It was a big day for Mercedes-Benz. The carmaker was launching the all-new GLC and also its first-ever credit card with Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank). We met Sagree Sardien, CEO and president of Mercedes-Benz Malaysia, shortly after the dust had settled in the event hall.
Sitting in a corner of the marquee, we took in all the happenings. Everything Mercedes does is met with applause, if the long line to test drive the new SUVs is anything to go by. “We have 17 launches planned for this year. It’s going to be a busy year, for sure,” says Sardien, unfazed by the fact that she is not only responsible for the Malaysian market but also oversees 10 markets in the region and is driving growth through transformation and leadership.
Modern luxury of tomorrow
Mercedes has very clear foundation pillars that are firmly established on electrification, luxury, digitisation and sustainability. The green agenda is an important and ambitious one at the German marque brand. “When you look at the projections of the automotive industry, we anticipate that the industry will have over 91 billion vehicles by 2030. For us at Mercedes, we not only want to meet this changing mobility requirements for the future but also want to do it in a responsible manner, and have a meaningful impact on the communities in which we operate,” says Sardien.
“In our world, there is no luxury without sustainability because it is the core guiding philosophy and principle of the organisation. We recognise that in order for our future generations to enjoy the planet, as we have become accustomed to, we have a responsibility as a vehicle automotive manufacturer to start transitioning our business in a way that is socially responsible to the environment.”
That includes creating meaningful impact, changing business processes and looking at its entire value chain, where it can make a material contribution for a greener tomorrow. Ambition 2039 underlines how Mercedes drives sustainability for the future. The intention is to make its entire fleet of new vehicles net carbon-neutral along the entire value chain.
“We want to have considerations at every point of developing the vehicle, from the extraction of raw materials and resources that are used in our vehicles to the production of our cars in a sustainable way. We also pay attention to servicing and right to the end when we are recycling the vehicle,” she explains. “That’s why it’s key that we have a holistic end-to-end journey across our entire value chain and attempt to obviously influence the amount of footprint that we contribute to the greater environment.”
Mapping the journey
To achieve Ambition 2039, Sardien says it is all about the mindset of its employees, consumers and suppliers in the entire value chain. “We all have to change our perspective on how we’re going to contribute to the sustainability agenda. The other thing is having very clear targets, goals and plans to drive it. Essentially here, we are talking about establishing a carbon management plan. Once that’s done, you can generate all your activities around this important pillar.” Mercedes’ decarbonisation strategy is said to be one of the most ambitious in the entire automotive industry.
So, how does the organisation measure progress?
“We follow the sustainability framework as defined by Mercedes globally. When you look at our report, you will find that there is a very clear framework of accountability, transparency and governance. That means we have very stringent processes, business approaches, regular interactions and meetings where we discuss sustainability and have high targets to achieve,” she says. Every action counts.
Mercedes is constantly and consistently measuring itself, be it in electrification, reducing its carbon footprint in its facilities or dealing with recycling and waste in its organisation. Everything is clearly mapped out and that greatly facilitates more precise tracking.
The Mercedes-EQ model offensive strategy was kicked off last year by bringing in an eclectic electric portfolio into the country, in line with the brand’s global strategy to go all-electric by the end of the decade. Boldly ambitious, Sardien says the brand has had great success with the first five models — the EQE and EQS saloons and the EQA, EQB and EQC SUVs.
“The reception from our customers and the public in general has been great. Our journey in the charging infrastructure has also been relatively successful. The partnerships that we’ve established have been the right ones for us to take our sustainability agenda forward,” says Sardien.
Charging infrastructure is central to the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and all the dealers are equipped with a charging solution. In terms of DC charging across the network, it has 11 DC chargers installed nationwide, with three more to be completed this year.
“We partnered with Petronas Dagangan and JomCharge by EV connection to install five DC chargers at strategic locations along the North-South Expressway as well as the East Coast Expressway. We currently have 80 AC charging points in our office and one 360kW DC charger will be added to the premises to encourage employees to ‘flip the switch’,” she says.
Large-scale change initiatives frequently come with challenges. “When setting up charging infrastructure, it is important to assess the site because a certain electric grid is needed. You need to have technical specifications for it and you need to educate people on it. That’s part of our journey.”
Accessibility is important and Mercedes is weighing in on the charging solutions in totality. Besides the public infrastructure it has set up on highways across the peninsula, it is also driving home charging solutions for customers. Most houses are able to fit an AC charger at an additional cost and prior to the wall box installation, a site inspection is usually carried out.
“We are very serious about electrification and our goal is to transition our customers.”
A few key features give the Mercedes EV automobiles a competitive edge in the market, such as the extensive portfolio globally and in the local market. This simply means it is able to match a suitable vehicle with a customer who wants to transition from a combustion engine to electric.
“Another crucial component that sets us apart from our competitors is the technical capabilities of our vehicles. Our EV range is incredible. Our EQS can go up to 700km on a single charge, while our EQEs can go up to 600km and even in excess of that,” says Sardien. The vehicle’s interior is also something worth writing home about. It boasts an aerodynamic design and cutting-edge technology — for instance, in the EQS, the hyperscreen spans the entire dashboard. When it comes to innovative design meets practicality, Mercedes has it down pat.
You cannot have a conversation on EV without touching on the Vision EQXX concept car, which really zeroes in on efficiency, sustainability and luxury. This vehicle really demonstrates the future of electric mobility, she says, as it enables you to drive a range of 1,000km on a single battery charge and it has the lowest consumption, where less than 10kWh can give you 100km.
“The EQXX also brings with it a lightweight aerodynamic design that gives it an outstanding aesthetic and the battery life cycle innovation is really the next generation. So for us, the EQXX is our pinnacle of where we want to take electric mobility in the future. And it really sets a new standard for us.”
To support its global business strategy of offering customers a comprehensive EQ range and contributing to higher EV adoption in Malaysia, Sardien says the local assembly of the EQS 500 4MATIC is a great milestone for the brand. “If we want to go all-electric by the end of the decade or 50% by 2025, we have to make sure that we are exploring all localisation opportunities in line with our sustainability vision and ‘Lead in Electric’ by transforming our fleet of new passenger cars to be CO₂-neutral by 2039.”
To ensure the transition to an electric future, Mercedes will continue to build a comprehensive ecosystem of electric mobility that includes services, technology and innovations, in addition to its products.
“When it comes to our retail network, you can see the facilities that [we] are building are really starting to be new state-of-the-art modern facilities that incorporate a lot of sustainability elements. We want our facilities to be net carbon-neutral by the end of the decade,” she says.
There is a continuous study to look at packaging, use of rainwater, energy sources it is utilising and eventually avoiding the use of petrol in its operations. “We strive at the end of the day to make an impact with quick wins initially, but the most important thing in the underlying core is sticking to our carbon management strategy,” she stresses.
There are varying views on EVs but Sardien says it is definitely not the company’s professional perception that EVs are actually damaging the environment because we are transitioning to greener energy. “All parties need to take the first step towards this electric journey. It’s not only the government, but also the corporate sector and the public. Everyone has to play their role in bringing the central idea together. Are we there yet? Probably not, but we have quite a journey to take. For us, it’s not just about bringing an electric pie into the market. We want to really manage every step of the process, so that it is obviously sustainable and, more importantly, has a positive environmental impact.”
Looking at the efficiency of costs, Sardien says Mercedes has the highest ranges in its class and the lowest amount of emissions. “Our entire research and development is focused on getting low emissions, lightweight vehicles and great aerodynamics to eliminate harmful effects. We still have to wait and see how this actually develops.”
In the past year, it has been very promising to see Malaysia’s agenda on electrification, she observes. The excise and import duty exemption was the first step in ensuring that there is a greater adoption of EVs. “The fact that we have policies in the country that now support the EV agenda really puts us in a good position. In Southeast Asia in general, you can see everyone transitioning from internal combustion to EV. However, how fast this actually takes place is still highly dependent on the consumers’ uptake,” she notes.
At the moment, there is a very high interest in EVs. But this could be the early adopters who are into technology and are championing sustainability. “Then we have to see how we want to create greater awareness for the rest of the consumer base, and how we transition them from an internal combustion engine to electrification. So all in all, we have, I think, great foundational elements with the right policies, incentives and mindset, but we will still face the race of combustion engine versus electric until we convince the consumer to choose a greener path.”
Buying your first EV
What advice would she give someone looking to buy their first EV? “First, look into your charging needs. Treat it like a mobile phone. Our research shows that many customers actually prefer home charging because it is accessible and gives them peace of mind. Second, take the time to sit down with our product experts to understand the EV technology and the range of vehicles. For the uninitiated, it can be a daunting experience but our dealership network is equipped and ready to assist,” says Sardien.
Her third piece of advice for someone buying a new EV is to test drive the vehicle and give themselves that level of comfort. Driving an EV versus a vehicle with a combustion engine has little to no difference. And lastly, look at the total ownership cost of an EV over its life cycle. “I don’t even need to go further to mention the contribution to sustainability, that’s a given,” she says.
Sardien gets the impression that customers appreciate the efforts because they are embarking on a journey to becoming responsible citizens together. “Sustainability is not just a buzzword for us. We mean it in everything that we do. For our customers, they are leading a modern luxury lifestyle and are familiar with green conversations, from high-level discussions to mass adoptions. We will not compromise sustainability in any way. Everything that we do, from the raw materials that we use to the processes to the collaboration partners that we have, will be tailored towards sustainability.”
Earth.org, in an article on why electric cars are better for the environment, concluded that, “Switching to EV undoubtedly represents a good strategy to stop global warming. Indeed, if all cars on the road became electric, we could cut almost one-fifth of global emissions. But the benefits of expanding the electric sector go beyond just this: Besides being able to enjoy cleaner air, we would be less dependent on conflict-fuelled spikes in oil prices and we would have quieter cities. But it is not just about cars.”
Achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals requires a complete lifestyle overhaul, but we can start with the four-wheeler. Better still, make it a Benz.
The much-anticipated, all-new GLC 300 4MATIC continues to solidify its position as the best-selling SUV from Mercedes-Benz. A true segment leader, the second-generation GLC impresses with dynamic driving pleasure, powerful sporty design and ahead-of-the-curve features like the off-road cockpit and MBUX Augmented Reality navigation that will thrill both adventurers and families alike.
The AMG Line interior gives the vehicle a modern, sporty luxury feel, courtesy of the Artico man-made leather upholstery in black as standard, Microcut microfibre and AMG sports pedals. The nappa leather multifunction sports steering wheel stands out sharply against the super-sleek dashboard reminiscent of an aeroplane’s engine nacelles.
Available as a mild hybrid with 48-volt technology and an integrated starter-generator of the second generation, the engine has a four-cylinder unit from the current FAME (Family of Modular Engines). Latest safety features and assistance systems make driving a breeze.
The new GLC raises the bar for premium SUVs by providing a seamless driving experience and unmatched control over difficult terrain.
Mercedes drops its first credit card in cooperation with Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank) and it is a piece of luxury you would proudly carry in your wallet. The bespoke metal co-branded card, with all the exclusivity, style and ease required to suit customers’ banking needs, is the first of its type in Malaysia’s automotive industry.
Cardholders are entitled to discounts on parts, official merchandise and accessories as well as its limited warranty and replacement programme while earning points on selected purchases. Other attractive offers include cashback on petrol spend, complimentary Accor Plus Explorer membership, dining discounts at Marriott Bonvoy Hotels in Malaysia and complimentary green fees at 100 golf courses worldwide.
Successful applicants will receive a two-year waiver of the annual fee, and subsequent years’ annual fees will be eliminated if you spend RM80,000 or more on your card each year. Apply for the card at any dealership in the country or visit mercedes-benz.com.my/mercedescard for details.
This article first appeared on Apr 17, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.