From Stuttgart to Eternity

What happens to old cars when they die, Mummy?

MB Recycling

Whilst trying to find a download of a W211 Owners Manual for a friend’s ten year old E Class, I came across the above (full text below). Now, although the US website did finally provide the manual, Mercedes’ UK site appears to provide no such service. Despite the fact that it would only cost them a tiny sum to make electronic manuals for older cars available to owners, it’s telling that MB UK don’t see this as a priority.

It would be comforting to imagine an old school image of Daimler AG as a manufacturer of ‘cars for life’ and this end-of-life recycling guff plays on that. Incongruously illustrated with a 300SL, it conjures up a caring company that, after maintaining it lovingly over the decades for you through their dealers at nominal cost, will take that tired old 50s convertible off your hands for free, without you having to pay the council to hoist it in the street, and they’ll even give you a lift back to the station.

Now it may be that I’m looking at this from a Little Englander viewpoint. I mean, when we’ve finished with a car with no hope of selling it on, we just drag it out east and set fire to it by the roadside. Possibly other countries are more particular, and I welcome comments.

My own take, of course, is that this is just a hollow bit of PR. My cynicism doesn’t abate with sentences like “After the vehicle utilisation phase, the basis for efficient end-of-life processing is recyclability, which is subject to ongoing improvement”. This has an almost spiritual tang to it really, suggesting that ‘utilisation’ is just one aspect of a vehicle’s existence before it leaves the corporeal form and attains another plane in a search that will know no end.

Images of MB technicians assisting this transition by lovingly dismantling old S Classes, their bolts, as fresh as the day they were new, undoing creamily to release parts that are assessed, before being archived for possible use in maintaining other classic Benzes that are still in the Phase of Utilisation, evaporate, when the click-through takes you to the perfectly reputable, but graphically strident, site of an independent recycling company.

Different countries have always put their own slant on Mercedes but, in the UK, they have always been sold at a premium. Back in the Sixties, my first trip to Germany was one of incredulity. They use Mercedes as taxis – they must be so rich! The reality was that, in Germany, they were significantly cheaper than the UK and viewed as well made cars, certainly a couple of notches above the mundane, but attainable and worth the investment in view of their quality and reliability. Meanwhile, in the UK, always snobbish, we viewed them as prestigious, symbols of success, partly because they were genuinely good, but also because they were very expensive. Maybe the British view of Mercedes is more realistic now but, still, ownership of a Merc means committing yourself to the potential of high costs when anything goes wrong.

Naturally, and I’m certainly not singling out Mercedes here, just responding to their rather pompous, yet cheap and hollow bullshit, the reality of old cars has changed. A 10 year old vehicle today can become a nightmare of real and false electronic failures, and its value drops to acknowledge this. Are old cars less reliable than they used to be? In many ways the opposite but the problem is, when something goes wrong, you can’t fix it with a self-tapper and a bit of cardboard. There is no way you can bodge a repair, temporary or permanent, on an electronic module. The advantage is that, after a quick plug in to the diagnostic socket, the component can be easily changed – at £672.73 plus labour and VAT. Suddenly that bargain Benz, so much for so little, becomes very unattractive.

We’re at a transition. Either manufacturers need to acknowledge that a car will have a reasonably short life, before it becomes too costly for the people who can only afford to buy it second-hand to maintain in a safe and reliable state, or they should make modular electronic componentry cheaper and easier to replace. The latter is the more responsible route, after all most the componentry actually is cheap to make, it is just sold at a high mark-up because that’s how the industry has traditionally made money, particularly premium dealers.

To quote Mercedes : “As inventors of the automobile, we are aware of our responsibilities. Sustainable, environmentally compatible mobility is a key part of our corporate strategy”. Yes, please. Now can I have an owner’s manual so I can find out what those warning lights mean?

“Sustainability and environmental compatibility at Daimler

As inventors of the automobile, we are aware of our responsibilities. Sustainable, environmentally compatible mobility is a key part of our corporate strategy. Environmentally viable product design is defined in the Daimler AG environmental guidelines, which account for the entire product life cycle, from initial design to production, product utilisation, disposal and recycling.

After the vehicle utilisation phase, the basis for efficient end-of-life processing is recyclability, which is subject to ongoing improvement. This is an important requirement for efficient re-utilisation and reprocessing of valuable materials by our partners.

When it’s time to part company from your vehicle, we ask you to return it to a depot within our take-back network. Mercedes-Benz offers a simple, free vehicle return facility, as well as environmentally compatible recycling of your vehicle in compliance with legal requirements. Returning your vehicle and efficient material recycling make a key contribution to completing the recycling cycle and protecting our valuable resources.

Search for your nearest take-back station .”

3 thoughts on “From Stuttgart to Eternity”

  1. Sean, what I can tell you is that in the past, the British perspective on Mercedes wasn’t as drastically different from the German one. Yes, it was the taxi driver’s (only) choice back in the day, but that didn’t really diminish the three pointed star’s lustre in the slightest – it actually served to highlight the cars’ superior solidity and dependability.
    Regarding prices I must also point out that, albeit hardly as out of this world as in the pre-common market UK, Mercedes used to be significantly more expensive than the competition (even though it could be argued that in the olden days there was no worzy opponent to ze Svabians…). By that I don’t mean today’s 10% or so premium over BMW and Audi – which doesn’t apply to all models anymore, anyway – but drastic markups of 20% or more, at a time when, lest we forget, Untertürkheim hadn’t looked up the term “discount”.

    Mercedes finally abandoned its own league for good during the Jürgen Hubbert years, when blatant cost cutting became apparent for the very first time. Today, the E-class is still the prevalent taxi in Germany, but not by the 98% of yore – it’s a figure more along the lines of 55% or so, as pointed out by the plethora of ivory coloured VW Tourans and Skodas that are no exceptional sights on German roads anymore.

  2. Kris. I wasn’t suggesting that any Mercedes was ever the German Cortina (which was, of course, the Taunus) and I realise that the star always had a cachet that commanded a higher price, even in Germany, but I don’t think the discrepancy was ever quite as high as it was here. From the only source that falls to hand (The Motor 1972, by which time I think MB had tried to make their UK entry-level offerings vaguely attainable by their standards), and at a time when you could buy a Ford Consul/Granada from £1,300

    A Peugeot 504 cost £1,609
    A Rover 2000 was £1,777,
    A Lancia 2000 cost £2,121
    A BMW 2000 cost £2,125

    The cheapest Mercedes available, a basic 220, retailed at £2,608 to which, of course, you would need to apply the sizeable option list. £26 more would have got you an XJ6, admittedly the controversial 2.8.

  3. Actually, to digress entiely from this topic, I don’t know why I made that comment about the Taunus. Yes, in Ford model hierarchy the Taunus was the exact equivalent of the Cortina, but was it “The German Cortina”? Bearing in mind the disproportionate affection the Cortina is still held in by some in the UK, I suppose the Beetle is really the German Cortina. Or maybe, perversely, the Opel Rekord.

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