The car collector as automotive executive

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Rene Nuñez stands beside one of the latest models of Mercedes Benz. In the background is his 1969 280 SE that gets a lot of attention from visitors of the CAT Motors showroom along EDSA.

Rene Nuñez stands beside one of the latest models of Mercedes Benz. In the background is his 1969 280 SE that gets a lot of attention from visitors of the CAT Motors showroom along EDSA.

IT MAY be quite unthinkable for somebody whose stint was mostly outside the car industry from the onset of his professional career to suddenly head a car company. But you can never raise questions about Robert Nuñez’s competence in heading CATS Motors Inc., which has been synonymous with the Mercedes Benz brand in the Philippines.

Nuñez was officially appointed president of CATS Motors this year, taking over the position long held by Felix Ang, now the company’s chairman. His weightiest credential to head CATS Motors is his being a car collector with 12 Mercedes Benz heritage models to boot, which shows how much passion and understanding he has toward the luxury brand.

“From college I was banker and I spent 15 years in the gaming industry. Felix has been a friend for about 20 years already. So we would get into conversations, and I’d tell him I would want to relax a bit and at the same time enjoy what I do,” he said.

Nuñez eventually invested in Cats Motors and was one its directors prior to being asked by Ang to head the company.


“He [Ang] said, ‘Would you like to run CATS on your own. Bahala ka na diyan. Ikaw na ang president diyan. Akyat ko sarili ko as chairman. [Run the company and you be the president. I’ll be the chairman].’ Because he was president of CATS for 20 years,” he said.

With a collection of 12 Mercedes Benz cars, Nuñez, as expected, has vast knowledge of the brand and its products.

“Well I think, first and foremost, its heritage [of the brand]. It was founder Karl Benz who invented the automobile,” he said.

“From 1886, they have produced cars that can be considered top-of-the-line,” Nuñez added.

He said Daimler AG has continuous research and development (R&D) that assures its products offer the best in their class or are trendsetters.

“So by continuing good R&D, they are able to come up with cars that are technologically advanced in safety features, efficiency and people appreciate that. When they [Mercedes Benz drivers and passengers] get into an accident, they’re safe, their loved ones are safe. When they drive at speed on the highway, they feel very comfortable and at the same time planted on the ground,” Nuñez added.

Mercedes Benz was also in the Philippines ahead of other luxury car brands like BMW, Audi and Lexus and that explains why Filipinos are very familiar with it. And like other luxury brands, ownership of a Mercedes Benz conveys a message that one has achieved success.

“Plus the fact, we Filipinos, like when we go to a reunion or to a party, when you arrive in a car like a Mercedes, you have this feeling that you have made it, you are successful in the field that you have chosen,” Nuñez said.

P5-MILLION AVERAGE PRICE
The average annual sales of Mercedes Benz cars in the Philippines have been 600 cars. But that rather modest volume should be expected from a luxury brand because, according to Nuñez, the average price of a Mercedes Benz vehicle in the Philippines is P5 million.

“On the average, a Mercedes Benz vehicle is P5 million, the average Japanese car is about P1.5 million. So let’s say it’s P1 million [average for a Japanese vehicle]. So I just have to sell one-fifth of what they [Japanese brands] sell,” he said.

Nuñez explained that it is impossible to sell large quantities of Mercedes Benz vehicles because it takes considerable time for Daimler AG to assemble luxury vehicles.

“And the volumes are difficult because it takes time to build one Mercedes car. And production also in Germany is not that many, so the company distributes it [production]among many countries,” he said.

But the good news is CATS Motors now provides a very wide model line-up of the brand unlike decades ago when only the S, E and C class sedans were the only ones offered to moneyed car buyers.

“I remember in the 1980s, there were only about five models of Mercedes. Now there are about 25 models,” Nuñez said.

CATS Motors also facilitates what the industry calls bespoke purchases where a buyer can specify the color of the car, seats and trimming, and the engines and transmission packages.

“Because if you can buy a car that costs more than P5 or P6 million, you want to personalize your order like what color of seats you want,” Nuñez said.

“Bespoke [is]10 to 15 percent of purchases, but I intend to grow that to about 25 percent. Some don’t know about it [bespoke purchases]. They think that whatever is in the showroom are the only models available,” he added.

AMG accessories can also be added to the bespoke vehicles. But with the launching of the AMG Performance Center near the CATS Motors showroom along EDSA, buyers of brand-new Mercedes Benz cars at the dealer can soon have their luxury rides fitted with AMG accessories.

CONSISTENT IN POPULARITY
When it comes to setting automotive technological trends, the Mercedes Benz S-Class large-sized sedans are second to none in the stable.

“Always, it’s been the S-Class. Every time an S-Class comes out, it’s the innovator as far as accessories, as far as standard features are concerned. It’s like you’d always wait for a new S-Class to come out because all the technology features that are to follow, they start there, then they trickle down to the E-Class [and other vehicles of the brand],” Nuñez said.

Mercedes Benz also proves it can design and build products and platforms that could last for decades, like the G-Class sport utility vehicle. The G-Class is also called Geländewagen or cross-country vehicle in German. It is also fondly referred to as the G-wagen.

“G-wagen was initially built as a military vehicle but it has been admired by people, and now they make a luxury version of it. When they started in the mid-1990s to make it more luxurious, people have started to use it on their own. It celebrated its 35 years last year,” Nuñez said, adding that the classic lines of the G-Class were one of its selling points.

The S-Class and G-Class also prove that Mercedes Benz has been consistent in producing vehicles whose reputations last.

“Because Mercedes Benz has been consistent for 120 years. They have been that way. The other brands, there may be some models that are popular this year, next year, five years, but after that, another model becomes popular [so]they are not as consistent,” Nuñez said.

With his vast knowledge of Mercedes Benz, it is no surprise that talking with Nuñez about the brand can stretch for hours. And as he talks about the brand and its products, it is obvious that he has found his dream job.

But when asked if it is indeed a dream come true for him to head the company representing Mercedes Benz in the Philippines, he simply said, “Kasi ang pangarap ko lang noon is to learn to fix cars, may talyer. Mababaw tayo eh [Because my dream before was to learn to fix cars, have an automotive repair shop. Our joys are simple].”

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