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Chinese vans a long way from delivering: Benz

Steady as she goes: The new Sprinter due in Australia later this year will include a crosswind detection system that will automatically prevent the van from straying across lanes.

Cheap Chinese-made vans are no threat yet, Mercedes-Benz says


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27 Aug 2013

WORKPLACE safety and value for money will help Mercedes-Benz keep its foothold in Australia’s commercial vehicle market if the expected flood of cheap Chinese-made vehicles arrives, the head of Mercedes-Benz’s van division says.

Speaking on a visit to Australia last week as part of a whistle-stop tour of the German brand’s world markets, Mercedes-Benz global vice-president of sales and marketing for the car-maker’s commercial van division, Klaus Maier, said a growing awareness that for many couriers the driver’s seat is the office – and the workplace’s obligations to provide a safe workplace – would slow the Chinese brands’ roll-out here.

“The first experience of the Chinese manufacturers, it was not so successful for passenger cars,” Mr Maier said.

“They did some crash tests in Europe (German road safety authority ADAC crash-tested the Chinese-made Brilliance BS6 mid-size sedan in 2007 and it performed extremely poorly) and what we can see now is that they do not go to mature markets such as Australia, the US market and Europe,” he said.

“They go now to (emerging markets such as) South America, and they will gain the experience. And definitely we will have to take them seriously.”

Mr Maier said he expected the Chinese commercial vehicle manufacturers to follow a similar path to the Japanese and Korean brands that now dominate the passenger car market.

Helping them, he said, was the fact that European car-makers were willing to set up joint ventures with Chinese brands, and transfer technology that would help the Asian car-makers advance their products.

“I will take them when we see them over the next 10 or 15 years,” Mr Maier said.

“I'm sure what helps us is ... that the driver's seat is seen as a workplace and definitely the level of safety may not be the same in a Chinese vehicle so far.”

Mr Maier said the Chinese brands had already established a strong foothold in South America and were starting to dominate sales, but ultimately it would come down to what represented the best value to Australian buyers..

“In terms of the list price (of Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles) we are not the cheapest, but there’s also value for this price, and packaging from our perspective is still the best.

“I think it is our task, our challenge, that we convince our customers that our Mercedes-Benz package, taking into consideration everything - cost for maintenance, for repair, residual value – is the best package.

“We are quite confident that we are offering that package.”

Mercedes-Benz is poised to launch an all-new Sprinter delivery van on the Australian market in October.

In a world first, the slab-sided van is capable of holding a straight line in strong crosswinds thanks to clever driver-assist technology that uses the brakes to pull the van back in a straight line instead of weaving across the road every time a gust hits.

According to Mr Maier, it is technology such as this that will also help to give Mercedes-Benz an edge over cheaper rivals.

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