Mercedes-Benz South Africa – Johannesburg Motor Show 2013

Johannesburg Motor Show 2013

Mercedes-Benz SA zoning in on sustainable investing and accident-free driving

Johannesburg Motor Show 2013

Sustainable investing is the buzzword in boardrooms across the country, but very often only lip service is paid to it by companies. Motor companies, though are taking up the cudgels as significant new initiatives to deliver benefits on a broader stakeholder basis, including critical jobs growth and skills development, come to fruition.

Two major drivers are the new Automotive Production & Development Programme (APDP), which runs to 2020 and encourages manufacturing investment by allowing 30% deductions for investments in productive assets, and the growing expansion into Africa.

MD of Mercedes-Benz SA (MBSA) Martin Zimmermann says for South Africa to have a sustainable automotive industry, government and the private sector need to work together to continuously invest in education, infrastructure, economic and labour stability to ensure that the industry remains "consistently at a healthy level". This will serve to make South Africa an investment destination of choice. His remarks come as a debilitating automotive strike over wages holds back SA's attractiveness as an investment destination.

Overall potential is proving alluring to big players like Mercedes, which is due to start production of the next generation C-Class at its East London automotive plant in 2014. More than R2.5 billion will be invested in the plant and 600 new staff will be recruited. The plant already employs more than 2,000 people. It remains highly supportive of initiatives to improve the logistics corridor between East London and Port Elizabeth, including the development of a R50 million metal-surface treatment plant in the East London Industrial Development Zone to supply its C-Class model.

According to Dr Zimmerman government initiatives such as the realisation of the APDP attempts to prioritise content localisation as a tool to stimulate industry growth. "In principle, this is a commendable goal. In practise however, the APDP cannot be divorced from the broader industry context, and from the other elements within the socio-economic dynamics of the country with, once again, an acute focus on education, infrastructure and economic and labour stability. This is the fundamental basis of securing long-term sustainability," he says.

MBSA has a long history of leadership in SA when it comes to keeping the industry at the cutting edge. It was a pioneer of "lean manufacturing" and standardised processes, while it continues to make strong input into developing small and medium businesses and local component suppliers. Apart from developments in the Eastern Cape it has launched its first TruckStore outside Europe, in Centurion.

"With every new model built at the plant in East London, huge investments are made into job creation, new and advanced technologies, as well as training and development," says Dr Zimmerman.

The latest investment into the next generation C-Class is a case in point.

Total automotive exports to Africa are up 53.6%, according to 2012 data from the Automotive Industry Export Council. This may have been led by Toyota increasing its Hilux exports, but other big players are taking notice.

Mercedes sees Africa as a growing economic hub with great business potential and says it is committed to supporting customers that have an interest in expanding intoAfrica, and ensuring they have "the same seamless experience across the continent".

However, MBSA also understands that, as with any developing continent, expansion comes with a few challenges.

Among the challenges is the need for a greater level of co-ordination at government level in terms of regulatory and legal policies, political stability and financial systems.

SA's logistics and infrastructure, which lags behind the rest of the world, provides continuing challenges for companies.

MBSA sees the Johannesburg International Motor Show, from 16-27 October as a major opportunity to showcase its latest stable of 20 new models. But it's not just about the aesthetics - the company also wants to zone in on major new safety features as it sees itself as a pioneer of "accident-free driving".

At the show Mercedes-Benz will showcase ground-breaking safety systems, comfort and high-end communications technology and infotainment systems.

The new S-Class is fast emerging as a crowd pleaser as it brings together comfort and safety merged into one.

The current extensive line-up includes the recently launched compact car range of the feisty A 45 AMG and joining the A-Class offering is an A 200 BlueEFFICIENCY "Black Devil" model. It sports a new front and roof spoiler, chrome add-ons, rear diffusor twin exhaust and stainless steel foot pedals gives added bling.

Moves to energy efficient models will be a major feature of the show and Mercedes-Benz will showcase its efficient luxury sedan, the E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID. The SLS AMG"Black Series" is to be on show too, with its lightweight design a major feature.

The C 63 AMG sedan and coupé models are also set to attract attention with the forged pistons, connecting rods and lightweight crankshaft adopted from the super sports car's eight-cylinder engine.

The challenge being thrown down by Mercedes is it wants to combine high performance and low fuel consumption to such a degree it can be championed as unrivalled.

The complete range of SUVs from Mercedes-Benz are designed for the adventurous types. The GL 500 is the "S-Class" of SUVs, a seven-seater that will draw tough and rugged types to the showroom floor.

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