Michelle Cervantez to Oversee Ad Budget of More Than $100 Million

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DETROIT ( -- DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes-Benz USA has named a new vice president of marketing, according to executives close to the marketer.

Michelle Cervantez will succeed Dave Schembri, who will now oversee the automaker's Starmark certified used-car unit. Ms. Cervantez had been manager of cross-brand strategy at Ford Motor Co. since last May. Her prior job had been vice president of marketing at Ford's Jaguar Cars North America, which she started in the summer of 2000.

Mercedes-Benz did not return several calls by press time.

Ad budget: $100 million plus
Ms. Cervantez will oversee an annual ad budget of more than $100 million at Mercedes-Benz.

The auto marketer spent $115 million in measured media in the first 11 months of 2002, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Omnicom Group's Merkley Newman Harty, New York, handles the carmakers advertising account.

Ms. Cervantez takes over marketing duties at a time when Mercedes-Benz has been moving its brand downstream in recent years, a move some industry analysts have criticized. In an effort to increase car sales and attract younger buyers, the automaker launched the C230 sports coupe in 2001 with a base price of under $26,000.

Successful strategy
The strategy seems to have been successful: The brand increased sales last year to 213,225 units, a 3.2% increase from 2001, when it sold 206,638 vehicles, according to sibling Automotive News.

The marketer's vehicle long-term reliability rating slipped last fall. Mercedes-Benz dipped to below the industry average in a survey of owners of 1998 models last fall by consultancy J.D. Power and Associates. The consultancy's so-called Vehicle Dependability Index study ranked Toyota Motor Sales USA's Lexus brand tops for the eighth consecutive year.

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