Inside the region's largest Mercedes-Benz workshop
PMV talks to EMC about Mercedes-Benz aftersales support in Abu Dhabi
In today’s commercial vehicles sector, aftersales represents much more than an afterthought. Gone are the days when automotive companies could focus solely on selling vehicles. Fleet owners are increasingly looking for long-term assistance from manufacturers and their regional distributors. Nowadays, the vehicle is just the beginning.
Of course, this shift towards long-term support makes perfect sense, especially within the commercial context. When an individual’s private vehicle develops a fault, it can prove both inconvenient and annoying. When vans and trucks are off the road, however, their owners lose money with each passing hour.
In the Gulf and the Levant, the spectre of downtime is even more of a concern than it is in other territories. Commercial vehicles in this region have to cope with extreme temperatures, choking dust, backbreaking loads, and arduous operating hours. If you’re going to offer aftersales support to the Middle East market, you’d better make doubly sure that your facilities and technical personnel are up to the task.
Since 1962, Emirates Motor Company (EMC), part of Al Fahim Group, has been the authorised Mercedes-Benz distributor for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. In conjunction with its German principal, the distributor has worked tirelessly to cement the reputation of Mercedes-Benz amongst the local population.
Naturally, EMC is fortunate in the sense that it is partnered with a brand that enjoys tremendous global cache. However, the field of commercial vehicles can be a great leveller. A manufacturer can produce the best automobiles in the world, but if it doesn’t have adequate technical support at a regional level, fleet operators will look elsewhere for their vehicles.
Taking nothing for granted, EMC has done everything within its power to create a regional focal point for the German automotive giant. Abu Dhabi is home to both the largest Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles workshop in the Middle East, and the largest Mercedes-Benz facility of any kind, anywhere on the planet.
To find out why the partners have invested so heavily in this market, PMV travelled to Mussafah Industrial Zone to meet with Hany Tawfik, EMC’s service manager for commercial vehicles. As Tawfik explained, following a tour of his commercial vehicles workshop, Abu Dhabi represents prime Mercedes-Benz real estate. First and foremost, therefore, this facility was established with volume in mind.
“An average of 850 vehicles pass through our commercial vehicles workshop every month; approximately 10,000 per year,” Tawfik began.
“And keep in mind that heavy-duty trucks account for around 90% of our throughput. At 150m by 155m, this facility is more than 23,000m2. In terms of capacity, this is the largest commercial vehicles workshop dedicated to Mercedes-Benz anywhere in the Middle East. We have 65 active work bays and 119 members of staff. This facility is equipped to service, maintain, and repair the full spectrum of Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles,” he told PMV.
In addition to servicing and maintenance tasks, the Mussafah workshop is set up for general repairs, bodywork refurbishment, chassis straightening, superstructure repairs, and pretty much any other job imaginable. If a Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicle is fixable, it can be fixed at the Mussafah workshop. Moreover, this facility is used primarily to serve Mercedes-Benz end users in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi alone. EMC’s sister company, Eastern Motors, operates a separate workshop to cater to the Al Ain area.
Abu Dhabi represents a prime market for Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles, but volume is not the only reason behind the Emirate’s expansive workshop. The size of EMC’s facility reflects more than throughput alone; the firm also has to consider the exacting nature of its clientele.
“Naturally, EMC caters to privately-owned companies operating in sectors such as logistics and construction, but a number of our key accounts are governmental,” explained Tawfik.
“In order to cater to these customers, we need both space and security. We provide aftersales support to oil and gas companies, municipalities, and semi-governmental logistics operators. Some of these fleets require basic maintenance, but others need more extensive support,” he said.
Indeed, when it comes to governmental fleets, downtime simply isn’t an option. If the aftersales support offered by Tawfik and his team wasn’t fit for purpose, it would be citizens, not customers, who would suffer.
“It’s our job to tailor our operations to the requirements of our key account holders,” he said. “We have to ensure that everything is in place to deliver rapid turnaround times. Essentially, this is what is most important to our commercial customers.
“In order to achieve this, we have to focus on users’ needs from the outset. We begin by asking a number of important questions. We must look at each customer and assess what they can do and what they cannot. For example, if an operator has their own workshop, our relationship might simply involve the provision of spare parts. If the company doesn’t have its own technical facilities, we are able to offer maintenance as well.
“It’s always about the customer’s situation, but this must also be considered within the context of the wider market. EMC has to be proactive in terms of the aftersales support that it provides,” said Tawfik.
This customer-led approach to aftersales support makes sense for EMC, especially considering its diverse customer base. For general maintenance needs, the distributor is happy to follow the lead set by Mercedes-Benz itself. However, Tawfik and his colleagues are also able to offer extensions to the manufacturer warranty when appropriate.
“With our governmental clients, we usually have to adopt a specific approach,” he told PMV.
“We even have teams based at the facilities of some of our largest customers. They need our operations staff to be on site, and we are able to offer that level of flexibility. In other instances, clients might not need technicians to be permanently based at their premises. Nevertheless, it can be difficult for those operating in the western region to send their trucks over here to Abu Dhabi. For these customers, we are able to provide onsite servicing via a mobile lube station.
“These are complete workshops that can be used to perform maintenance and repairs. They can cover areas that fall beyond the reach of our network. These units are especially useful in terms of Abu Dhabi’s expansion in the western region. What’s more, you can build good relationships by providing this level of aftersales support,” said Tawfik.
Due to the historical investments made by EMC and its principal, Tawfik and his colleagues find themselves in the fortunate position of being able to provide aftersales support to customers, regardless of scale. However, this is not to say that they do not face challenges. Operating commercial vehicles in the Middle East is no walk in the park. This region will take its toll on commercial vehicles no matter how robust and well-supported they may be.
“The temperatures, the dust, the general operating conditions; these are the main challenges of providing aftersales support in this region,” explained Tawfik.
“Commercial vehicles working in this environment are subjected to greater stresses than those operating in Europe, for instance. Moreover, if drivers are sharing a cab, working in a two-shift pattern, a truck might be on the road for 24 hours,” he added.
Add to this the excessive loads that are often transported by the region’s fleet operators, and it isn’t difficult to see why the Middle East is widely regarded as one of the harshest operating environments on the planet. Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles might well be built to last, but even the most robust units need backup in this market.
“To this end, EMC’s relationship with Mercedes-Benz is invaluable,” said Tawfik. “The support provided by our principal represents a key component of our operations. For example, having access to such a large spare parts warehouse in Dubai is a major advantage for EMC. It means that our customers encounter no problems in terms of parts availability.
“Then there’s the training provided to our technical staff. The fact that our technicians, managers, and salespeople are certified by Mercedes-Benz means that we always have expertly trained staff members handling our business. Of course, the fact that we’re dealing with such reliable vehicles is also a great help,” he added.
Manufacturer support forms an integral part of any distributor’s success, but this is by no means a one-way street. Just as EMC relies on its principal for assistance, so too does Mercedes-Benz depend on its distributor for local expertise.
“This is a fluid relationship,” explained Tawfik. “Whether you’re talking about sales or workshop throughput, EMC continuously relays market information to Mercedes-Benz.
“Manufacturers must be equipped to gauge market trends and to see how they can further improve their positions. Key performance indicators (KPIs) have to be monitored continuously in order to make the most informed decisions possible.
“I think that the close relationship enjoyed by EMC and Mercedes-Benz also helps to instill confidence within our customer base. Even when technical issues do arise, which is inevitable for any manufacturer, fleet owners can rest assured that any problems will be rectified in a timely manner. This is why customers repeatedly come back to EMC; this is why Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles are so successful in this region,” he said.
The situation in which EMC and Mercedes-Benz find themselves today is no accident; it has been half a century in the making. In turn, the continued success of the companies’ commercial vehicles activities will require EMC’s aftersales team to keep pace with regional growth. Fortunately, Tawfik has no intention of taking his foot off the accelerator.
“Our priority is to keep up with the expansion of Abu Dhabi,” he told PMV. “We will remain in close contact with our key customers and continue to offer flexible services that suit their requirements. Skills development will also form an important part of our strategy for the future. How can we train our fleet customers’ workforces? How can we improve the skills of their technicians and drivers? Not only will this approach help us to strengthen our existing relationships, but it will also facilitate network development.
“In addition, we will keep a close eye on regional projects and consider the ways in which we can offer our support. Initiatives like Etihad Rail, road construction programmes, and other transport projects taking place in and around Abu Dhabi are obviously of interest to EMC,” he concluded.
After speaking with Tawfik face to face and witnessing his Mussafah workshop first hand, I got the impression that the service manager views size as a challenge rather than a problem. It’s difficult to imagine a customer that would be too large for him and his team to take on. Mercedes-Benz commercial users in Abu Dhabi can rest assured – EMC has the facilities to keep their wheels in motion.