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Are 'new car' and 'quality' antonyms?

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michaeld:
I'm about to commit a little heresy here, because I'm going to talk about late model cars.  I have been reading an awful lot of posts from new Benz owners who are outraged over the need to do repeated and expensive repairs on their cars.  For a couple examples, go to http://www.mercedesshop.com/shopforum/showthread.php?t=146814 and http://www.mercedesforum.com/m_37051/tm.htm.  One thing I know from my reading of other Benz forums is that there are some seriously pissed-off new Mercedes owners out there!

Now, many members of these Mercedes forums have risen to the defense of the 3 pointed star, but most of the members are agreeing that something is wrong with Mercedes quality.  I think it is fair to say that American manufacturers have been accused of lowered quality and reliability for some time.  Have Western automakers lost their way?  And is it just the West, or have the Japanese similarly lost quality?  And, most important of all, if automakers HAVE lost quality and reliability from (how many?) years back, why has it happened?  What are the socio-economic causes precipitating this slide?  And one final question: IF Mercedes quality has suffered, what will the impact be on our beloved 116s: will they become more sought after as sole representatives of REAL Mercedes quality, or will they suffer guilt-by-association due to the diminished reputation of Mercedes-Benz today?

Obviously, I want to hear from all of you.  But allow me to present an idea I've had by way of an analogy.  According to statistics, people all over the industrialized world are living longer lives than ever before.  But are they healthier?  Alas, no, Americans, Europeans, and Japanese are more obese than ever before.  Diabetes, Heart Disease, Cancer, etc. plague us in startlingly high numbers.  How can these seemingly contradictory state of affairs exist?  Simple: advanced technology has compensated for terrible diets and a near complete lack of exercise.  Modern medicine is allowing us to "fool the Reaper."  Now how does that relate to my question regarding modern automotive quality?  I am wondering if high-technology has been masking/concealing a long-term reduction in quality.  It seems plausible to think that hi-tech has enabled automakers to build cars cheaper than ever before, but unfortunately not merely in cost but in actual quality.  One simple example is "wind noise" which used to be overcome by fantastic build quality, but today is dealt with using improved rubber seals.  You get the same result, but it seems clear that something wonderful has been sacrificed.  Are modern cars the equivalent of modern people, who are living sickly existences that are sustained only by playing continual medical shell-games?

I would say more, but I don't want to "steal someone's thunder."  Has Mercedes sacrificed true quality for increased profitability in the last several years (and is this true of all carmakers, or just the Western ones?)?  If so, what are the causes?  And how does this impact our older Benzes?

John Hubertz:
Here's the deal - I don't think that a "new" Mercedes is unreliable vs other high-end vehicles, quite the contrary.  I do think however, that Mercedes has (along with BMW, Cadillac, etc.) responded to the MARKETPLACE changing - as it demands more and more technology from top cars.

WE gentlemen (and lady) are the ones who are "strange" in this modern era, essentially maintaining a fixed place in a changing universe.  I don't think that we represent the mainstream, and for Mercedes to follow our philosophy at this late date would be market suicide.

Do I wish Mercedes would offer basic versions of their cars for those of us who don't want memory seats and navigation?  Yes.  But I'm just not sure enough people would buy them to make it viable.

I do know this - I'd love that "stop and go traffic" cruise control fitted to the new S class.  WOW.

(Please excuse me as I lifted quite a bit of this next bit from an earlier post I made in the "best era" thread....)

I was musing on the whole reliability/place in the market issue we've discussed so many times as I worked my way through morning traffic today....

I was behind a "new" w116.

The badge said "Toyota", the model was "Avalon".

Sadly, I think the Mr. Toyoda and his emphasis on long-term value has allowed them to assume Mercedes once-vaunted position as a high-value ratio premium manufacturer.

Whether you look at technology (Prius hybrid), economy (the new smidge car that replaces the echo, forgot the name) or rational and comfortable luxury with bulletproof reliability and a lack of gadgets that eventually spoil long-term utility (the avalon), Toyota is doing a MARVELOUS job of imitating the Mercedes 1973 - 1980 market strategy.

Think about it....  240D, 300D, 300TD, 300SD  (diesels - the pre-hybrid)

280 coupes and sedans, (Camry's?)

and of course the vaunted Solara coupe and convertible - a modern 107 if I ever saw one, pricey but a truly reliable sporty car with practical overtones.

And the Avalon (revised example):




This particular Avalon is 9 years old and already has 172,000 miles - and is one of many listed as "perfect condition, no problems" on ebay with higher miles.

michaeld:
Here is a pretty disturbing article for new Benz owners that I came across yesterday :'(.  The link is: http://autos.msn.com/advice/CRArt.aspx?contentid=4023544

Basically, the problem for Mercedes (and BMW) is even worse than you might think.  They are falling to the BOTTOM in reliability rating, according to the CONSUMER REPORTS.org article.  I am including the text below, unaltered except for a couple of bolds.  I apologize for the format, but I simply copied-pasted this from the MSN browser.  Read the article and comment.  f you really want a Mercedes, maybe buying an old Benz (like, oh, I don't know, a 116 model ;)) isn't such a bad idea.
Here is the article:

Japanese imports earned most of the top reliability honors, while European models scored well below average in this Consumer Reports study. ??? :'(

Our 2005 reliability survey, the largest of its kind, reached a milestone this year—we've gathered responses on more than 1 million vehicles from Consumer Reports and ConsumerReports.org subscribers, the most we've ever received. These results underpin the most comprehensive reliability data you will find anywhere. Here, we give you a first look at our new Predicted Reliability Ratings for new cars, based on this survey, and the models that we expect to be the most and least reliable.
The difference between the best and the worst models is striking. For example, among large SUVs the least reliable model, the Infiniti QX56, is likely to have about eight times as many problems as the most reliable model, the Toyota Land Cruiser.

See Best and worst for a list of the models that have earned the best and worst Predicted Reliability Ratings in various vehicle categories. Following are some of the more notable survey findings:


Of the 31 cars that earned top rating, 29 were Japanese. Of these, 15 were from Toyota and its Lexus division and eight were from Honda. Some redesigned or new Japanese models from Toyota and Honda, however suffered "first-year blues." The new Scion tC and the redesigned 2005 Acura RL, Toyota Avalon, and Honda Odyssey earned only average reliability scores, for example.

Of the 48 cars that earned the lowest rating, 22 carry American nameplates, 20 are European, 4 are from Japan (all from Nissan and its Infiniti division), and 2 are from South Korea.

Some European models, which have had poor reliability in our previous surveys, improved slightly. The six-cylinder BMW X5 and X3, for example, earned average Ratings and are now the first European SUVs reliable enough to be recommended. However, most European models still scored far below average.

Hybrids from both domestic and Japanese manufacturers continue to have above-average reliability, including the Honda Accord and Civic Hybrids, the Toyota Prius, and the Lexus RX400h, which received top scores.

CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS

To help car buyers find trustworthy vehicles, every year Consumer Reports conducts an extensive reliability survey of its approximately 6 million magazine and online subscribers, asking them about any serious problems they have had with their vehicles in the preceding 12 months.

This wealth of feedback helps us build comprehensive reliability history charts for vehicles covering eight model years from 1998 to 2005. They show how well older models are holding up and what types of problems they have had. For new car buyers we use the reliability history data to determine our Predicted Reliability Ratings.


SEDANS AND SMALL CARS

Toyota, along with its Lexus division, makes more than half of the sedans and small cars that earned our highest Reliability Rating. All the others that earned this Rating were also Japanese, including the Honda Accord and previous-generation Civic; the 2006 Infiniti M35/M45; and nonturbo models of the Subaru Impreza.

Most of the worst sedans in our rankings came from Europe, including several expensive luxury models such as the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar S-Type, and the Mercedes-Benz E- and S-Class. The rest of the bottom-rated small cars and sedans were from domestic manufacturers and included the Chevrolet Cobalt, the V8-powered Chrysler 300C, and the Lincoln LS. :'(


HYBRIDS

Hybrids continue to be very reliable, with both SUV and sedan models from Honda, Toyota, and Lexus earning the highest Rating. The Ford Escape SUV had above-average reliability. Even the oldest hybrids for which we have data, the 2000 Honda Insight and the 2001 Toyota Prius, continue to be very reliable.


SUVs

SUVs from Asian manufacturers were the most reliable overall. However, neither the large Nissan Armada nor its Infiniti QX56 cousin are past their teething problems yet. Two South Korean SUVs, the Hyundai Tucson and the Kia Sportage, also rate among the worst.

European brands anchored the least reliable list. Unreliable models included the V8 BMW X5, Land Rover Range Rover, Land Rover LR3, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg, and Volvo XC90. Notable exceptions were the BMW X3 and six-cylinder X5, which improved to average. :'(

American SUVs continue to produce mixed results. While the Mercury Mariner was the best of the group, the Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, and Jeep Grand Cherokee were among the least reliable.

With the exception of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban; the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL; and the Cadillac Escalade, the other American large SUVs have subpar reliability. The Japanese makers are split, with Toyota in the top spot and Nissan trailing at the bottom with one of the worst scores in our recent surveys.


MINIVANS

The Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan dropped to below average in reliability, losing their recommendation. The Toyota Sienna is the only minivan that rates better than average. GM's minivans—the Buick Terraza, Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6, and Saturn Relay—joined the Nissan Quest at the bottom of the list.


PICKUPS

The Toyota Tundra and the new Honda Ridgeline earned the top Ratings. The redesigned 2005 Toyota Tacoma V6 rated just average, but the four-cylinder Tacoma was above average. The Nissan Titan dropped from average and is now in the worst list. The Ford F-150 continued to score below average.


BEST & WORST

These 2006 models earned the highest and lowest Predicted Reliability Ratings, based on CR's 2005 reliability survey. Models marked with "(2005)" have been redesigned for 2006. Vehicles marked with an asterisk "*" indicate data is based on one model year only.


Most reliable  Least reliable 
Vehicles listed in scoring order, starting with the best score.  Vehicles listed in scoring order, starting with the worst score. 
SMALL CARS: Toyota Echo, Honda Civic (2005), Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid (2005), Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza (non-turbo)  SMALL CARS: Chevrolet Cobalt* 
SPORTY CARS/
CONVERTIBLES/COUPES: Honda S2000, Mazda MX-5 Miata (2005), Lexus SC430, Chevrolet Monte Carlo (2005)  SPORTY CARS/
CONVERTIBLES/COUPES: Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible, Mercedes-Benz SL, Mercedes-Benz CLK, Ford Mustang (V6)*, Chevrolet Corvette*, Audi S4 
SEDANS: Lexus GS300/GS430*, Infiniti M35/45*, Lexus IS300 (2005), Honda Accord Hybrid*, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord 4-cyl., Lexus LS430  SEDANS: Jaguar S-Type, Lincoln LS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Saab 9-3, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 5-Series (V8), Audi A8, Chrysler 300 (V8)*, BMW 7 series 
WAGONS: Toyota Matrix  WAGONS: Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Volkswagen Passat (V6) (2005), Volvo V50* 
MINIVANS: No models for this category.  MINIVANS: Nissan Quest, Buick Terraza*, Chevrolet Uplander*, Pontiac Montana SV6*, Saturn Relay* 
SMALL SUVS: Toyota RAV4 (2005), Honda CR-V, Honda Element, Subaru Forester, Mercury Mariner*, Mitsubishi Outlander  SMALL SUVS: Saturn Vue (AWD), Hyundai Tucson*, Kia Sportage* 
MIDSIZE SUVS: Lexus RX400h (Hybrid)*, Toyota Highlander, Toyota 4Runner (V8), Infiniti FX35  MIDSIZED SUVS: Volkswagen Touareg, Porsche Cayenne, Land Rover LR3*, Land Rover Range Rover*, Ford Explorer (2005), Mercury Mountaineer (2005), Jeep Grand Cherokee*, Ford Freestyle (AWD)*, Cadillac SRX, Volvo XC90, Chevrolet TrailBlazer (V8), GMC Envoy (V8), BMW X5 (V8) 
LARGE SUVS: Toyota Land Cruiser  LARGE SUVS: Infiniti QX56, Nissan Armada, Hummer H2, Lincoln Navigator, Ford Expedition 
PICKUP TRUCKS: Honda Ridgeline*, Toyota Tundra  PICKUP TRUCKS: Nissan Titan, Chevrolet Colorado (4WD), GMC Canyon (4WD

So, yeah, John.  I'm sorry, but it really sounds like Mercedes has dropped not only behind the Japanese, but also the Koreans and even  :o the Americans.  I personally believe that there is a cultural and societal phenomena afflicting Western civ that is undermining our productivity and our quality.  It is also afflicting the Japanese as well, but since the virus comes from the West, it is impacting them much less (at the moment) as it is the West.  In Japan, men work like dogs from dusk till dawn, take few vacations, and produce for their employer - or they're not considered men.  In the West, workers work half as much and bitch about it ten times more.  Something is clearly going on.  What's causing it?

John Hubertz:
..

Mforcer:
The thing I perceive has happened in the automotive industry is that the traditional 'luxury' brands have not focused on quality and reliability but have worked on broadening their markets.

I don't have the numbers in front of me but would expect that the W116 cost far more than a current model S-Class in relative terms. The relative cost savings have had to come from somewhere and at least part of the cost savings have come from quality.

People generally do not care about quality once it has met their 'good enough' standards. In a world where mass production for global markets is essential for large companies, these companies can only design and build products that meets the 'good enough' standards of most people in their respective markets. This is especially the case in a 'disposable' society.

There is also the issue of improvements in manufacturing available to all in the automotive industry. If a machine capable of high quality production is now affordable by all, then there is a good chance that all will be producing the same or similar high quality. There was once a time when hand built cars were seen to be of the highest standards but machines developed to produce even higher standards at a lower cost.

So, where does this leave MB and other luxury brands? They still differentiate with technological developments but it leaves little room for perceived quality. For anyone that thinks a little Toyota or Honda is of a higher quality than a little MB A-Class, I ask them to check out the safety credentials of each and would be surprised if the A-Class doesn't win in real world accidents. I know what I would rather be driving in an accident.

I am not making excuses for MB and the other traditional luxury car brands. I like the new models but can not see them lasting as well as our W116. Long live the W116!

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