Britta Seeger (Mercedes-Benz) at Fleet Europe Summit: “Cautiously optimistic but we need to be agile”
The opening keynote speaker of the 2020 Fleet Europe Summit was Britta Seeger, Member of the Board of Management at Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG, responsible for Marketing & Sales. “We are on a path to recovery and that means we can be cautiously optimistic about the future,” she said.
The reason why Ms Seeger was welcomed onto a virtual stage and not a physical one, was also the topic of her keynote: we are living in a world that has been changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asked by Fleet Europe editor-in-chief Steven Schoefs how her company was doing more than six months after the coronavirus broke out, Ms Seeger said Q3 had outperformed last year’s, in particular thanks to strong demand from China but also from markets in Europe like Germany and the Netherlands. “We’re on a path to recovery,” said Ms Seeger, “in the automotive but also in the broader economy.”
“I’m cautiously optimistic, but we need to be agile and look out for what will happen in December: will there be more lockdowns?” she said.
At the start of the first lockdown, Mercedes-Benz saw a dramatic drop in the number of online visits and configuration requests. However, as the lockdown took longer, there was a three-digit increase in both online visits and configurations.
Online sales channels
“We want to provide the online experience to our customers and our dealers also want to accommodate these sales,” said Ms Seeger. At the same time, she conceded it remains to be seen whether this move to digital sales channels is sustainable or whether people will go back to traditional channels once we can leave the pandemic behind us. “But we believe both will co-exist, giving the customer the position to choose.”
The pandemic has also shown us that the move away from owning vehicles may be less dramatic than many predicted pre-coronavirus. “Up to 60% of people say they don’t use public transport any more or they use it dramatically less,” said Ms Seeger, pointing out that similar trends can be seen in shared mobility services. “We see a renaissance of owning a car, and that’s not just for Mercedes," she said, adding car ownership will co-exist with smart mobility.
On the topic of fleet electrification, Ms Seeger believes we’re seeing a self-fulfilling prophesy. “One or two years ago, there was a lack of choice and the first plug-ins only had a range of 30 or 40km. As the range gets stronger, more people will buy them. We can now offer plug-ins with a range of up to 100km. That’s the first and most important point: create the desire to move towards this kind of mobility.”
“There’s no way back!” Ms Seeger concluded, referring to both the move towards electrification and towards new mobility services. “It’s the customer who decides what kind of mobility he wants. Before the pandemic, we saw a strong demand for integrated offers, combining individual mobility, public transport, e-bikes etc. Now, we have basically stopped travelling, and we will have to see what the longer-term impact will be. It may just be a slower ramp-up of these services.”
In a final statement, Ms Seeger pointed out changing employee preferences don’t necessarily always tie into age. “Sometimes it is not about age but about where people are living. Do they have children, is it a family of empty nesters, do they live in a metropolitan area, ... We have to be ready to respond to more individual needs of our customers.”
Image: Britta Seeger, head of Sales & Marketing at Mercedes-Benz and member of the board at Daimler at the 2020 Fleet Europe Summit