In mid-October 2016, GMC launched the all-new 2017 Acadia, their mid-size luxury SUV designed for the trendy family man or woman. Executive Life sat down with Managing Director of Middle East Commercial Operations, Markus Leithe, to discuss GMC’s strategy in Lebanon, their relationship with one of their agents in Lebanon, RYMCO, and all that lies in between.
E GMC is trying to compete in several categories of vehicles. How do you position your models and what is your outlook on the competition in this regard?
Judging by the past year, we are doing extremely well in Lebanon with GMC. I think Sultan Nahle and his team are doing a really good job in significantly improving the sales performance here.
I think we made changes in the positioning of the vehicles in that, at first, we were not deep enough in the market to understand what the consumer was looking for. I think we did a really good job in making sure this was corrected and as a result we have seen 85 percent growth in the market, which is really very strong for us.
What I see, especially with the Terrain and the Acadia, is that we have a huge opportunity in our sheer volume, which is still not comparable to the GCC market, but is on a good uptake. This year showed the potential [we have], because I think in a market like this, you have a certain customer group that is wealthy and affluent and wants to have a vehicle that is not one of the typical [models found in the]German premium category but that is still a bit special.
With the Acadia, we have a family car with all the aspects of one, such as safety and space, but it doesn’t say, ‘I am a father only or a mother only’.
E Given the economic situation in Lebanon, or even the region, price remains a major consideration when selecting a car.
I would disagree with this. Yes, there are certain economic challenges, but there are still a lot of people who can afford a vehicle. And once you can afford a vehicle, it is not a difference of a few hundred dollars which will make you choose one vehicle over the other if it’s a brand and product that you like.
E Where does the dealer come in? How big is their role in this equation?
I think it’s extremely big, and it’s growing every year. The customer experience is becoming more and more of the deciding factor.
At the end of the day, there is no really bad product out there anymore, and so you need to have the full package: you need to have the strong vehicle, but equally as important is the customer experience in terms of the service and after service experience and their trust of the dealer.
This is why we are particularly happy with RYMCO because they have the right experience and attitude.
If the dealer does not provide added value and enhance customer experience, then the showroom does not offer anything. We are trying to get dealerships to understand that they need to provide this added value to make customers trust them, beginning with the purchase of the car and the service you get afterwards. This drives you to stay with the company.
E When you are a monobrand, it’s easy for you to comply with one vehicle’s culture, but when you are a company like RYMCO that has experience in managing multiple brands, they might they have their own culture. How big of a margin for maneuvering do you give your dealers in developing their own approach to customer satisfaction versus complying with your philosophy?
We are not trying to impose a certain culture on our dealers. We are a global company and are on the ground in basically every big country of the world, so we fully understand that you need to treat customers differently depending on the area you are dealing with.
We provide recommendations and challenge the team to think about how they can best reach the same result, which is ultimate customer satisfaction, but how it’s executed is a completely different story because every country reacts differently.
E When a country goes through economic troubles and the market shrinks, agents who are committed to certain sales quantities suffer. How flexible are you with these clients in such conditions?
As GMC, we have a different setup than many other companies in that we do monthly ordering. Yes, we have annual plans based on certain economic assumptions, but if these economic assumptions are not fulfilling themselves then you need to adjust.
It’s not my job to kill an agent for a short term gain; that would be stupid to do. If we talk [about]RYMCO or IMPEX, these are relationships we’ve had for 40 years and more. You don’t sacrifice this for one bad quarter or year. So there is a certainly a lot of flexibility and making sure that there is growth within the existing boundaries such as performance within a certain market share.