Measuring Mercedes' QualityGail Edmondson
So far so good. Since the Sept. 2005 launch of the S-Class, Mercedes has brought several new models to market with no bad news about quality or recalls. The company has been toiling to improve quality since 2003, when it plummeted to an ignoble position in the J.D. Power reliability survey, near the bottom of the industry ranking. Since then, the company has vastly increased testing of all kinds during development and production. As a result, electronic defects caught before the cars leave the factory are down 72% since 2002. But what about after Mercedes’ cars hit the showroom? So far, it’s harder to gauge, at least by looking at J.D. Power’s two influntial measures of automotive quality. The initial quality survey for the US is not yet showing a rebound because J.D. Power changed its survey this year to include questions about “complexity,” making the 2006 ranking incompatible with previous years. In the May ranking, Mercedes again came in below industry average with 139 problems per 100 vehicles. But if you strip out the problems of “complexity,” which are the driver’s subjective opinion (for example about how hard is it to use the navigation system), Mercedes’ quality has risen to about the industry average which is 124 problems per 100 vehicles, says David Sargeant, head of J.D. Power’s London office. That’s clear progress. The reliability survey, which measures the number of defects in cars that are three years old, still reflects the problems that plagued 2003 vintage cars. This year the reliability survey ranked Mercedes below industry average with 240 problems per 100 vehicles. To counter the legacy problems, management is now spear-heading a drive to make sure service teams “fix it right the first time.” In Germany, quality rankings based on roadside breakdowns already highlight improved quality at Mercedes. In the US The 2007 US rankings will be the ones to watch for plotting Mercedes climb back up the quality ladder.