Mercedes E Class Back on Top

Imagine the cheers in Stuttgart and the grumbling in Munich. The Mercedes E Class Sedan ranked best premium mid-sized sedan in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey — after several years of humiliatingly poor performances. That’s a nice coup for Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche, who admitted defeat at Chrysler last month and sold 81 percent of the struggling US unit to private equity group Cerberus.

The newly-redesigned Mercedes S-Class also soared in J.D. Power’s ratings, tying for first with the impressive Audi A8. Overall, the Mercedes-Benz brand improved by 20 positions—the greatest rank increase of any nameplate in the study. All Mercedes-Benz models in the study cruised higher in the rankings.

Of course, Mercedes Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche has to make the gains stick in the reliability survey, which tests a car’s quality after three years. Now that Mercedes’ top brass no longer has to fret about Chrysler and it can focus its top talent on Mercedes, the odds are good that Mercedes will continue its climb.

The other surprise was the winner of the J.D. Power initial quality ranking for the second year running. Here’s a hint: It was not Toyota or Lexus. Porsche aced the top honors. Porsche’s CEO Wendelin Wiedking was the first German luxury automaker in the 1990s to actually deploy Toyota’s continual-improvement quality approach in manufacturing. Now his obsessive embrace of quality has paid off handsomely for Porsche.

The big question is whether Porsche, controlling shareholder at Volkswagen, can transplant some of its quality knowhow to hapless VW, which ranked fifth to last in the J.D. Power survey. That’s a desperate rating for a German automaker. Wiedeking’s Porsche machine may be running flawlessly, but pumping up VW quality’s enough to take on Toyota will be an even tougher job.

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