CARS are one of Axel Pannes’ passions, with another being aeroplanes. In fact, the 42-yearold German almost became a pilot with Lufthansa, but he was deemed too tall for the job (he stands at 1.98m).
I always found it more interesting to build markets.
CARS are one of Axel Pannes’ passions, with another being aeroplanes. In fact, the 42-yearold German almost became a pilot with Lufthansa, but he was deemed too tall for the job (he stands at 1.98m). His passion for cars goes back a long way – as a young boy, he attended every Frankfurt Motor Show he could. One of the things he got was a poster of a BMW 850i, which had pride of place on his bedroom wall. Axel joined BMW in 2002. He has worked on many projects since then, which included in-house consulting for the BMW Group and a stint in the Bespoke customisation division of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. As the head of BMW Asia, he’s in charge of 14 incredibly diverse markets, from the fledgling (such as Myanmar) to the developed (such as Singapore and Brunei).
Would you say your current role is your toughest one so far?
I wouldn’t say this has been my most challenging role, but it’s interesting, for sure. A challenging job would be when I returned to Munich from Rolls-Royce to work on retail development. It was right in the middle of a financial crisis, and I was tasked by the board of directors to find ways to support our dealers. Every six weeks, I had to report to the board, and I didn’t know when the financial crisis would end. I was part of the BMW inner circle where toplevel projects were discussed, and I felt a lot of pressure to do my best for the company.
What’s the most interesting aspect of working in BMW Asia?
For me, the greatest opportunity here is to really get into Asian cultures and understand the markets. In my 6½ years in Munich, I got to travel to many of the markets I’m in charge of now, but it was only for a few weeks at a time. We just opened a BMW showroom in Myanmar, one of the most fascinating places I’ve been to so far. I always found it more interesting to build markets – it’s something I won’t be able to do in mature markets like Germany, the USA or the UK, where you’re fighting for every last unit.
Is it easier or harder to sell BMWs in developing countries?
It’s actually a bit of both. Many people know of BMW – it’s the most desirable automaker in Asia. Even if you go to new markets like Myanmar, people know about BMW, and there’s excitement because, now, customers are able to buy a BMW through offi cial channels. On the other hand, they don’t know much about the cars themselves, and you have other problems such as fuel quality issues and government legislation, which might make selling cars diffi cult.
One of Axel’s favourite BMWs is the Z8, a retro-styled roadster, of which only about 5700 units were produced.
What’s your take on Singapore’s motor trade?
I think what the whole automotive industry needs is to focus on customer relationships, as I think it concentrated too much on product in the past, especially since cars are becoming more and more similar. You have premium cars and mass-market cars, but if you were to buy a Toyota, Kia or VW, the quality is very similar to that of a premium car. So where is the diff erence? The diff erence is brand immersion, but even more important is customer service.
Do you think a high level of technology in cars is important to buyers in emerging markets?
What you see in modern emerging markets is that they don’t develop in the same ways as mature markets of today did, as they skip the in-between stages. Take the example of Myanmar. I just read that until just last year, a SIM card cost US$12,000. Then the government there liberalised the market, and now it costs US$1.50. So the country went from everyone not having a mobile phone to everyone having a smartphone. In emerging markets, customers read about the latest technologies and they want to have it in their cars. What some car companies have done in the past is to take older models and bring them to emerging markets, where they’re not successful because the people there want the latest models, too. It’s a combination of getting them used to our technology and letting them see the advantages of our cars.