Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Despite my occasional forays into perpetuating stereotypes...

...sometimes it is a matter of honor to slap around someone who speaks from an all-too-obvious position of ignorance heaped on top of unmerited pretentiousness. Such is the case with a link sent to me by Chef Tony.

It seems that over there in the Land of Unsubtle Class Consciousness, there abides a fellow who wrote an article ostensibly reviewing the new Peugeot 407 SW. He goes on and on about everything BUT the car in question, and spends much space with the discovery that sometimes the most intriguing cars aren't necessarily the most reliable ones. It's the fashion-statement cars that turn out to be the interesting ones. Wow. Talk about a stunning insight into the human mind.

Then we get over onto Page Two, where our cheeky lime-sucker lets loose with this--

[...] At this point I should draw your attention to the recently published BBC Top Gear Magazine customer satisfaction survey. This is the largest independent motoring survey of them all, and my God there are some boring cars at the top.

If we exclude the Honda S2000 that won it, and the Jaguar XJ, which came second, we find the upper reaches of the chart are peppered with Skodas, Toyotas, Hyundais, Lexi and even, heaven help us, the Mazda 323 — an avocado bathroom suite in a Barratt home if ever I saw one.

Interestingly, the Mercedes M-class came last, chiefly because the dealer network is so appalling but also because it’s made in Alabama, where the locals are good at picking cotton, singing mournful songs and listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd but not so good at attaching complicated pieces of machinery to one another. [...]

For what it's worth, picking cotton, singing mournful songs, listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd, and attaching complicated pieces of machinery to one another aren't mutually exclusive.

Second, part of the problems experienced by European customers might be traced to the fact that between the years 1999 and 2002, a portion of their M Classes were assembled in Graz, Austria by Steyr. You know, it's very possible that those yodeling, beer-drinking guys in lederhosen might be equally inept at attaching complicated pieces of machinery to one another. (I also blame listening to crappy technotrash Europop.)

Truthfully, however, the problem for Mercedes lies elsewhere than simply being able to say Uncle Junior caint find his butt with both hands. Were our intrepid scribe not so taken with the way his own words look on paper, he might also recognize something about the M Class that many of the rest of his brothers picked up on when it was launched.

It's cheap.

No, not cheap like a Trabant, but cheap for a Mercedes. The M Class was a clean-sheet design for Mercedes, and one that was intended to sell at a highly competitive price. Everything about it was meant to be more economically produced and sold than the traditional Mercedes--lower part count, less expensive materials, revised production methods. And all of those things were decided upon and done long before any toothless hick ever laid a hand on an engine block or bolted on a wheel. As this USATODAY article from a couple of years back points out, it's not the production line per se that's the problem:

[...] The gap is widening between Mercedes and its biggest competitors in quality," says Dan Gorrell, author of the study.

"The good news for Mercedes, though, is that it has such deep brand equity that its other qualities offset the gap."

Earlier this month, Mercedes chief Jürgen Hubbert admitted to mounting problems that could cause Mercedes to worsen before it improves. Some suppliers, he said, had changed designs of Mercedes components without running them by Mercedes quality control.

"There is no higher priority at Mercedes than quality," says Klaus Ulkann, vice president of customer service at Mercedes-Benz of North America. He said he couldn't elaborate on Hubbert's comments or specify models affected.

But he admits that a C-Class redesigned for 2000 and the M-Class have had problems, and that a proliferation of new models over the last five years has been challenging.

The M-Class ranked seventh out of nine luxury SUVs surveyed for problems by Strategic Vision. C-Class ranked 21st out of 24 near-luxury cars. The pricier S-Class and E-Class rank among the highest-quality vehicles in their categories.

"The M-Class is the first time we went with a completely new line outside of Germany, and there we had some challenges," says Ulkann. M-Class is built at Mercedes' plant in Vance, Ala., its only U.S. factory. Wind noise, rattles and a higher plastic content than other Mercedes models have drawn the most complaints.

Brian Walters, director of product research with J.D. Power and Associates, says that in his firm's surveys, M-Class and C-Class rate better than competitors for engine performance, braking and transmission but "significantly worse" in interior controls, electronics and heating and cooling systems.

Ulkann says Mercedes has fixed some problems cited in surveys, such as window glass in the M-Class that was binding in the door, and a windshield in the C-Class that fogged in the middle. "We are confident our scores will improve this year," he says. [...]

Some wags in the past have stated that the original Volkswagen Beetle was the most exquisitely assembled piece of junk ever made. The M Class isn't junk by any means, and it is put together as well as anybody could put it together. But it's the pieces and parts and bits that are being put together that need some work.

The production line shuts down on December 9 of this year to retool for the release of the upcoming 2006 M Class, and the $600 million plant expansion is nearly complete for the addition of the new Grand Sports Tourer to the lineup. Both will undoubtedly be better quality vehicles than the current M Class, and will continue to be built by a workforce better able to attach complicated pieces of machinery to one another than a certain automotive writer is able to attach complicated vowels and consonants to one another.

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