The chance to launch a new luxury car brand isn’t something that presents itself that often. The global industry is dominated by giant, legacy carmakers who’ve established their credentials over decades and firmly imprinted their brand identities into the brains of generations of eager consumers.
So when Markus Henne was given a blank sheet of paper and told to bring such a brand to China and to establish its identity and create a business model to challenge the likes of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, as well as new players like Tesla, he was under no illusions that it would be a walk – or drive – in the park.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “But we’ve seen a lot of brands fail, so it was also a risky venture.”
The company tasking him with the ambitious venture was Genesis. It wanted him to launch its globally recognised cars in the Chinese market to challenge the industry with a new vision of luxury.
“It wasn’t going to be about chasing sales immediately, but focusing on brand building and laying a foundation for 50 or 100 years,” the German national says. “Luckily, our visions of how a luxury brand should be launched in China aligned. It’s probably the most competitive and largest luxury auto market in the world, so you can’t conquer it overnight.”
Markus had been Head of Mercedes-AMG Greater China for four years, increasing sales tenfold, before joining Mercedes-Benz Taiwan as Vice President of Sales & Marketing. This experience helped with his understanding of the market.
“Our Group wanted to position Genesis as an independent, new luxury brand, with our company reporting to the global CEO, so that gave me a lot of confidence that I had the authority to assemble a team of the best international professionals with deep local market knowledge and insights.”
It wasn’t going to be about chasing sales immediately, but focusing on brand building and laying a foundation for 50 or 100 years.
A new vision of luxury
Genesis officially launched its Chinese operation with a record-breaking drone show at The Bund in central Shanghai in April 2021, showing its strong commitment to the Chinese market and showcasing its first vehicles.
During the brand launch event, Genesis revealed its “Athletic Elegance” design philosophy, and debuted its luxury sedan the Genesis G80 and its luxury SUV the Genesis GV80. Later that year, it launched its luxury sports sedan Genesis G70, as well as Genesis G70 Edition 1, the first Genesis model that was designed exclusively for the Chinese market.
Genesis has won numerous plaudits for its audacious and sophisticated designs, as well as for engineering. US data analytics giant J.D. Power has named it the best luxury brand for four consecutive years on top of being the most dependable auto brand and the most technologically innovative in North America.
In its first year in China, Genesis earned recognition at the prestigious China Car of the Year Awards, winning the 2022 China Design Car of the Year Award with the Genesis G80.
“It’s only been a year but we have become a serious player in the luxury car market,” Markus says. “So many startups have come and gone, but our value proposition is quite different as we’ve entered the segment with an all-new approach to luxury.”
Not having a legacy can provide a great opportunity compared to the established brands that carry a lot of baggage, which can be a burden.
It’s perhaps surprising that a big part of Genesis’ success has been that it doesn’t act like other luxury brands. Markus was trusted with a rare degree of autonomy to run Genesis as a brand with a new vision for the segment, disrupting the establishment by throwing out the rule book.
“Our business model is very much tailored for the Chinese market,” he explains. “We’ve moved away from the traditional models that are typical in this segment by using an omnichannel approach based on direct-to-customer sales, supported by trusted agents and online sales.”
This, combined with the unique Genesis Experience, which helps to build authentic relationships with customers, has gone a long way to establishing the brand’s success in China. And for once, not having a legacy on which to build a brand has proved to be beneficial.
“Not having a legacy can provide a great opportunity compared to the established brands that carry a lot of baggage, which can be a burden,” Markus says. “Their sheer size and entrenched IT systems and dealer networks constrain what’s possible for them in a modern reality where a new brand can come in, go direct to the consumer and control the entire customer experience in a way that reflects our vision of luxury.”
This direct-to-consumer business model is specifically tailored for China including the Genesis “One Price Promise” as one of the key differentiators that ensures complete transparency for customers.
“With our digital ecosystem we ensure the same vehicle is available on all channels at the same, fixed price,” Markus says. “The omni-channel approach is supported largely by digital tools to ensure customers can switch seamlessly between online and offline channels at any brand touchpoint.
“With the ‘One Price Promise’ we give customers a stress-free and convenient experience without the struggle of having to negotiate with different dealers and re-sellers. This builds trust and guarantees a stable future value for our products, essentially building the brand. No other brands can do that.”
In less than three years since Markus joined the brand, that initial sheet of paper he was given has become far from blank. Genesis is now a respected premium brand in a Chinese luxury car market growing faster than anywhere else on the planet – a market that is expected to be worth US$260 billion by 2026.
“Our customers get what we call the ‘Genesis Experience’, centred around the human touch, convenience, transparency and trust,” Markus says.
“They buy a product, but they get so much more alongside it – their own dedicated Genesis Partner assigned to them from day one for a one-to-one experience up to, and beyond the vehicle handover. While others rely on dealerships, losing control of customer interaction, Genesis brand touchpoints are designed to foster meaningful interactions between customers and our brand.
“Our Genesis Valet Service offers the utmost convenience for customers: a valet test drive experience, where an allocated driver comes to your home to take you for a test drive, as well as home delivery for new Genesis vehicles, and pickup and delivery for vehicle maintenance and servicing.
“We own our relationship with the customer and we have one digital system giving us access to everything without third parties. It’s a unique business model in China.”