Anything sporting the BRABUS logo is guaranteed to be exceptional. As product manager of all smart BRABUS models, Katharina Beck has a dream job. We met her at a busy time: Special edition season is kicking off – with a series of Geneva reveals.
We’re on the third floor of the smart Böblingen HQ, a week before the Geneva Motor Show. Katharina Beck glances out of her window and sees a transporter with the smart fortwo cabrio | BRABUS edition #2 models on schedule for their upcoming trade show reveal. The cars have just arrived from Bottrop after being processed as part of the tailor made program, ready for their final check. After just a few tweaks by smart Böblingen mechanics, the special edition models are all set for their trip to Switzerland. It’s moments like these that mark the culmination of months of work for Katharina Beck. Tension first turns into relief, then anticipation of trade show reactions: As Beck well knows, any smart BRABUS invariably draws the crowds and media.
Ms. Beck, smart traditionally introduces new models at the Geneva Motor Show. Which 2017 highlights can we expect?
Katharina Beck: First of all, the successor to last year’s BRABUS edition, the smart fortwo cabrio | BRABUS edition #2, will celebrate its world premiere – it’s the perfect choice for summer. Then there’s the edition greenflash, which is based on the new smart electric drive, and another global first: the smart forfour edition crosstown.
Sounds like a strong start into the year, but I guess this doesn’t mean your work is over?
Katharina Beck: That’s right. My responsibilities include the most powerful smart – the smart BRABUS – as well as the customization program tailor made – which is a joint venture with our partner BRABUS. I also coordinate the tailor made program. What’s more, I look after the brand’s customization business and our small batch strategy. For the latter, we’ve thought about strategies for bringing more attractive, individual models to market – and come up with the BRABUS editions.
The smart BRABUS models are as dazzling as they are complex in development. So, where does the job of a product manager start and end?
Katharina Beck: My job encompasses a huge range of different tasks. As the voice of the customers, we always watch out for their wants and needs. We also keep an eye on competitors and markets, using the resulting insights to define our product concept. Along these lines, we also coordinate pricing and volume planning and discuss how this can be embedded in the brand’s communications strategy with our colleagues in communications. So, it’s our job to coordinate with many different stakeholders and departments. Our work covers the entire product lifecycle, from initial concept and design right down to the final market launch.
For customers, smart BRABUS models make their dreams come true. Do you also consider your own work on this project a dream job?
Katharina Beck: To me, this position is one of the most exciting things I could be doing at smart, making it a real dream job. Considering all the colors and materials available through the tailor made program, customization provides a very different scope and leeway compared to serial production – there are simply no limits. Not to forget: the smart BRABUS with its 109 hp represents the brand’s top motorization. At the same time, it is very luxurious. A customer from Rome once described how he prefers his smart BRABUS over his luxury car when going to town. A nice confirmation of how well our combination of usefulness and urban agility pairs with a sense of exclusivity.
What do these options mean for the actual customers?
Katharina Beck: Through BRABUS, any customer can create their very own, one-of-a-kind vehicle. Customization and personalization are becoming increasingly important and more and more people are tempted to make an individual statement. This applies to both cars and fashion; areas where people are asking for more and more different features. And when I look at our incoming orders, it’s obvious that this also applies to us. We are receiving more smart BRABUS and tailor made orders than ever and our aim is to up these numbers even further with our small batch strategy.
So, in addition to maximum flexibility in the city, BRABUS gives smart fortwo and smart forfour owners a maximum of design freedom?
Katharina Beck: Exactly. By the way – we are the only brand in our segment to offer complete customization through the tailor made program: My favorite color, coordinated with my coat or bag, maybe in a matt finish – that’s something you won’t find anywhere else.
And now the new editions, limited to 100 cars, raise this must-have appeal even further?
Katharina Beck: Yes, with these collector’s items we want to reach an exceptional level of customization. Our goal for these small batch runs is: The moment you see it, you’re in love. So, there will definitely be further editions …
One week later, we find Katharina Beck at the smart trade fair presence in Geneva, between the smart fortwo cabrio | BRABUS edition #2 and the smart forfour edition crosstown. Later on, the models will be surrounded by journalists, photographers, experts, and customers happy to provide instant feedback. Some of them will want to buy the car right at the show – it’s the best job recognition Katharina Beck could ask for.
Color research is an actual profession. How do you develop new colorways like these new shades of le mans green shiny or sunburst gold?
Katharina Beck: We take inspiration from current color trends, but also customer and market input. Aligned with our huge internal color palette we generate new ideas and then pick a new color. Green is one of this year’s trend colors, while sunburst gold was an input from China. Not to forget our new shade of velvet blue metallic, developed together with style icon Veronika Heilbrunner for her smart fortwo | tailor made by Veronika Heilbrunner, which adds a fashion element to the mix.
This year also throws a spotlight on the smart electric drive models and sustainable mobility. How important is the smart electric drive with its sporty handling for BRABUS?
Katharina Beck: The extensive tailor made program is also available for the electric drive range since those who choose an electric drive model have already opted for a very individual vehicle. So, we offer a maximum of customization options, for example by letting people order a specific exterior paint finish, a wheel rim, or interior. The electric drive market launch is flanked by the edition greenflash, which contrasts a black coupe with striking electric green parts in both interior and exterior.
This year also marks smart BRABUS‘ 15th anniversary, heralding a smart BRABUS 15-year anniversary edition at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Any ideas of what this might look like?
Katharina Beck: Well, the model is almost finalized. It will certainly include many BRABUS tailor made options, make an individual statement, and review some of the brand’s history.
What about your personal highlights from the past decade and a half?
Katharina Beck: Since I was personally involved in their concept and development, the smart fortwo cabrio | BRABUS edition and smart fortwo cabrio | BRABUS edition #2 are high up on my list. Another very special model from before my time at smart would be the smart fortwo edition BoConcept. But my absolute highlight is actually about to debut at April’s Shanghai Motor Show: It’s a smart BRABUS fortwo with a special tailor made exterior. Once again, my lips are sealed. But I can promise you that it will be well worth the wait.