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  #1  
Old 03-13-2006, 06:23 PM
michaeld's Avatar
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Are 'new car' and 'quality' antonyms?

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 an example on this forum, go to Why Not to buy a Mercedes....

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 US manufacturers have been accused of lowered quality and reliability for some time. Have Western automakers lost their way? Is it just the West, or have the Japanese similarly lost quality? And – most important of all – if the automakers HAVE lost quality and reliability from (how many?) years back, why has it happened? What are the socio-economic causes? And one final question: IF Mercedes quality has suffered, what will the impact be on our beloved older Benzes: 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 automotive 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 a constant game of 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?
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  #2  
Old 03-13-2006, 08:07 PM
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I'm very certain that many things on newer cars are completely superior. You example of wind noise - I'd hate to guess how many BRAND NEW 70's cars I saw ON THE SHOWROOM FLOOR with panel gap problems. Real eyesores! This is because the "craftsmen" at the factory neglected to set the fenders and doors in their 1" long slots properly, or maybe the sheetmetal was just flat wrong and the word was to "ship it". These days, the tolerances are so good from computer assisted design and manufacturing that things are more likely to "just fit right" the first time with very little or no adjusting.

Compare the following "low end" cars from the 70's to now:

Pinto - Focus
Vega - Aero or Cavalier

No comparison!

A real luxury car of the 70's probably had so much labor content that very, very few could afford it today.

Porsche at one time bragged about how many hours it took for their craftsmen to get the convertible top on a 911 "just right". I don't think that this was anything to brag about. It would be better to brag "our top fits just as well as or maybe even better than a Porsche's, except that we can do it in 20 minutes due to superior design and processes, delivering better value to the customer".
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  #3  
Old 03-14-2006, 05:35 AM
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Good Question

From my perspective, I think cars have become nothing more than a commodity item built down to a price. This being the case then quality only has to be percieved. The Japanese figured this out first, why paint areas of a car that the customer doesnt see for example, if people are buying cars for the badge then create and market a badge "Lexus".
Certainly in Europe if you blindfolded a person and drove them round in an average mid-range Ford vs a mid-range Mercedes they wouldnt detect any difference.
As car manufacturers continue to merge and share components any difference between equivalent models will become nothing more than the badge and, apart from a diminishing number of fanatics, interest in how they work will be a historic curiosity as when a new car breaks down you throw it away and get another one.
Mercedes are mass produced car that have to face the realities of the current marketplace, the reality is they are now trading on their history rather than the quality of their products
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  #4  
Old 03-16-2006, 07:00 AM
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Quote:
Mercedes are mass produced car that have to face the realities of the current marketplace, the reality is they are now trading on their history rather than the quality of their products
Hello,
You've hit the nail on the head
Every week I see an A,C or E-class car less than 3 years old being towed to the DC service centre near my home while my W115 just keeps rolling along.
Have a good week.
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  #5  
Old 03-16-2006, 08:32 AM
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there's always been fancy cars and simple cars and cars you could depend on for years. . . now there's fancy cars and entry-level cars and nothing you depend on for years. however, the overall technology is more reliable, you just get so much less for your $$.
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  #6  
Old 03-16-2006, 09:12 AM
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Yeah but is hyper technology "reliable" or is it part of the problem? I'll betcha the chassis, suspension and engine block on new MB's is even better than the old ones - but all the fiddly bits, gadgets and engine management systems suck.

For example, now there's an alert in owners manuals against having too many keys on your keychain....... Ummm, the ultra high-tech computer chip ignition switch is so over-engineered that even the weight of keys are spec'd not to exceed close tolerances. Hell when the tumbler failed on one of my Finbody 220Sb's, I started the car using a screwdriver for awhile with the tumbler pulled.

Plus the new ones are giving the old cars a bad rep among mechanics in the outback, scaring them away. Nobody wants to work on a car that requires a Phd in rocket science to figure out.
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  #7  
Old 03-16-2006, 07:57 PM
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I stumbled a link that really exposes a problem at Mercedes-Benz (or should I say, Daimler-Chrysler instead now?): http://autos.msn.com/advice/CRArt.aspx?contentid=4023544

Here is the text of an article on reliablity from CONSUMER REPORTS. I apologize for the format, but the article had pics, etc, and it was just not worth the effort to clean it up. I would say that this article is an indicator/predictor of big problems with Mercedes. You could just write it off as anti-Eurpean car propoganda, but Consumer Reports has historically been a good objective source; and again, there are too many owners bitter over their cars' problems. Read this and comment. I bolded a couple of passages, but otherwise changed the text in no way.

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


The Honda Ridgeline (shown) earned top ratings in the pickups segment, along with the Toyota Tundra.


Hybrids continue to be very reliable, including the oldest of hybrids, the Honda Insight.


European brands did not fare well in the SUV segment, including the Land Rover Range Rover.


The Prius is one of three Toyotas to be ranked in the most reliable small cars segment.

The Toyota Sienna stands alone as the only minivan to rate better than average.


Most of the worst sedans in Consumer Reports' ranking come from Europe, including this BMW 5-Series V8.

The Nissan Titan dropped from being average to being the worst in the list of pickups.


Japanese cars dominated the survey with 29 of 31 cars earning a top rating. Of these 29, fifteen came from Toyota and Lexus.


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)
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  #8  
Old 03-16-2006, 08:25 PM
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the many key problem is a problem with most cars, old and new, theoretical or practical. the 123 i had needed the tumbler switch replaced. so mentioning it in the manual is actually good, i think.

that article above kinda sums it up, japanese cars are very good. any new car i buy is going to be a toyota, no matter how lame that sounds.
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  #9  
Old 03-16-2006, 08:39 PM
Dan Rotigel
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Zen?

Thoughts:

1. There is nothing inherently low-quality about mass production-m.p. is just a tool used in design.

2. Car makers want you to buy a new car as often as possible-think 'planned obselence' in terms of quality.

3. Car makers (in particular benz?) are barely coming to terms with the fact that microchips don't last long and were not designed with automotive use in mind.

4. Car makers (in their neverending quest to sell new models) are trying to change your perception of what a car should be. We now are expected to desire a car that doesn't allow the driver to shift, drive as fast as he deems safe, pulse their brakes, press the accelerator, roll the windows, flip the mirror, turn on the AC, the lights, the windshield wipers, or the fan. Sensors tell us how to parallel park, and if the "car" thinks we are too close to those infront of us. We no longer have to know where we are going before we leave-the car will tell us. Drivers are so disconnected from the act of driving that within the next few years that when you try to avoid an accident by pressing the brake, you won't be pressing the brake at all...nervous?

All knowledge about mechanics, basic lubrication, upkeep, what a famous man called 'Care,' has been replaced by a little light on the dash that says 'check engine.' What part of it, dumbass? It doesn't matter, because you'll just buy another one if its something serious.

In their quest to sell cars, manufacturers have destroyed the experience of owning a car. The break-down in terms of quality is just a side effect of the seperation between man and experience. If you put more crap in between the two...something will always go wrong.

5. What happened to Robert Pirsig, anyhow?

cheers,
dan r.
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Old 03-17-2006, 12:12 AM
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Is Real Quality a Thing of the Past?

Dan,
You and I are in agreement on quite a few things, I suspect.

There was a time when the owner's manual - the owner's manual, not the service manual - contained a great deal of technical information. Manufacturers wanted certain service to be done, and they wanted to educate their buyers on how to perform that maintenance. Those days are long gone, aren't they? Car makers used to want owners to know how to maintain their cars; now it's almost like they want to keep them ignorant.

This trend has been going on - IMHO - since the 80's, or maybe it began before as the smog emissions era when designs began to become increasingly complicated.

I have written in other posts on other forums that whiz bang gadgetry that depends on electronics are bound to reduce the lifespan of cars. They are buried too deeply within the mechanical parts, require too much labor to replace, and are too essential for safe driving to be ignored. The more such systems, the more the complexity and the shorter the life, I think.

And yes, carmakers ARE trying to change our perception. I can't even remember the last time I saw a new car ad that had ANYTHING to do with the actual car. It's no longer about the engineering at all, but about the marketing (which at best presents us with the appearance of engineering). As one example, I remember seeing a truck ad in which something unimaginably huge and heavy (an asteroid in one, a huge load of rocks in another, etc) slams into it, and the truck isn't even scratched. But in reality that's a laugh; most trucks have the flimsiest of bumpers (if any at all), and are among the most expensive of all vehicles to do body work on. Marketers don't even bother to present reality anymore. Advertising is absolutely useless; most of it is geared simply to make you think you'll look cool if you have that car. It's like all auto advertising is geared toward the impulse buyer (you know, like the candy bars at the sales register).

For me - unless we're talking about a missile that is designed to blow up at the end of the trip - quality in a vehicle means performance, reliability, durability, ease of maintenance, build construction, and excellence of materials. It means ALL of them, not one or two on the list to the disregard of the remainder.

Going back to Strife above, I simply don't agree. There was a time when a given result took real engineering to accomplish; today it can and often is done in a cheap and insubstantial way that doesn't last. My point is that quality used to require effort; now it doesn't. A cheap whiz-bang fix will do. It's all about "right now." It really seems as though cars are designed the way VCRs are designed; use them for awhile and then throw them away. This is an enormous departure from previous times. Cars are lasting more miles today because we're driving more than ever; but they're not lasting as LONG because they're simply not made to last.
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Last edited by michaeld; 03-17-2006 at 12:23 AM.
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  #11  
Old 03-18-2006, 11:54 PM
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Old World quality, particularly on the high-end MB interiors, took a dive in the 70s, when I worked for MB as a f/t detail man/chauffer. No comparison between the hand-built w111 coupes and 600s, or the 108/09 S-class sedans, and the later w116 S-class cars and the most expensive MB on the lot, the 450SLC.

Gone went the extensive wood, leather and metal treatment _ including leather door panels, dashes, chrome trim and extensively matched veneers. In came thick vinyl dashes, doors, plastic instruments and rubbery consoles.

I thought MB had gone downhill ... then!

On the upside, interior build quality in low-end models, between plasticky w110 fintails and the later w114/115s, remained pretty much the same.
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Old 03-19-2006, 02:26 PM
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Declining Quality

I have wondered about this a lot. I often wonder about the validity of surveys. The Ridgeline for example is brand new. How many owners have been surveyed? How many Toyota Landcruisers do you see around? I live in Phoenix. SUV and Pickup capital of the world and I hardly ever see any. How representative is the sample of Landcruiser owners surveyed, compared to the run of the mill Suburban owners? And do owners of different vehicles have different expectations regarding their vehicles and what constitutes reliablity? I ask this mainly because I've never been asked to take such a survey in my life and wonder how many others on this forum have?

That doenst mean I think Mercedes quality hasn't slipped. I think it has. I'm just not sure how far in real terms. The last poster mentioned the decline in quality between the W111 and 108 and the later models. How do you judge real quality though?

A W111 interior with leather seats, wood veneer dash, leather door panels would have been the epitome of extravagence when it was new. But forty years on that interior may not have lasted nearly as well as a W115's mostly plastic interior. I know which was more expensive but if durability is a measure of quality then it's not necessarily so simple.

I have owned a 71 108 280S, Wood dash, leather seats. A 79 116, Wood dash, leather seats and an 84 123 200, Wood dash, vinyl seats, I cannot honestly say I could detect any real difference in quality between them, except that the 123's vinyl seats lasted better than the more expensive leather seats of the two S-Classes.

However I dont see how modern Mercedes, using internationalized components and having deliberately overturned their previous policy of not using gadgets and gimmics in their cars, can be as good as those of previous years.

Also. I do think that Europeans in general simply cannot compete agains Asian car manufacturers because of a legacy of socialist thought processes that have simply priced them out of competition with Asia. European workers are simply too expensive and no longer superior to Jappanese workers for example, for European cars to be a better product.

Of course this does not apply to all Asian vehicles. I currnently own a Kia Rio which is the worst piece of **** imaginable. Now that's a car truly built to an inadequate price point. But a Toyota that reaches 400 thousand miles without significant problems could justifiably be considered as good as any Mercedes of previous years, at least in terms of reliablity.

- Peter.
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Old 03-19-2006, 02:58 PM
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I read somewhere that a car of the 60's contained maybe 4000 parts. Modern cars of a reasonable complexity contain four times as many. If quality remained the same, cars would be four times worse.

Electronic devices are gauged by MTBF, which is a formula based on complexity, interconnections, etc. With so much unbeleivable complexity going on in a car now, MTBF of the entire electronics system HAD to go down. Fiber optic/CAN networks in cars is supposed to help reduce interconnections and sheer weight of the wiring. Unfortunately, that also makes everything difficult to repair!


Also, it is certainly true that cars of the 60's/70's were designed with little or no computer assistance. When an engineer was in doubt as to the strength of something, it was "overbuilt", which cost money as well as weight. Example: A GM Turbo 400 transmission is almost impossible to destroy. It also weighs a lot more than it should, and costs 18 true horsepower just to operate. No car built today can afford the weight or inefficiency. Hence, the modern GM transmissions, whnich took a long time to get right, or the infamous Chrysler "All-Traumatic" transission, whose design problems were solved - by renaming it!
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  #14  
Old 03-20-2006, 11:31 AM
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When German cars were built for German roads

Hi all,
I was reading up some articles 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") 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 road system that is world's ahead of what passes as roads in much of Germany.

If you think about it a little more, you consider another, more popular feature of German roads: the Autobahn. Here again, Mercedes-Benz was building cars to cruise at 120 mph for sustained periods and reach a top speed in the mid 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 that kind of condition here.

I wonder if Mercedes was best when it was built with its native flora and fauna in mind? In the USA, we don't put anywhere near the kinds of stresses on cars as is routine in Germany. From crappy roads to high speed free-for-all; you need 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.
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Old 03-20-2006, 12:30 PM
Dan Rotigel
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I was talking with a friend (works for GE) about if large companies have a complete design philosophy for everything they build. He said yes, it mostly comes down to figuring out what the customer thinks they need, and how much they pay for it. (notice here it is the customer's percieved need, not what the designers think will be the _best_ design)

If Benz has decided that america is the primary market, and they employ this philosophy, the cars will be under-designed in comparison to their old quality. Customers have nobody but themselves to blame, but they sure do squeal about it...

Price vs. Quality for the w114, the 190e, and the c class. Is the new c-class less expensive than the w114 was? In the american market, I bet so...

cheers,
dan r.

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