For Zetsche, skipping Detroit is hard to do

Daimler’s Dieter Zetsche, in Detroit in 2016, right, “had to follow the rationale” but is keeping an eye on 2020.

During his time as Chrysler CEO, Dieter Zetsche was a highly visible and enthusiastic participant in the Detroit auto show — and so the Daimler chief admits the decision to pull Mercedes-Benz out of the 2019 show next January was a painful one.

“I shouldn’t even have to answer the question; of course, it was,” said Zetsche this month at the Geneva auto show. “And of course, [the decision] was not primarily made by me, but finally, I had to follow the rationale.”

The rationale was that Mercedes’ product pipeline won’t be pumping out a major new model to coincide with the next Motor City show.

“This is not about the Detroit auto show; it’s about the 2019 auto show,” he said. “In 2019, given the activities we were planning, given the cadence of the product launches, there was just no meaningful fit. But I very much expect in 2020 we will be back with some product launches.”

Britta Seeger, Mercedes’ global sales boss and chief auto show strategist, said the brand now asks itself, “What are the cars we are launching, and does this fit the region where we are launching, and does it fit the overall marketing plan, and does the platform fit to the overall audience we are trying to attract?”

Seeger: It needs to be a fit.

She acknowledged increasing competition for auto shows. Mercedes has begun experimenting with new formats, hosting the Me Convention during Frankfurt’s auto show last September with SXSW, or South by Southwest, the annual music and technology festival in Austin, Texas.

“What’s happened in recent years,” Seeger said, “is that there were so many new platforms where we could get into contact with customers we normally could not get interaction if we stayed in the auto shows.

“This is not so much Detroit-related, but more that we have cars coming to market that have a strong footprint in one region more than the other. And from this, we decide about whether this is the right platform.”

The Detroit show is expected to shift to October in 2020, but Seeger said time of year is not the key factor.

She said: “If there is then a potentially good launching possibility, we would potentially reconsider.”

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