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Are 'new car' and 'quality' antonyms?

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Denis, you are the hammer that nailed the point right on the head!  When I see that you have written a post, I open it with much the same delight of a child opening a candy bar.  Yes.  That is exactly what I think, just expressed better!

We live in a postmodern world.  And postmodernism dismisses truth and reality as artificially imposed constructs by people who "create" truth in order to subjugate others.  It's all about will to power; and he who shapes reality for others has the power.  It's not about what really IS anymore; it's about creating or shaping a perception of how you want others to imagine the world.  This is a cancer that is eating away at the soul of the western world, and it dominates academia, culture, politics, art - and marketing, advertising, and corporate philosophy.  We swim around in a postmodern sewer, and don't realize that the pollution is clouding our vision.

I was reading up some articles available in the library that gave me a thought about the whole "German quality and reliability in the past vs. now" issue.

I was reading an article (Sep 99 Unique Cars, "Class Distinction" [which is found in our site's library]) on 450SELs and read, "...the legacy of Messrs Daimler and Benz; big, comfortable and prestigious but above all exceptionally durable transport over roads that could destroy most European luxury cars within months." Now, I was in Germany a couple times on NATO Reforger exercises, and my experience was that the roads were frequently awful as a general principle. Here's a quote that essentially says that MBz was designing and building cars that could handle driving conditions that tore apart other cars. The USA has a marvelous modern PAVED road system that is worlds ahead of what passed as roads in much of Germany.

And if you think about it just a little more, you will begin to consider another, more popular feature of German roads: the Autobahn. Here again, Mercedes-Benz was building cars designed to cruise at 120 mph for sustained periods and reach a top speed in the mid-to-high 130s. Now, again, this kind of extended high-speed driving just isn't done in America. It's overkill to design engines that can handle those kinds of conditions here, just as it would be overkill to design suspensions capable of traversing dilapidated and pockmarked cobblestone roads.  From my reading of w116's (and the Benzes before them) "overkill" is a good choice of words to describe the design mentality of these fabulous cars.

I dare say that Mercedes was at its best when it built cars with its native flora and fauna in mind. In the USA, we don't put anywhere near the kinds of stresses on cars as was routine in Germany. From crappy roads to the high speed free-for-alls; you needed a spectacularly well-made car to deal with those kinds of demands. Cars built for Germany would be WAY overbuilt for American conditions.

Given the fact that Mercedes-Benz buyers increasingly purchased from the American market, did Mercedes begin to transition its design to reflect American driving conditions? I'm asking this as a question; I genuinely don't know.  But I do know that up until about 1984, Mercedes cars were ALL built in Germany, and that today they are built all over God's creation (including India and Brazil).  It's hard to believe that they're still being built for the original driving conditions that forged these cars in the first place.

Here's another quote, this time from "Mercedes Benz 450SE: Sophisticated Excellence" (Modern Motor, June 75 [and also in our library]): "Mercedes engineers set out to make precisely the car they designed, with virtually no expense spared. You probably think that's what all manufacturers do, but there's many a change between drawing board and release day. The 450SE is a car of little comprimise."

I have a feeling that this is no longer true of Mercedes, and in fact is no longer true of any but VERY small, specialty performance car outfits (such as Maserati, perhaps). Everyone else is completely market-driven rather than engineering-driven. A marketing-oriented approach dominates the automotive industry today.  Mercedes-Benz at the time of the above quote from Modern Motor was an engineering-oriented approach. In the 70's, Mercedes-Benz was still building the best cars they could, and then setting a price. Today, a price is set and features are determined based on focus studies, and then the car is built to satisfy a market (or a targeted market segment) demand. Advertising used to focus on informing the marketplace about a product based on facts; today advertising seeks to create an impression (if you buy this car you will be cool) based totally on feeling.  This is what Denis is talking about: creating a perception rather than focusing on the genuine reality.

This transformation has been the result of the carcinogenic postmodern influence, and mass-marketing has picked up the ball and ran with it.  And people (let's refer to them as corporations view them - consumers) are just eating it up without even being aware of this great cultural bait and switch.  It used to be that Mercedes-Benzes were fabulously expensive cars which drew doctors, engineers, lawyers, and other professionals who were drawn to the quality engineering. Today Mercedes-Benzes are still fabulously expensive; but now they are drawing image-conscious consumers who want the perception of success that they feel tooling around in a Mercedes will give them.

One of the big reasons that Mercedes - and other automakers - are slacking off in any dedication to genuine quality is that the people who buy them today are more concerned with appearance than they are with reality.  The marketplace had a choice between perception or substance, and substance lost.

It's like Denis said: it's not that we aren't capable of building much better automobiles today; it's that we don't WANT to.  The advances in engineering and physics are being put to use to minimize cost more than they are to maximize quality.  Cars are being desinged with the same mentality as plastic packaging: the calculus is designed to minimize costly material, not maximize utility.  And the like the crap we find in those plastic packages when we're finally able to pry them open, the lion's share of the automakers' budgets is going into advertising rather than production.

But thank God I can get in my 450SEL, close the door with iron-clad finality to all that nonesense, and drive off to that better world of "the way it used to be."

Thanks guys for the excellent posts! What you guys write make me appreciate all the great qualities of a W116 even more!

Mister michaeld, thank you very much for the appreciative note, I am almost embarassed  :-[

But some comments here reminded of something I wanted to launch as a new thread...but not here.

One last peep from me on this subject : I was at the stealership today and has a look at a nicely outfitted S-class.

Wow, they have outdone themselves : never did the leather look more like plastic, never did the wood look more like plastic. Does anybody remember what real leather looks like ? It's not that hard to find out. Any good store, say the Galeries Lafayette in Paris, will show you what beautiful  leather is in the form of a 1000€ you mean that nobody can afford to put stuff liek this in a 115 000€ car ?

Frankly, if I had 115 000€ for a new car , I would pass up the Mercedes because it "looks" too cheap...


Paris, France

Wow! You chaps - BAR, Denis, michaeld - have really raised the quality of discussion with these last few posts: just brilliant!

I particularly treasure the following paragraph from michaeld:

--- Quote --- We live in a postmodern world.  And postmodernism dismisses truth and reality as artificially imposed constructs by people who "create" truth in order to subjugate others.  It's all about will to power; and he who shapes reality for others has the power.  It's not about what really IS anymore; it's about creating or shaping a perception of how you want others to imagine the world.  This is a cancer that is eating away at the soul of the western world, and it dominates academia, culture, politics, art - and marketing, advertising, and corporate philosophy.  We swim around in a postmodern sewer, and don't realize that the pollution is clouding our vision.
--- End quote ---

That, my friend, has been extracted and filed in my collection of worthy quotations! (Yes, apart from Benzes, I also collect words; millions of them! I've been collecting quotations for 40 years. As an editor and publisher - and occasional lexicographer - I love words, especially when well assembled.)

I doubt that any discussion on any car forum has ever reached such heights of intelligence, understanding, wisdom, and articulacy; this forum is truly blessed, and stands apart as a shining example of not only brilliance but mutually respectful camaraderie.

Long may continue to thrive!

PS: Perhaps this thread ought to find its way to DC headquarters. (But would they care?)

Some housekeeping items:
BAR, I just wanted to make sure you knew I was joshing you about the 'Spock' thing.  Sometimes I forget that there are people out there who are embarrassed to be confronted over their inner Vulcan.  Not me!
On the more serious side, I wanted to make sure you understood the forest of the intent of my post rather than being distracted by the odd tree.  Judging by your follow-up post, you clearly did.  In any event, one of the things I most like about is that it doesn't consist of people sniping at each other.  Please forgive me if I rubbed you the wrong way in anything I wrote.

Denis, I am so glad that I only 'almost embarrassed' you; I would have been ost mdevastated to find that I had left you completely embarrassed.  Another crisis narrowly averted!  To clarify my earlier gushing, I appreciate your posts because you bring such a deep knowledge of Mercedes-Benz history and lore, as well as an underlying familiarity with the Europe that birthed these automobiles.  You are a veritable professor of Benz-ology!

Ozbenzhead, Thank you for adding one of my paragraphs to the 'Greatest Hits' collection!  You know, if anyone ever sets up a soap box and asks me to wax eloquent about the horrors of the postmodern world, I shall always be only too happy to oblige…

Now, on to my actual post!  Denis' recent offering about the quality of leather (or lack thereof) in modern Mercedes cars got me thinking about why it is that car makers offer the features they do.  You'll have to bear with me as I cite my own preferences as an example.  I myself do not actually care for leather upholstery; in my perception, leather is not as comfortable as cloth (or even vinyl), and it is not as long-lasting.  In particular, I believe leather is much more sensitive to sunlight than fabrics and therefore dries out faster.

(Now, maybe you don't agree with my statements about leather upholstery at all; but for now just accept what I said about leather for the sake of argument, as I am using it for an illustration).  I understand that many (even most) Euro-market Mercedes have cloth or vinyl upholstery; but nearly all US-market Mercedes have leather.  Why is this?  Maybe some of you know better than I; I can only offer an opinion: I think that this is so because North American market Benzes have been positioned as luxury vehicles far more than their Euro counterparts, and Americans associate leather with luxury.

Now, me, I'd rather have cloth seats (again, because I find them more comfortable and more durable).  But then again, I am not now, nor have I ever been, inclined to plop down the equivalent of $100,000 to purchase a new Mercedes.  If new Mercedes buyers desire leather, then by all means, Mercedes should install leather, and long-term comfort and durability be damned!

Now, I'm willing to be corrected about my impression of leather.  But if I'm right, and leather is less comfortable and less durable, than we have a situation in which the buying market (at least in the US) is demanding a material that won't last as long.  And this state of affairs has been going on for years and years.

This takes me to my point: it seems that today's new Mercedes buyers are demanding all kinds of options that will similarly prove far less durable than could otherwise have been the case.  I believe Denis is right in mentioning MTBF and planned obsolescence, but there's another element going on here as well.  It seems that new Mercedes buyers, more than ever before, are willing to trade long-term durability, reliability, quality for short term comfort and performance.  Now, this is a trade-off that I would not be prepared to make (and frankly can't stand); but then again, I'm not the guy Mercedes is building new cars for, am I?

Now, I may be wrong about leather v. fabric, but I don't think I'm wrong about this overall trade-off in immediate comfort and performance for the sake of long-term durability.  If you don't like my picking on leather, another example I can cite as a support for this trade-off 'conspiracy' is our wonderful Automatic Climate Control system with its lovely heater servo units.  My question is, what do you think about such a trade-off?  Are you part of the crowd that appreciates having the leather seats, the ACC system, the electric antenna, the power doors and windows…  or do you favor the no-frills car whose quality is in its durable drive train and build quality?

The more amenities you install, the more you complicate a car; the more you complicate a car, the more is likely to go wrong with it; the more that goes wrong with a car, the more expensive it is going to be to maintain over time; the more expensive a car is to maintain over time, the shorter its useful life.

Discussion question: if Spock didn't have Enterprise, would he drive a w116? 


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