It’s Not Quite News, but…

…I’ll talk about it anyway. Mercedes is still concerned their image is too staid. They want more women buyers. Can’t women be staid and boring too?

2015 Mercedes S-class. Stuffy? Source
2015 Mercedes S-class. Stuffy? Wikipedia.org

Automotive News had a recent article about Mercedes being more interested in the female buyer and the writer says this: “Mercedes has to make up ground, particularly in Germany, where years of conservative design and a stuffy image as the preferred brand for rich, older men has turned female customers away”. The litany about Mercedes being “stuffy” and “conservative” has been running for as long as I have been a grown adult.
And yet I ask myself, what have MB been doing since the mid 1990s but turning their back on the kind of austere good taste we here at DTW value so highly. That has been done in the name of excitement. Were not every single one of those useless creases and flouncy graphics all done in the name of making the cars more “contemporary” and “emotional”? What has Gorden Wagener being banging on about but emotional design. And still. And still AN trots

1975 Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9. It´s not black or silver or dark blue, is it? And it´s not in Berlin.
1975 Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9. It´s not black or silver or dark blue, is it? And it´s not in Berlin. Very, very, very stuffy indeed.

out the line that Mercedes is stuffy and conservative. I won’t argue Mercedes design is great. Most of it is okay in a predictable, contemporary kind of way and no more or less stuffy than vehicles from brands like Nissan, Toyota, Ford, Opel and Peugeot who are not automatically called stuffy and conservative. Like it or not, modern Benzes are no different from most other cars, cars that are not called staid, boring, conservative or the like. Articles like this make me confused as to what it would take for MB to shake off the perception of the received wisdom that they are less exciting than most cars. The same goes for Opel. Both brands are a thousand strides from where they were in the middle 80s (for better and worse) and yet there is still the urge to describe them as they were when Reagan and Thatcher were in office.

1972 Mercedes 280 SE W116 Automatic. This colour is now only found on superminis.
1972 Mercedes 280 SE W116. Stuffy? autoblog.com

It’s an open question: how does one determine that a Mercedes E-class is stuffier than a Ford Mondeo or BMW 5-series? I honestly can’t see the difference in the cars. Does the difference actually lie elsewhere? Your answers will be interesting. Maybe they should stop selling them in neutral colours?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

18 thoughts on “It’s Not Quite News, but…”

  1. How to tell that a Mercedes is stuffier than a BMW or Mercedes? Just look at this three-pointed star at the front. Isn’t it looking conservative?

    It’s the same with Citroën. Isn’t that Xsara very quirky and exotic? And I’m quite confident it’s rusting and leaking, too.

    1. “stuffier than a BMW or Mondeo”, I wanted to write. I should wake up properly before trying to type…

  2. Exactly, Simon. Benzes could look like neon-pink Lamborghinis on 45″ wheels and they’d still be writing they were staid. Benz might as well do “staid” properly. People will buy them.

  3. Whether the argument is actually true or not, there’s a case for pointing out that, since the World is not lacking in richer, older men, MB would be wise not to risk the lucrative niche market it has carved for itself. Personally speaking, I’d feel a bit frustrated if my product was just aimed at that market, but if I was an accountant I’d just ask, are MB’s sales figures that bad?

  4. They are still using the tagline “one day you promised yourself you would drive a Mercedes”. That’s hardly trying to appeal to younger female buyers yet they still use it selling their smaller cars that are “targeting” younger/female buyers. They seem fixated with beating BMW rather than maintaining a consistent and reliable offering. Maybe not enough people no longer want consistent and reliable but I reckon there are probably enough with enough money to make MB prosper if they stopped producing disposable cars.

    1. I think it’s “The best or nothing” these days, which is what it used to be in times past.

  5. Well judging by the number of (often quite small) women I see driving their SUV C-
    Class, SLK and SL models I don’t think they have too much to worry about the misconceived magazine article.

    1. TVR had a notable base of female customers despite their image as a bloke’s car. It is very risky to say who you are designing for, a fact briefly recognised by Cadillac and then forgotten.

  6. Janis Joplin sang that she wanted one and she was young, female and definitely not stuffy. Then maybe that was before Merecedes acquired their dull image. My problem with Mercedes is that their styling is all over the place with an excess of swoops and creases.

    1. The singer is Joplin but she’s not singing as herself. I assume she’s singing in the place of a person who wants a Benz.
      The text seems to suggest an ironic juxtaposition of materialism and religious faith. I’d suggest it’s not approving of the brand- did Benz really use it in an advert?

  7. Yes, the song was used by Mercedes-Benz in 1995; I presume Janis Joplin’s estate got the royalties.

    1. Then Benz misunderstood the song. REM’s “This one goes out to the one I love” is often also misunderstood. The next line is “a simple crutch to occupy my time”. We discussed the Passenger by I. Pop last year. Again, it’s not flattering.

  8. Misunderstood songs is definitely an interesting theme and I think it will probably keep me perplexed for some time trying to come up with other examples.

    I think that, as has already been suggested, that the “stuffiness” of Mercedes is one of those automotive tropes that is repeated so often in sloppy journalism that they come to be believed without question. VWs are reliable, Toyotas worthy but dull, Italian cars are rust buckets, Vovos good but not quite good enough. These have become embedded in popular belief despite obvious evidence to the contrary but it is easier for many journalists to repeat them than explain why they are untrue. Obviously does not apply to DTW contributors or readers!

    1. At this stage I feel my critical faculties are in tatters. They say Benz is for old men, BMW is sporty and Audi in between. I can’t agree just looking at them. Opels are supposed to be dull – again I can’t see anything duller than offerings from Renault, Ford or indeed Benz. Nissans and Mazdas are a bit different though it’s because their product ranges have different foci. A lot of cars people say are good looking strike me as indifferent and not a few marques ignored by taste makers produce attractive cars. Some US Toyotas and Hondas are rather fine; the nicest Audi is the A3 saloon; Ford makes nothing I really like and nor do Renault or Peugeot; small Suzukis are more intriguing. Hyundai and Kia make great looking cars and the Genesis is very accomplished. I could go on. The new C-class works though, the first pleasing Mercedes in years even if it’s as egg-shell brittle as anyone else’s saloon…

  9. I think a few books should be read on brand image, branding and such like by all concerned. What a Mercedes or Ford actually looks like has zero to do what it is perceived as by Joe Public. A Mercedes will always be staid even if painted yellow and Fords and Opels will always be seen as rental fodder.

    If the branding books don’t help, just look up a few whisky, wine or champagne blind taste tests on the internet. Tell people the price of the wine and the expensive ones always taste the best. Don’t tell them the price or name and they have no idea which is which.

    1. Maybe they are both just better at marketing than Mercedes? They were able to change perception whereas Mercedes hasn’t or aren’t bothered.

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