BANGKOK – Since Mercedes-Benz Thailand launched its AMG performance sub-brand here two years ago it’s been on an upward trajectory, gaining market share and connecting the automaker with new customers and segments.
After launching four models in 2017 and six last year, that rollout is gaining momentum as 12 new models are being added to the AMG roster this year. Two more arrived during the first quarter – but emphasizing just how important AMG has become here, Mercedes held an extravagant joint launch of five new models outside Bangkok.
Those five were the AMG C43 4MATIC, E53 4MATIC+, GT 53 4MATIC+ 4-door coupe, 63 S 4MATIC+ 4-door coupe and the G 63. The first mentioned is assembled locally from complete-knocked-down kits while the remainder come completely built-up.
AMG’s Thailand sales last year were up 309% over 2017 and were up 79% for this year’s first quarter against an overall market struggling to recapture last year’s runaway form.
AMG now accounts for 3% of Mercedes’ sales in Thailand, so there is a lot more room to grow.
Mercedes dominates the premium marketplace here, accounting for around half the sector’s volumes and that gives AMG a robust and trusted platform to build on as it seeks new customers.
Mercedes’ established Thai footprint has been a factor in getting wind into AMG’s sails, says Frank Steinacher, vice president-sales and marketing (below, left). “Local (AMG) production helps create more volume,” and that helps the imported models, he says.
“We’ve seen throughout 2018 that local production and (the) more production cars we have pulls a lot of customers into the performance cars, the import versions, and not only because of the different product but also because we can cater for the customers in a better way,” he says. “The whole setup of the dealers, the training, the technical knowledge, the platforms of the AMG Driving Academy or AMG Private Launch, that wouldn’t work if we only sell 40 AMGs a year.
“So that is something where we see extremely good benefits for all customers. It doesn’t matter if it’s, say, a smaller-segment AMG customer or high-end GT performance vehicle. The customer gets a lot more offerings and service,” Steinacher says.
Mercedes is the only brand here with a significant performance sub-brand and Roland Folger, president, says AMG is attracting new customers as well as seeing loyal buyers upgrading.
“The chances are they start actually with a Mercedes,” he says. “(But) there are a lot of customers who, because of their income levels, their personal interests, are drawn to high-performance vehicles.
“In the past, even five years ago, we didn’t have these in the Thai market. They were very expensive, now they’re coming lower and lower,” Folger says. “They would have considered something else, but now they get something on the Mercedes side.”
Mercedes has no problem with existing customers trading up to an AMG because they remain in the family.
“What is more interesting is if we look at conquest rates,” Folger says. “How many customers do we get in an AMG (who) did not drive a Mercedes before, and that’s extremely high. It’s much higher than on our Mercedes cars, so the conquest possibilities of an AMG compared to what we so far had with Mercedes is much bigger.”
It doesn’t just stop at exposing Mercedes to affluent new customers. Those new customers are younger, the key target demographic that all brands want to capture.
The star of the launch is the G Wagen. And the AMG version, dubbed the G 63, fits snugly into where Mercedes Thailand is going with the performance sub-brand.
“What we do see, and I think it’s changing the customer segment of this vehicle worldwide, clearly it’s not the pure outdoor enthusiasts where the G Wagen started,” Steinacher says. “The G Wagen was the icon for people who wanted to go off-road and enjoy adventures. Now it’s more a style icon and a statement rather than for its off-road capabilities.”
The five-model launch comes as the overall Thai new-car market has run out of steam after a big year-on-year jump in 2018, largely because of inconclusive elections in March that saw neither main political group able to gain a majority and form a government.
However, Mercedes believes it can ride out any coming storm.
“The market isn’t as easy as it used to be, but our projection for the rest of the year is very on the positive side,” Folger says. “We think it will recover. We’ll see a lot more volume exposed, a lot more demand and it’s our strategy to introduce more compact new vehicles.”