German automotive giant Daimler has relocated its regional centre for commercial vehicles from Tokyo to Singapore.
The move "brings us closer to our customers" in South-east Asia, said board member Wolfgang Bernhard, at the opening of the office here yesterday.
The outfit, in Jurong East's Westgate, oversees 18 markets in the region. It will be staffed by 52 people, more than four times the number previously in Tokyo. It is one of six regional centres Daimler is setting up to decentralise functions previously headquartered in Stuttgart, Tokyo and Portland.
Mr Bernhard said: "This business is different from the passenger car business. People don't show up at a coffee place with a 50-tonne truck."
He said that being located nearer to customers is vital. "Tokyo is too far away. We need to be closer to the market."
Daimler sold 40,000 trucks, buses and vans in the region last year, accounting for 17.8 per cent of the total commercial vehicle market. Vehicles from Mitsubishi Fuso - which Daimler has owned since 2003 - made up the bulk of sales.
Mr Bernhard would not disclose sales targets, but said: "We have 50 per cent market share in Indonesia, and 1 per cent in Vietnam. Why can't we have 50 per cent in Vietnam, too?"
He noted that the region is rich with potential.
"There are 600 million people here, and half are below 30... And with a projected gross domestic product growth rate of 5 per cent.
"The world economy may not be doing that good now, and commodity prices are depressed. But we expect prices to come back."
Daimler sold 851,000 vans, trucks and buses last year, 3.3 per cent more than in 2014. They include the Mercedes-Benz, Fuso and Freightliner brands. In the same period, earnings before interest and taxes improved by 32.6 per cent to €3.88 billion (S$5.9 billion). The most profitable was the vans division, where sales margin rose from 6.4 per cent in 2014 to 8.1 per cent.
Overall, South-east Asia accounts for less than 5 per cent of Daimler's total commercial vehicle sales.
The new regional centre in Singapore will be headed by Mr Kay-Wolf Ahlden, who has been with Daimler since 1985 and has had postings in the United States, Argentina and Brazil.
Yesterday, Daimler delivered the 1,000th Citaro bus to Singapore. Mr Bernhard said Singapore has the largest fleet of Citaro city buses. The low-floor wheelchair-accessible bus will join Singapore's maiden fleet of government-contracted buses.