jay-owen-2With your provocative Super Bowl ad featuring supermodel Kate Upton and a host of youth-oriented events and social media campaigns, it’s clear that Mercedes-Benz is courting a new audience. Isn’t this a risky strategy for such an esteemed brand?

We are a brand but at the same time, we are a business and we want to grow. We want to make sure we recognize and get ourselves in front of new markets and opportunities.

With the B-Class or the CLA or even into next year with our GLA, these products are at a lower price point in our fleet that is competitive with some mass brands that people would not typically consider us being in the same space as.

We want to make sure that people see us as a relevant, approachable and engaging brand. And our attitude and approach are just going to keep getting broader.

A screenshot from the Mercedes-Benz 2013 Super Bowl commercial featuring model Kate Upton.

A screenshot from the Mercedes-Benz 2013 Super Bowl commercial featuring model Kate Upton.

A lot of this content is aimed at a younger audience. Is the idea to capture their attention now so they will purchase Mercedes cars later (when they can afford to) or are you looking at a whole different class of driver?

It’s a little bit of both. We want to get people engaged because we’re not just a brand for their parents anymore. We’re actually the brand for anyone.

We’re thinking of people who are buying competitive, premium or mass products and who can say, “You know what? That’s an affordable product. That’s something I can actually put on my consideration list – something I haven’t done or haven’t considered, ever.”

At the same time, we do want the teenage boys to be putting up posters of the SLS on the wall and saying, “Wow, that’s a phenomenal sports car.” Maybe in a few years they’ll say, “You know, maybe I can actually afford it.”

Mercedes' SLS AMG

Mercedes’ SLS AMG

We’ve been hearing the term “PopLux” bandied about these days in the luxury sector. How do you appeal to the younger, hipper crowd without alienating your traditional customers and diluting the exclusive element of the Mercedes brand?

Our culture is not one of luxury beyond belief, in the sense that every single element of your lifestyle is luxury.

People will buy products that may not be expensive but that they know are well made. But then they will indulge in certain things, be it a watch or a pair of shoes or a car.

The reality is that these things cost money. So it’s more a convergence of quality and elements of luxury rather than everything being luxury.

Are affordability and exclusivity compatible brand characteristics?

They are. The benchmark for quality, reliability and dependability, no matter what category, has risen. We’re not just asking for the quantity of products, we want the quality.

If it can be provided to you at an affordable price, then you’ll buy it in volume. We are no longer willing to accept anything below a certain standard and so that side of affordability and exclusivity plays into each other.

A print ad from the 2014 Mercedes CLA campaign.

A print ad from the 2014 Mercedes CLA campaign.

The Mercedes S-Class has been called the closest thing yet to a self-driving car. How close are we to seeing a fully autonomous car on the road? I know that Elon Musk just threw down the gauntlet, saying Tesla will have one within three years.

Inevitably, technology and society and the integration of mobility will come into some kind of process so that there’s reduced congestion, higher degrees of safety, and all of the things that help a metropolitan environment move better.

With our new 2014 S-Class, where a lot of the autonomous technology ideas have been coming out, it’s the challenge between society and technology. Where are we willing to give up some aspects of control? There is a shift of accountability that society has to take into consideration. But the fact is, it is attainable.

At the same time, you want to get to the point where it’s preferable and not just on a high-end executive product. It’s also something that’s available in any vehicle line. That’s obviously a very far off point, but you can understand that the future is out there.

I won’t say it’s an end goal because you never know where it will end, but it’s definitely something that’s making people interested and engaged and intrigued by the kind of technology.

Do we really need self-driving cars? Some of us like to drive!

Funny enough, I was rooting around and I found my learner’s permit that I got when I was 16.

I’m in my forties now and I remember that desire, that feeling of having that level of control and all things that come along with driving. So personally I’d have a very hard time saying, “Yeah, I don’t need to drive anymore.”

I’ve heard that teenagers are getting their licenses later and sometimes not bothering with driving at all, so maybe that sense of freedom we used to associate with learning how to drive is being replaced by mobile phones or something else.

With development in metropolitan markets and with public transportation, a lot of younger people are saying, “I don’t need a car.” Or, maybe their lifestyle doesn’t require them to have one.

That’s why we have other solutions, like our car-to-go program where people can rent a car for an hour or a day, get in and go and do what they need and have no responsibilities to the vehicle.

Those are solutions that are working for society’s needs. Instead of the automotive industry asking people to conform, we’re trying to find ways to work within lifestyles.

Full disclosure: Mercedes-Benz Canada is a client of Spafax, the company that publishes Sparksheet.