“This was a no-brainer,” said Kevin Sreenan, the company’s general manager for the Southern region.
“This suited our needs perfectly,” he said.
Mercedes-Benz has turned the big building into a state-of-the-art facility that houses four business units: a sales operations office that supports 102 dealerships in 12 states, a parts distribution center that supplies 70 dealers, a learning and performance center that provides training for dealers and company personnel, and a quality evaluation center that allows the company to evaluate and research its cars and parts.
Three of the business units were already operating at other locations in Jacksonville and the parts distribution center was in Orlando before the company decided to consolidate everything into one location.
“We really wanted to bring it together under one roof,” said Sreenan. “It’s hard to manage what you can’t touch.”
Mercedes-Benz hopes that centralizing the divisions will allow it to provide more efficient service to its dealers and car buyers.
“This is a prime example of how we’d like to do it,” said Mercedes-Benz USA President and CEO Ernst Lieb, who visited the facility Wednesday for a grand opening ceremony.
The company employs about 160 people at the facility and that number could rise.
“We’re probably going to grow our investment here,” Lieb said.
The company is continuing to hire people as needed, Sreenan said. He said the best way for people to apply is to visit the company’s website, mbusa.com, to see a list of openings.
Mercedes-Benz operates three other regional sales offices, four other parts distribution centers and five other learning and performance centers in the U.S. But the quality evaluation center is unique, as the company operates only two of those outside its home in Germany, and the Jacksonville center is the only one in the U.S.
The quality evaluation center receives and evaluates defective parts from Mercedes-Benz dealers all over the country and is an important part of the company’s operation, company officials said.
“We’re making a real impact on quality from here,” said Alan McLaren, vice president of customer services for Mercedes-Benz USA.
Lieb said Jacksonville’s location on the East Coast makes it a good spot to connect with the company’s German headquarters and to its large American customer base.
“The U.S. is our second-largest market after Germany,” he said.
After a down year in 2009, Mercedes-Benz has had a rebound in 2010 with 114,689 vehicles sold in the U.S. through August, a 22 percent gain from 2009. But Lieb said sales are slowing.
“We had a very strong first half,” he said. But, “we’ve seen a lot of hesitation in the last three months from a customer point of view.”
Mercedes-Benz’s August sales in the U.S. rose 15 percent but overall U.S. car sales dropped 21 percent, the industry’s worst August in 28 years, according to Bloomberg News.
“We’re probably better off than most of our competitors,” Lieb said. He is optimistic that the economy will pick up and help sales.
“At the end of the day, we’ll just delay the recovery,” he said. “Overall, we’re on the right track.”