Mercedes picks China chief Speeks to lead North America

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ATLANTA — Nicholas Speeks who has steered Mercedes-Benz sales in China for more than six years, has been named CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA and head of its North America region.

On Sept. 1, Speeks, 60, succeeds Dietmar Exler, who is leaving the company after leading the brand to three straight U.S. luxury sales titles before a decline this year.

Exler, 51, announced his departure to the brand’s dealer board Thursday afternoon, has accepted a job outside the auto industry and is expected to remain based in Atlanta, a source said.

Speeks previously was president of Mercedes-Benz Japan and has worked for the company in Japan, Dubai, Vietnam and Germany. As part of his new role, Speeks will be responsible for sales of Mercedes-Benz cars the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The management shuffle at Mercedes-Benz USA comes amid a similar change at parent Daimler. Retiring CEO Dieter Zetsche will hand over the controls at Daimler to Ola Kallenius after the company’s annual general meeting on May 22.

With the move, Speeks heads from Mercedes-Benz’s No. 1 market to its second largest. He takes over as the U.S. auto industry braces for a slowdown. For the year, U.S. sales are forecast to come in below 17 million for the first time since 2014.

Mercedes is also feeling the pressure from a resurgent BMW. Powered by new and updated product launches this year, BMW bested Mercedes in U.S. deliveries in the first quarter. While BMW has racked up three consecutive months of sales gains this year, Mercedes extended its streak of consecutive monthly sales losses to five.

CHINA BACKGROUND

Speeks’ experience in China may be helpful as the global luxury automaker finds itself in the middle of an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China.

Speeks, a native of Great Britain, oversaw Mercedes’ rise in China as the nation became the German automaker’s largest market.

In early 2013, he chided independent Mercedes-Benz dealers in China for being lazy and threatened them with consequences.

“Your performance as dealers worries me,” he wrote at the time. “A telemarketer in a call center could achieve these low sales volumes.”

Speeks warned that those who failed to meet Mercedes’ standards must expect consequences “no matter how good our business relationship has been in the past.”

Exler foreshadowed the challenges ahead for his successor when he spoke with Automobile News | tomobile.org in April.

”When the market is growing, when there is more demand, it’s always a little easier,” Exler said. “Now, we are going back to hand-to-hand combat for market share. That makes everybody much more alert. Getting every product launch right is much more of an important topic in a tough market.”

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