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New role: Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific CEO Horst von Sanden is the newly elected president of the motor vehicle industry’s peak body.

THE Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) has elected Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific chief executive and Mercedes-Benz Cars managing director Horst von Sanden as its new president.

This is the first time in decades that the head of a motor vehicle importer has presided over the Australian car industry’s peak representative body, coming at the first election after the demise of the local car manufacturing industry last October when Toyota and GM Holden closed their assembly plants.

Mr von Sanden takes the reins from Toyota Australia president and CEO Matthew Callachor, who led the board for a year after taking over from his predecessor Dave Buttner.

Mr Buttner had served as FCAI president since 2015, replacing former Ford Australia chief Bob Graziano who served from 2012-14 after a succession of Holden chiefs – Mark Reuss, Alan Batey and Mike Devereux – held sway from 2008-11.

Upon his election, Mr von Sanden delivered a speech to the FCAI’s annual general meeting in Canberra last week and, to an audience that included federal minister for infrastructure, regional development and cities Paul Fletcher, called for policy certainty to assist with rapidly changing areas such as new-vehicle technology.

He said this would help the industry continue its move toward more eco-friendly mobility and connected and automated vehicles, “which will bring us closer to our vision of accident-free driving”.

He also restated the industry’s plea for high-octane, low-sulphur fuel to be supplied to the Australian market “as we cannot achieve lower emission outcomes purely on engine management technology”.

“We need fuel of first-world quality to get a first-world emissions outcome,” he said.

“We (also) need investment in the infrastructure for electric, alternative fuel, connected and automated vehicle technology, and we need investment in vehicle-to-vehicle infrastructure technology across our road network.

“It (automated vehicle technology) won’t happen without it.”

Not done there, Mr von Sanden took a swipe at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), saying that, in additional to political pressure, Australian business increasingly faces an activist competition regulator that seeks to increase regulatory compliance requirements.

“But the risk of regulatory over-reach is real and ultimately the consumer bears the cost, and it is a fair question as to the benefit (to the consumer) sometimes,” he said.

Mr von Sanden was appointed Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific CEO in early 2014 (replacing Juergen Sauer) and retained responsibility for Mercedes-Benz Cars in both Australia and New Zealand.

This came amid a restructure that saw the commercial vehicles division of the company split into separate business units (Daimler Truck and Bus and Mercedes-Benz Vans), and with the managing director of each business unit (includes Mercedes-Benz Cars) reporting directly to Daimler AG.

Mr von Sanden has overseen Mercedes-Benz Cars for the past 15 years, rising to the top job in June 2003 after serving for almost three years as general manager of marketing for the company.

He had relocated from Germany to Australia in 2000 after spending two-and-a-half years as general manager of global advertising for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, based at the luxury car giant’s Stuttgart headquarters.

Prior to that he served for almost five years as general manager of events and motor shows worldwide for Daimler-Benz.

The FCAI elections this week saw Mr Callachor and Hyundai Motor Co Australia’s chief operating officer Scott Grant appointed as vice-presidents.

Other confirmed board positions include Vinesh Bhindi (Mazda Australia), Mark Bernhard (GM Holden), Nick Senior (Inchcape Australasia/Subaru), Graeme Whickman (Ford Australia), Stephen Lester (Nissan Australia), David McCarthy (Mercedes-Benz Aust/Pac), Stephen Collins (Honda Australia) and Paul Vandenberg (Suzuki Motorcycles).

A list of past presidents – since the body’s establishment in 1939 – on the FCAI’s website shows that heads of local manufacturers have dominated the presidency.

One of the higher-profile importer chiefs who served as FCAI president was Doug Donaldson in 1965, head of LNC Industries which was responsible for various brands including Audi, Fiat, Lancia, Renault, Volkswagen and Honda.

By Terry Martin