Mercedes Quality Redux

Whooaa! Every time I write about the rebound in Mercedes’ quality, I get a flood of testimonials about the utterly disasterous state of MB cars, as bloggers like to dub them. But most of the irate are owners of models dating between 2000 and 2005, when Mercedes’ quality was at its worst level ever. Problems peaked in the 2002-2004 period, to be precise. Mercedes’ ranking in J. D. Power’s 2003 initial quality survey plummeted below even Chrysler.

But Mercedes was the most-improved automaker in the J.D. Power’s 2007 initial quality survey, which ranks problems after 90 days of ownership. Mercedes ranked fifth, with 111 problems per 100 cars. Porsche, by the way, was No. 1 this year, with only 91 problems per 100. Mercedes leap from 25th in 2006 to top tier in 2007 was unprecedented, says J.D. Power analyst Joe Ivers.

Now, here’s an even more riveting finding: Every vehicle line at Mercedes showed improvement this year. Even the seven-year-old C Class, which was riddled with defects, showed 20 fewer problems per 100 vehicles in 2007. And the S Class tied with the Audi A8 for best in class. “That’s quite an accomplishment,” says Ivers. “The new generation of vehicles is so much better. It looks as though Mercedes may be able to restore its traditional DNA of quality.”

I know — many car owners are too weary and too aggravated to give Mercedes another chance. But to be fair the quality scores are on the up. We visited Stuttgart to see just how management was tackling all those aggravating flaws — and the effort was impressive.

There’s no excuse for the quality collapse at Mercedes — which long ranked No. 1. But once it slips, quality takes time to fix — sometimes a whole car generation.

Bad attitude and shabby service are another story.

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