Saturday, 26 May 2018

Mercedes dealer devotes service center to vans

Mercedes-Benz of Kansas City?s $2 million-plus center opened in April and has six service stalls, each with its own garage door.

Just vans

Mercedes-Benz of Kansas City has a new 10,000-square-foot building exclusively for servicing commercial vans. Previously, the vans were serviced alongside all other vehicles.

At Mercedes-Benz of Kansas City’s new service center, don’t expect to see an E class having its oil changed or a GLC getting its tires rotated.

The Missouri dealership’s 10,000-square-foot center was designed and built just for commercial vans.

The $2 million-plus center opened in April with six service stalls, each with its own garage door. An alignment bay was designed with a high ceiling to accommodate the vans.

“This makes it much easier to work on the vehicles,” said Kevin Killilea, COO of the company that owns the dealership, Soave Automotive Group. Soave has three locations in Missouri and Kansas, handling Alfa Romeo, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Maserati, Mercedes, Porsche and Volks- wagen vehicles.

Before the center opened, Mercedes vans were serviced alongside all other vehicles, Killilea said. That proved to be a challenge as some of the vans were too big and heavy to put on hoists designed for cars, or in the case of conversion vans, too bulky with accessories.

“As a business, we started to feel the pinch of having a facility that wasn’t designed for our vehicles,” he said.

Killilea: “It’s good business.”


The van center is on the same plot of land as the dealership, where vans are displayed in a shared showroom. Van customers check in for service appointments using the store’s existing drive. Shared service writers check in van customers as they arrive, but there is a separate service schedule for the vans, and dedicated service advisers and certified technicians take over after check-in, routing the vans into the new building.

Three van technicians are on staff there, but Killilea said more are planned if volume grows as expected.

When vans come in for service, they typically require more attention than noncommercial vehicles because they generally perform more demanding work with heavier loads.

“These vehicles tend to need repair and rebuild work,” he said. Service hours required for vans are usually double the time spent on passenger vehicles.

“From a dealer standpoint, it’s good business,” Killilea said.

He said it is difficult to estimate the customer volume of a typical day at the new center because the number of hours per job differs greatly. But the center is running at its planned capacity. That, in turn, has freed up space and manpower at the car service center.

‘Orphaned owners’

U.S. Sprinter van sales began in 2001 by Freightliner, the truck builder owned by parent company Daimler AG. In 2003, when Daimler owned the Chrysler group, the Sprinter also was badged as a Dodge and sold by that brand’s dealers.

In 2010, Mercedes took Sprinter from Dodge and began awarding the franchise to its dealers. The move also meant that Dodge stores would no longer offer service on the vans.

“There are a lot of orphaned owners out there,” Killilea said. “Other than a certified Mercedes dealership or a Freightliner center, they have no place to go.”

About 250 Mercedes dealerships and 50 Freightliner locations in the U.S. are certified to service the vans.

Mercedes-Benz of Kansas City sells about 100 commercial vans a year to nonfleet customers, Killilea said, and around 350 new Mercedes passenger vehicles a year.

The van has been a bonanza for the Soave group. Mercedes-Benz of Kansas City, near interstates 70 and 35, is what Killilea calls “a big stopping point” for commercial customers moving through the Midwest who need vehicle service.

Similarly, the store captures a lot of RV conversion vans that are not from the local market as drivers cross the Midwest on vacations and long-distance outings.

“We’re there to help them,” he said.

More appealing for Soave’s commercial fleet business, Kansas City is also home to large logistics operations for FedEx and DHL. One of the two has a van in for service with the Kansas City dealership on any given week, he said.

In terms of commercial van sales, Killilea said the dealership is the second-largest in the nation for van fleet sales, with most of its 1,500 van sales a year to fleet customers going outside the Kansas City market.

Business to business

Before the new center opened, the dealership didn’t market its commercial van service.

“What was showing up at the door was more than enough,” Killilea said.

But Mercedes-Benz of Kansas City now has a business-to-business marketing plan for the new center.

“The Sprinter vehicle is a durable vehicle, even the old ones,” Killilea said. “Most are still on the road, with lots of mileage. It’s a great opportunity for service.”

Just vans

Mercedes-Benz of Kansas City has a new 10,000-square-foot building exclusively for servicing commercial vans. Previously, the vans were serviced alongside all other vehicles.

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