such as Urban Hunting and Hungry For Adventure. The idea for this was to decouple from the overarching Mercedes-Benz brand and infiltrate these product groups with a certain perception.
Urban Hunting being a subtle sub-brand that was created to be cool, hip and underground feeling. Meanwhile, Hungry For Adventure was a theme for our premium SUV range that perfectly complements the active lifestyle of Malaysians.
Statistically, how would you measure the impact of your strategies on the performance of Mercedes-Benz Malaysia?
Well, I can say that we have enjoyed a 90% increase in sales. When I came in 2014, we sold 6,932 cars last year 13,079. I think that was a great achievement.
There was also the massive product offensive, that we launched. Over the course of just four years, I have launched over 50 cars which I think no other brand has done that much urgency and speed and conviction.
Apart from that, we have expanded our dealer network to 35 dealerships from just 24 in 2014.
The only way to win the game in Malaysia is if you can locally produce your vehicles. Because of that, we have invested in our production plants, upping our capacity from 3,500 cars previous to nearly 10,000 cars now. In fact, 80% of our sales in Malaysia are locally produced cars.
Part of your strategy was to change the way Mercedes-Benz is perceived by customers, by way of targeting a younger demographic. Do you believe you have succeeded in your mission?
Yes and no. In terms of image and perception of the brand, I would say yes. But in terms of purely by numbers, the average age of our customer is still the same. But I believe that customers who are now in their 40s and going into their 50s they want to have that young at heart feeling. Nobody wants to be perceived as old.
The benefit I bring to the table is that I am fairly young for the position I am in. So I can have the same mindset as a customer in my age group. That was my intention. I wanted to rejuvenate the brand.
Can you explain more about the Dream Cars initiative from Mercedes-Benz?
As a category, did it achieve the objective you set? The Dream Cars is an important cornerstone to make the brand more desirable to high net worth individuals and convince them to go on one of our Dream Cars that would have a positive effect on the brand.
For example, I was convinced that C-Class Coupe is a product for the Malaysian market but I faced heavy resistance from the dealers who thought that this model wouldn’t work here.
But I firmly believed that this is a product that we can sell if we position it correctly, give it the right specification, price then I believe this will sell.
Speaking of trends, what do you think of electric vehicles? With offerings like the Mercedes-Benz EQC, do you think the market in Malaysia is ready for it?
Yes, the market in my view is ready if the regulatory guidelines and policies allow for EQ vehicles to thrive plus if the infrastructure grows with it.
The main challenge which all manufacturers face now and in the future is that hybrid and electric cars are more expensive than the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE).
Now if the government does not support or incentivise the EQ industry then it struggle for the foreseeable future as the offerings will be more expensive and most customers will not be attracted to it.
I choose my words carefully because you can’t just finger point the government to do or command them, so it needs to be all stakeholders. This includes the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), suppliers for EQ parts and batteries and also organisations to supply charging infrastructure to be ready to roll out.
So it is not something that is straightforward, but it is doable.