“I’m Brazilian, I like a challenge”, says BMW CEO

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After the Mercedes decided to end production of cars in the country and the Audi announced a shutdown of its factory, between the end of last year and February, the eyes of the premium segment all turned to Araquari. In this small city of Santa Catarina, the assembly line of the BMW, models X1, X3, X3 and Series 3 are also available.

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This week, as EXAME said, BMW production will not only continue, but should grow 10%. “Our plans are medium to long term”, Aksel Krieger, CEO of the automaker in the country since February 2019, said in this interview. Last year BMW took the lead in the premium segment in the country. One in three luxury cars registered in Brazil are from the Bavarian brand.

The good results were achieved with unusual tools in the luxury market, such as selling in the Free Market. With Danish nationality and in the BMW group since 2000, Krieger sees space to grow even more in Brazil. So much so that the automaker has plans to bring 20 new models, this year still marked by a pandemic and economic crisis and in a scenario of discussion on mobility. How? Better read the interview.

How was it for BMW to deal with this last year of health and economic crisis?

When I look at 2020, how it all started, at the carnival, with everyone at the party, but already starting to talk about covid … At the first international conference of the year we had in Germany, we saw the Chinese wearing a mask, by teleconference. You know the term VUCA (acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, the moment we live in today). We joke that Brazil is VUCA with steroids. The first step was health and safety, with our employees, our dealer network. Then we saw the exchange rate devaluing, the real was the currency that depreciated the most among the emerging countries. With the exchange rate losing 30% it was difficult to predict what would happen in the year. The secret in crises is to be agile, and we managed to do that. We invested in digital, we were the first brand to sell cars on Instagram, to be present on Facebook, in Mercado Livre. The contact with the dealer network was very close. We look at the whole chair and forget about the used car, that customer who wants to change the car. So why not go to his house, get his used car, make an assessment, take a car for a test drive?

In 2020, the BMW brand licensed 12,437 cars, slightly less than in 2019, when 13,100 vehicles were licensed. Was it a good result, considering the pandemic moment?

We were gaining strength and giving confidence, and this helped us in the advantage with the competition. We increase communication with employees, with agility, flexibility, empathy. And the launches came, we had many. It was not an easy year, but if I look back I see that we learned a lot from the crisis, we came out stronger, we won market share in relation to competitors, we have become the market leader. More than one in three premium cars sold in Brazil are from BMW.

BMW invests a lot in technology. Is this a differential in the premium car market?

We have a strategy called ACES. We talk about autonomy, connectivity, electrification and service. Technology is a focus of the brand. The premium segment always brings a lot of innovation. Our client can start the car with his cell phone, take a picture with his cameras, see the battery level, when he needs to do his next review. BMW is not static, the software is updated automatically, it gains new features, such as an iPhone. You buy a car and get new features. And with Brazilian participation. We help with software development with our engineering center in Araquari.

BMW announced the launch of 20 models this year. Is it a feasible plan with the pandemic moment and with current discussions on mobility?

Our product planning is for 3, 5 years. The cars that are arriving were planned back there. But we did not take our foot off the lead. A novelty in 2021 will be the arrival of the pure electric Mini arriving in Brazil, in a very interesting price positioning, with good autonomy. We will have the M3, which is an icon of the brand, a car that speaks for itself, just turn on the car to feel it, it has more than 600 horses. We had the M2, which was already sold out in the pre-sale. We have to continue on the offensive and the premium segment customer demands this, asks for news.

BMW has a series of lines to serve diverse audiences. Can you tell what will be the product focus in Brazil?

The Series 3 and X1 have very significant sales volumes here. We will continue to focus on electrification, we will continue on the offensive, with the X5, the X3, the iX is coming. The M3 is an icon, as I mentioned, sportsmanship is an important side. And we will continue to focus on digital.

Who is the BMW customer in Brazil?

The audience ends up being that of doctors, executives, business owners. We are seeing an increase in the number of women within the brand. In general it is an audience open to technology, innovation, design, art. This is what our customer demands from the brand.

BMW has already announced a 10% increase in production at the factory in Araquari. Will production continue then this year?

At BMW, decisions are medium to long term. I know the world is volatile, but we don’t think in the short term. We keep producing.

The automotive market is changing a lot, with discussion of mobility and the effects of the pandemic. How do you see the future of the industry and BMW?

I have worked in the industry for over 20 years and have never seen so much change as in the past 3 or 4 years. Acceleration is really low. A lot of quick change. We are investing in electrification. Before we talked about having 25 electrified models by 2025, now we are talking about 2023. And we were pioneers, the i3 was the first electric to arrive in Brazil, this in 2013. The iX will arrive with 5G technology. For us, the integration between cell phone and car will be increasingly greater, we are more and more a technology company. Cars will get more and more electric, but we still have the motto power of choice. Some markets will still work with fossil fuels, we need to develop cars on that front.

The Brazilian market is still in its infancy on electrification. Is it frustrating for you?

I’m Brazilian, we like a challenge. Brazil is not an easy market, but Brazil is open to technology. The timing is not easy but I am an optimist. Looking ahead, in the medium and long term, we have to bring solutions. Today, 30% of the electric car charging is done at the customer’s home. So, all of our cars today come with two chargers, the laptop that goes in a normal outlet, and the wall box, a little faster.

BMW did what the “luxury manual” does not recommend doing: opened a store in the Mercado Livre, started selling on Instagram, Facebook. Is it a strategy consistent with a premium brand?

The word I used, agility, helps to explain. We had flexibility and boldness to innovate. A phrase we use within BMW is: act like a startup, deliver like a grown up. We have the strength of the group to deliver, we have people, processes. We are a 104-year-old company and we have only existed for so long because we are always innovating. And we are open-minded, we follow what other segments are doing, the e-commerce scenario, and how we can adapt.

How were the results of the strategy of using digital channels?

We divided it into some phases. At the height of the pandemic, the idea was not to sell a car, it was to entertain customers. We knew they were at home, watching lives, we thought: what can we do? We then organized a virtual tour of our museum in Munich, we made video of cars with our influencers. We engaged the public with our digital channels and we moved forward. We launched a vehicle for sale on Instagram, and that was generating interest. In total, 30% of interactions in the online world saw opportunity. There is conversion at the end too, but a lot of it is leads, like the customer going to a dealership.

Like other premium brands, you have been using more influencers on the networks to promote the brand’s cars. Does it return?

We need to be in the world that our customers are in. Gabriel Wickbold talks about art and design, very important issues for the premium segment. It connects this world with the design of cars. Another focus of the brand is what we call thrilling, the excitement, then we have DJ Mansur. The innovation part is important, and then we have the sponsorship of the Brazilian team PaiN GAMING, of e-sport, to talk to a younger audience, to get them interested in cars. We need to talk about what our customers like and what connects with the brand. This humanizes the brand.

What makes a customer prefer BMW over a competing brand?

A strong point of BMW is pure driving pleasure. When you drive a BMW, and it’s not because I work for the brand, you get a really cool connection to the car. The cockpit, the acceleration, the technology, it involves the customer and makes him fall in love with the car. We say that M, and the strongest letter in the alphabet, is that of our sports cars. We offer innovation, fantastic design. When you are in a BMW people outside sometimes smile at you.

 

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