In Memoriam : Jürgen Hubbert

As another motor industry luminary takes a final bow, we look back at the career of the man dubbed, Mr. Mercedes. 

Jürgen Hubbert and A-Klasse – 1997. (c) Automotive News

Jürgen Hubbert passed away last week at the age of 81. Best known for his tenure at the helm of Mercedes-Benz AG from 1997 to 2005, a period of considerable expansion and no small amount of tumult. Indeed, when one looks back at the Mercedes-Benz products of the time, one cannot but wonder what manner of legacy Hubbert leaves behind.

So let us examine a little more closely. Born in Hagen (Westfalia) in 1939, Hubbert, like all of his generation, lived through the war, his home having been the victim of bombing raids on two separate occasions.[1] Graduating as a Chartered engineer, young Jürgen joined Daimler-Benz in 1965 as a process engineer, supervising the expansion of the Sindelfingen plant, and later overseeing the setup of Mercedes’ Bremen factory.

A rising star within the Stuttgart-Unterturkheim firmament, he joined the executive board in 1989, rising to the post of managing director of the Mercedes-Benz Car division in 1992. Hubbert had been in the running for the CEO post by then, but caught up in the messy blame game over the perceived failure of the W140 S-Class, he was overlooked in favour of Helmut Werner. Five years later, after Werner lost a power struggle for the role of Daimler-Benz Chairman to Jürgen Schrempp, Hubbert’s time finally came.

Mercedes’ position as perhaps the most prestigious series production car brand (outside of the handmade specialist marques) had been under unprecedented threat for some time, and in the wake of a report commissioned from US analytics firm, McKinsey, a major rethink of the entire carmaking organisation was prioritised.

“Once I’d gained an overview of the situation, it became clear to me that we were in trouble. Due to internal debates, we’d neglected our cars. The focus was on becoming an integrated technology concern“, he told chroniclers. Hubbert was convinced that new product was vital to turning Mercedes’ fortunes around, placing an emphasis upon Mercedes models aimed towards a younger demographic.

Much of these changes were orchestrated in hand with his predecessor, Werner, but the product expansion plans, cost cutting measures and the shift away from an engineering-first ethos were not only direct consequences of the McKinsey report, but carried forward by Hubbert during his tenure as Mercedes MD.

These included highly controversial model actions like the Smart Car, and the first generation A-Class – both huge loss-making programmes, not to mention the fault-riddled M-Class SUV. The SLK and CLK models however were more fruitful gambits. Following the acute embarrassment of the A-class elk-test debacle, Hubbert offered his resignation, allegedly to save that of Dieter Zetsche, upon whose watch it is believed to have occurred, an offer that was rejected by Chairman, Jürgen Schrempp.

But while the latter was plotting a vastly enlarged purview with the so-called merger of equals with Chrysler, Hubbert concerned himself with improving the image of the three pointed star, taking brand-Mercedes back into frontline motor sport for the first time since the 1950s. First in DTM, and later in Formula One, telling journalists, “I hoped that we could polish up the image of the brand by means of motor sport. There were always times when the company was not doing all that well and it was motor sport that gave the brand an extra push.

Throughout his period as CEO, Mercedes sales doubled. However, the quality issues that afflicted cars of this era bearing the three pointed star also landed at Hubbert’s door. Whether this, or other factors explain Schrempp’s decidedly lukewarm send-off when Hubbert stepped down in 2005 is unclear, not that the flamboyant former DaimlerChrysler chairman, famous for describing Mercedes-Benz motor cars as “over-engineered” emerges from this period with much credibility himself.

Hubbert’s intended successor, Wolfgang Bernhard, rather ill-advisedly described the Mercedes-Benz Car Group as a basket case, resulting in his official appointment being annulled shortly afterwards. Eckard Cordes, who was appointed in his stead, being forced to oversee intense restructuring efforts to improve both profitability and quality.

Following his retirement, Hubbert found time to put something back, so to speak, lecturing engineering students at the Technical University of Karlsruhe, and becoming quietly involved in charity work. Regarded as a decent individual in a business not necessarily renowned for this quality in its proponents, how do we summarise his tenure at Sindelfingen?

With integrity, innovative spirit and great success, he shaped Mercedes-Benz forever“, Daimler chairman Ola Kallenius told journalists in a press release following the announcement. Those words are perhaps truer than intended, because it must be said that the carmaker is still dealing with the legacy issues from the Hubbert/ Schrempp era.

Because there is little doubt that many of the product actions taken during this period did immense harm to the standing of Mercedes-Benz as the best bar none, whatever the rationale behind some of the corporate decisions made for the business at the time. But perhaps it was always going be this way, given the nature of entropy. Time after all, exacts its toll.

Prof. Jürgen Hubbert 1939 – 2021. RIP

[1] As a toddler, baby Jürgen was given a Steiff teddy, which was all he had left after his home was destroyed. Adult Jürgen retained the teddy, which led over time to him being given other Steiff toys as gifts. By his retirement, his collection comprised some 3000 Steiff toys.

Sources: Autocar/ Autosport/ Christopher Butt – (with thanks).

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

31 thoughts on “In Memoriam : Jürgen Hubbert”

  1. A thoughtful and interesting tribute, thank you Eóin. Even after he ascended to the helm at Mercedes-Benz, Hubbert’s hands were tied by the apparently uncritical acceptance of McKinsey’s recommendations at Daimler-Benz board level, which would prove disastrous for the group.

  2. “…and in the wake of a report commissioned by US analytics firm, McKinsey, a major rethink of the entire carmaking organisation was prioritised.” Do you mean that or that M-B asked McKinsey to do a report?
    Assuming the latter, we have here an executive-level malfunction where the old saw “if the object is not out of order don´t try to repair it” applied. Consultants never say “leave it alone”. Consultants reports are a great excuse to do something even if it´s not what they asked. And even doing what they asked results in unforeseen problems.

    A law of management is that if someone asks outside consultants they are looking for cover for unwanted change.

    A better way to use them is to say analyse a preferred decision and its anticipated outcome.

    1. Hi Richard, I can answer on Eóin’s behalf: it’s a typo, now corrected and should have read ‘from’ not ‘by’.

      That McKinsey report caused havoc for both Daimler and Mercedes. First, it led to a breakneck expansion of Daimler into a myriad of different industries, all expensively acquired during the early 1990’s recession. By 1995 the group was haemorrhaging cash and CEO Edzard Reuter was fired and replaced by Juergen Shrempp. Shrempp had to repair the balance sheet and promised to “maximise shareholder value”. Throughout this misadventure, Mercedes was treated as a cash-cow, first to fund the expansion, then to repair the group’s finances. This was the reason for the carmaker’s abandonment of its traditional engineering-led approach to its vehicles.

    2. Didn´t GE pursue a similar path? And GM tried to expand in various directions with similarly bad results. Advice to firms: put some cash back to labour and shareholders and put some cash into product research. Or shut down and liquidate if that´s too boring.
      I think these managers want an interesting project rather than to carry on tending the furnace, however well it´s flaming.

    3. Ah, the dead hand of McKinsey! In a world full of charlatans, McKinsey surely stand out as the most over-rated ‘management consultants’ of the lot.

      The McKinsey mantra – you can manage anything you can measure, and you can measure everything – reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic: a person who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

      I had the unfortunate experience of dealing with McKinsey in a professional capacity some years ago, and it did not go well. Clearly, the havoc they helped to create at Mercedes was exponentially worse.

      I keep saying this but it bears repeating: a brand exists in the mind of the customer, not on a powerpoint presentation to the board. Or, put another way: the owner who extols the virtues of his Mercedes to his neighbours is an invaluable brand ambassador. The owner who tells everyone that he had to get rid of his E320 due to premature rust is a problem that no amount of advertising or motorsport activity can make go away.

      RIP Herr Hubbert. But it’s rather ironic that, in the era of electrification and promised autonomy, Mercedes would love to be seen as an ‘integrated technology concern’ these days.

  3. I am probably inadequately informed in terms of enough of the facts, but was the expansion and change of emphasis in Mercedes car manufacturing interests really ‘disastrous’? They sell far more cars than they used to, and have been able to keep up with incredible industry changes. Some of the cars launched along the way have been poorly executed, and quality had undoubtedly suffered.

    From the perspective of our kind of car enthusiast, the MB we loved has largely changed for what we perceive to be for the worst, but time will still tell whether the change in direction post the McKinsey review recommendations was the wrong one when viewed from all perspectives. It’s really impossible to be so definitive without knowing the brief and scope of that review, and indeed its findings (i.e. what did they see as the key industry trends, consumer shifts and how those threatened MB’s market position and perception at the time).

    I am not keen on working with McKinsey (and their ilk) myself, but I have have done so in my time in various financial services companies on a number of occasions. Based on those experiences, their best work is rigorously fact-based, and they push management teams to be really honest with themselves about the strengths and weaknesses of their business, and also, thereby, the costs and likelihoods of succeeding in pursuing the future options available to them. More often than not, again in my experience, the strategic options and recommendations they put forward are the right ones. The problem is that either management ignores those findings, or only does the easy stuff, or just badly executed.

    Moreover, rare (actually, I have never worked anywhere … ) is the senior management team that is capable of accepting the same kind of hard-to-hear insights from its own in-house resources.

    1. Hi S.V. In fairness to McKinsey, it wasn’t so much the recommendation that Daimler should expand its industrial interests, but the manner in which Reuter went about it, in a frenzied acquisition spree, that caused the first problem of huge losses in the mid-90’s. Had Mercedes-Benz been left to broaden its model range while maintaining its traditional focus on engineering, then it might have avoided the disastrous drop in product quality that did its reputation so much harm in the early 00’s.

    2. I also recall reading at the time that there were significant issues around productivity and the amount of rectification work that was being carried out after assembly, especially in comparison to the Japanese carmakers, who were of course world leaders in production efficiency and build quality. Furthermore, there was the not inconsequential issue of Lexus, whose LS400 blew a huge hole in the side of Mercedes’ business model. In some ways therefore, change was inevitable. It was the manner in which it was enacted that appears to have been the real decider.

      Having said that, I’m fairly certain our German commenters might have a better informed take on these matters than I.

    3. The average W126 S-class spent more time in rectification than on the actual production line which did nothing for productivity and profit. The Bremen factory in particular had its own specific problems that were not known in Sindelfingen and had to be sorted out.
      For the W140 Mercedes still designed and engineered the headlights and made Bosch/Hella produce them to this spedcification as they’d always done. The facelifted W140 was the first Mercedes with headlights designed by the specialist suppliers and not by Mercedes.
      These were things that needed to change urgently but there was no need to devalue the engineering base as a whole.
      The rigorous cost cutting programme of the early millenium years was mostly needed to cover the losses initiated by the ‘marriage in haven’ which cost them more than all useless experiment of the Reuter era.

  4. Maybe it’s time to reassess, from a certain distance, the perception of the decline in quality. While palpable, it was always doomed
    to be viewed as an “immediate decline” in comparison, right
    after the (all-time superior in build / “too good”?) W126,
    W124, R129 et al.

    Relativity was paramount. Had the same quality issues happened
    to another brand, one less ‘competently etched in stardom’, they probably wouldn’t have had such a pronounced “panic” effect.

    The A-class, W210 and W220 were still rather competent products, if one accepts that such radical product portfolio changes were seldom executable without a big sacrifice (first FWD car can
    cater for certain excuses). Not to mention the merger,
    a risky operation in itself. In hindsight, things could’ve
    been much worse.

    As S.V.R. states above, that report could’ve had detected a risky imminent development, and maybe indicated a need for
    such a risky, “high-speed handbrake application” maneuver
    so to speak.

  5. “he joined the executive board in 1989”

    Bad year for Mercedes. It is the year Lexus was launched. It is like becoming a Nazi general after Stalingrad.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexus

    Lexus prevented Mercedes to charge whatever they wanted for their cars.

    Lexus provided a car “as good as a Mercedes” (if not better made) for 2/3 of Mercedes prices.

    I was told that in the 1980s Mercedes left engine blocks a whole year in a wharehouse to allow the different metals in the block to “settle down” metallurgically.

    In the 1990s with Lexus at the gates that paucity was impossible.

    1. True – yes but at the same time, Lexus is still a fraction of the size of Mercedes. And I would guess casting technology must have moved on a bit because keeping a thousand euros of alloy on a shelf is absurd – you need to start making an arbitrary number of engines in advance to satisfy demand. What if demand exceeeds supply or, worse, demand is slack and you have all those lumps dormant on wooden racks?
      Last year Lexus shifted 765,330 cars in total in 2019. In 2019 Benz found 2,385,400 customers for their cars, despite it all. Today neither company makes much I like – though if I had to choose I´d probably go for one of M-Bs small saloons which aren´t horrible. But if I had more scope I´d probably throw my money at a Mondeo or Insignia with the decision down to caprices like rear arm-rest width, boot volume, user-interface design and the like or even just exterior colour choice. I am just not that serious.

    2. “I am just not that serious.”

      Good morning Richard. I think you might have completed that sentence with “…about impressing other people.” Isn’t it liberating to be of a mindset that allows you to buy a car that best needs your criteria, regardless of the badge it carries? Chapeau!

    3. Thanks Daniel. I´d love to candidly say I am above paying regard to others. However, it would be a bit self-deceiving and probably plain untrue since I suspect even my underdog choice is a form inverted social positioning. I can say that I would not reject a brand for not being “impressive” but I might reject a brand for looking like it make me look like I am trying too hard. A 30 year old Merc dodges that and I could even see myself tillering a Silver Shadow without embarrassment. But a brand new Mercedes or BMW doesn´t appeal for the same reason I am swerving from the executive businessman clothing that catches my eye in the pricey shops. It really is hard to avoid considering other people´s impressions – humans are social beings.

    4. It was Rolls Royce who used to store cylinder block castings. They also used to use ground walnut shells to polish the windscreens of their cars prior to dispatch (or so the story goes).

      It really is not necessary to store cylinder blocks for years. Castings are conveniently heat treated to relieve residual internal stresses or, better, to allow precipitation hardening to occur (assuming a suitable alloy specified).

      Lexus demonstrated that quality and reliability are a minimum required from an automotive product. Lexus prevented Mercedes from charging customers whatever it felt it could get away with. This was important in that it meant that hopelessly inefficient German assembly plant/s could not continue as they had done. Operation as usual was dead and gone for them. The trouble was that instead of responding by improving production process Mercedes wrecked their own USP. They reduced quality and reliability while starting the on-going process to move the brand down-market. They began dismantling what had taken many, many decades to build.

      I remember going to the Sydney auto show and seeing the (then) new W220. As I was known to be running a pair of W120s (a standard 600 and the Brabus variant), I was fortunate enough to be invited onto the stand and allowed to sit in the new car. As the salesman described the features I idly opened and shut the glove box lid. There was an insubstantial tinny feeling to it. It certainly did not provide the carefully damped solidity of the earlier car’s glove box lid and mechanism. A little surprised by that, and with the growing feeling all was not as it ought to be, I worked my way around, surprised to find detail after detail coming up short. The car was very much a step backwards. Plenty of gadgets, sure, but definitely not as well executed the outgoing model. The suspicion was that Mercedes had made this S-class to a price and was about to gouge its customers (build on the cheap, sell on the high side). I seriously hoped that the car encountered was merely a pre-production model imported to Australia for early demonstration purposes and that the actual production car would be different. As it happened, the show-car was the production car. It was registered and on-sold to a customer.

      Some of my colleagues made purchases. They suffered for their loyalty. The new cars just kept going downhill. This persisted for quite a while and Mercedes hurt customers by abusing trust and goodwill generated over decades of providing unquestioned engineered-in excellence by the cynical substitution of a succession of models well below par. Mercedes have since improved quality, but they have not regained the standards of quality and reliability they once could honestly promote as World leading.

      Today most Mercedes models are technically average. Nevertheless there remain a gems in the range- you have to search carefully to locate the goodies, but they are there. Overall though, the modest levels of quality and reliability mean that this maker supplies vehicles which are unnecessarily expensive to service and operate. Add to that the vulgar pretentiousness attached to so many models. That’s a styling issue screaming for urgent remedy. It seems the USP that used to be is gone for ever.

      Having reported on that sad aspect, there remains some good news. For instance, the later M275 turned out to be a strong performer- strong enough to distract from certain issues inherent to the cars it powered. Even though the core architecture was nothing like as impressive as the M120, the M275 and its successors have their benefits. They are intriguing. They sure can be exciting. Drive a Mercedes fitted with one if you get a chance. Quite the surprise.

    5. JT: I remember Georg Kacher writing about the new W-220 in Car magazine at the time and there was nothing in the article to suggest it was anything other than fabulous, as usual. That said, I have Kacher to thank for my insight on the real Opel personality, courtesy of a wonderful re-review of the Opel Monza (complete with evocative photos) which I like to re-read from time. I think it´s around the middle 80.s

  6. Richard, to introduce such a delicate, endless and irresistible subject as is the social burden of product branding, so late in a comment thread,
    is what DTW is all about. Thought provoking, to put it mildly.

    Come to think of it, there were a few occasions when a given brand’s social expectation did deter me from owning a car that otherwise
    perfectly fitted a certain bill . After attaining a certain maturity
    as a driver, however, it seems there is no turning back in this regard. Being able to honestly admit to oneself the need for a certain set of qualities, leads to an absolute appreciation of the car’s subjective properties. It brings a new dimension to acceptance, rendering “social aspects” secondary and trivial. I am not aware, though, of the exact point in time when this was acquired. It seems to be a continuous process.

    Brand awareness, at the end of the day, seems to be a prejudicial capsule (so to speak) that we break through from within (sooner, later, or, in many instances, never).

    1. Hi Alex: the point when I really wanted a new BMW occurred when I was about 16 or so. I also harboured dreams of Saab. The admiration of the idea of Saab never went away while my admiration of BMW fossilised at 1989. I also had a thing for Alfa Romeo that has not gone away but has never been consummated. I am way out the market for their current products; the last thing they made I could honestly imagine having may have been the 146 and 147 twins and maybe their successors. When and how did Lancia worm its way into my affections? Hmmm. I need think about that.

  7. During my fifteen years in car sales I was persuaded by a friend and ex colleauge to join a MB main dealership in Canterbury. I was also slightly Three Pointed Starstruck rembering the W126 and W201 glory days. This was 2005/2006 and I made the move from Lexus. Yes, I know. The initial experience was akin to walking out of a spa retreat in The Maldives and walking into a re-enactment of The Fall of Phnom Penh.

    Although quality issues had seemed to have turned a corner by then on the new cars there was a forecourt full of W210 and early W211 E Class that had been backed or swiftly part exchanged by customers, along with a rather unhealthy number of late 90’s A160’s (arguably one the most terrifying cars I have driven).
    E Class seems to have suffered the most, with as a list of issues as comprehensive as the possible spec list. From poorly fitting trim, interior door handles snapping, rattles and creaks, to recalls for broken exhaust pipes, corroded airbag electrics, steering coupling breakages, faulty bonnet catches and ESP/SBC failures.

    The showroom was a hostile envoirnment with queues of tubby, pre-elderly and enraged customers. Gold chain bracelets jangling as they gesticulated frantically with raised voices to unfortunate service advisors that were very short of advice. It was also difficult to explain to perspective customers making their first MB purchase.
    These mechanical and electronic problems aside, the real issue that drove long standing and loyal Mercedes Benz customers into the arms of their competition was the nonchalant and arrogant attitude of MB Uk and equally from Stuttgart. The main dealers were hung out to dry with little or no support from either, so by the time cars were fixed, many customers vowed to never buy another and people love to tell their tales of woe.

    I was unaware of events in Stuttgart at that time, so all your comments above put some perspecive to it.
    My stint at MB was short as the writing was clearly on the wall for me. Reversing an SLK through the showroom window at full throttle on my third day on the job should have been omen enough. But that, as they say, is a different story entirely.

    1. Paul: Thanks for stopping by and for your vivid and rather bracing telling of your experiences with the star of Sindelfingen. Lexus to Mercedes – one imagines that for many M-B customers of the period, the polarity was reversed…

    2. Need Eóin, Lexus and BMW were literally a short walk across the road so impulsive decisions could be made very quickly. As mentioned MB were very luck Facebook and Twitter were in their infancy as the damage could well have been far greater.

    3. Ah yes, the halcyon days before the social media onslaught. Well observed.

    4. Hi Paul. It was fascinating to read your recollections, so thanks for sharing them with us. It was not an aspect of Mercedes-Benz’s disastrous millennial drop in quality I had previously considered, the impact on the guys in the front line, who had to take all the flak it generated.

      I was more than a little grumpy (but never rude or abusive) on occasion with my local Mercedes-Benz dealership regarding the many issues with my 1997 SLK. I thought they were merely indifferent, but perhaps it was just grim resignation on their part.

  8. Hi Daniel. Grim resignation perhaphs, but it was a big weake up call for a complacent and somewhat arrogant industry, certainly on the retail side. Old school motor tade attitudes especially in the premium market, got stronger from having it so good for so long. ‘Arthur Daley’ antics slid seamlessly into the 21st century. Brown envelopes and money laundering through dealerships was still going on in some quarters, just with sharper suits, skinnier ties and very pointy shoes.

    The Mercedes-Benz debacle shook the tree. Many started to follow Toyota with Kiazen continuous improvement practises and began implementing process measurment across the business. This led to better customer service from sales, service and parts and raised the level of professionalism. Much needed.

    It’s a stubborn beast to retrain or change. Some things never change in some places. I worked in a main dealer in Bandon five years ago. A car from the forecourt was loaned out to a customer and several weeks later nobody could remember who the customer was nor who had given it out. No paperwork and both keys given out. It may well still be roaming the countryside untaxed.
    “Do you think my methods are unsound, Captian Willard?”

  9. Richard

    You wrote, “I remember Georg Kacher writing about the new W-220 in Car magazine at the time and there was nothing in the article to suggest it was anything other than fabulous, as usual.”

    You can always rely on some random jounalist like that to fearlessly proclaim the truth (assuming he even noticed it in the first place) even though if it may result in future “restrictions”. Sure. Riiiiight.

    Someone in his position is hardly impartial. He is a German reporting from the German market about a German industrial product from the big end of town (that is, a dominant, establishment institutional entity). He relies on outfits such as Mercedes for his continued income, access to perks, professional and social status. Most importantly, at the time, he was not in the market to buy this type of car with his own money anyway. It was way outside his social class. His social position precluded him having one of these as a personal vehicle. He likely could not have comfortably afforded it anyway (perhaps a gentle enough lease might have been possible if such were available in Germany in that time). These days it is a little different since Mercedes has moved so far down-market and there are all sorts of financial “products” available to acquire excessive debt, but back then…

    When it comes to purchasing something expensive recognise that people making recommendations to you may not share your interests or even care about them. For instance, were I in the market to purchase another new S-class or similar it would not make any sense whatsoever to rely on articles published in Car and magazines of that sort. Those journalists are not making purchase with their own money and they will not have to live with the consequences of the purchase over an extended period of time. They merely take a (prepared) sample car owned by someone else for a ride and write a story. They are keenly aware that if they annoy their patron (the supplier of the cars and various other perks of the job) sufficiently they may not be so lucky next time around, as the access gets more difficult and perks get withdrawn. There is realisation from the sales and marketing team on downward through editorial and finally to the journalists themselves that advertising revenue ought not be wrecked and that access to the great patrons (car manufactures and their agents) needs nurturing and protection. That is their priority. The interests of these people are not at all the same as the prospective purchaser of an expensive car. Their context is different. Their priorities are different.

    For Georg Kacher, it is more than likely he did not notice the issues in W220 as he wasn’t interested in them in the first place. Hence, he wasn’t really looking for anything like that. He just got in the new car and went for a nice drive. All seemed OK and the S-class narrative remained unaltered. “Fantastic, as always.”

    But the customers noticed. They purchased the cars and began encountering the failures- the lack of quality from what had been a World leader in perceived quality and reliability hurt them. They really did notice (especially the ultra-critical US ones) that the narrative they had believed in was contradicted by direct experience. Outfits like JD Powers (in whose interests it is to report on these wee matters) noticed. The complaints began and there were very many of them- a deluge which could not be silenced or ignored. As product quality continued to crash and burn it all became common knowledge. People had been scammed and they knew it.

    In the end, the term to reflect on here is, “skin in the game”. Ask, whose was it?

    Meanwhile, a little analogy is illustrative of a portion of what we are investigating. Mercedes by that point was like the famous battleship which got its rudders jammed by a torpedo hit. Unlike the famous battleship, Mercedes have since had time and opportunity to make good a repair. So far they appear to have regained SOME of the lost steerage, but all is not as it was. They have not yet escaped. The Mercedes battleship is down at the head, slower in speed, limited in maneuver, severely reduced in range*, taking water and the hunt is still on.

    J T

    *You’ll recall the 14″ shell hit received from the PoW ruptured a fuel oil bunker. The resulting reduction in range forced Adm Lutjens to set course for Brest. Subsequent US action doomed him and his ship. Luckily the US hasn’t taken action in regards to Mercedes although there are some others who might.

    1. Try any of this lot for size, if you can bear to.

      It’s a series of articles by Car Magazine – I came across them in the paper magazine – where they drive various types of Peugeot 208 from one end of the Britain to the other.

      The tone is incredibly deferential and saccharine – it reminds me of coverage of the royal family in the 1930s. It’s not flagged as ‘advertorial’, as far as I can see; it just says ‘Editorially independent content supported by Peugeot’. Hmm.

      A small sample of Car’s hard-hitting journalism:

      …”the latest 208 radiates confidence. The proportions, the stance, the mischievous scowl: it’s a masterclass in small car attitude. And in GT spec, with its black arch extensions and dark grille, our car has more attitude than most. If anything, the cabin is even more stylish than the wrapper…”. There’s pages of guff like that. Times must be hard and advertising revenue highly prized.

      https://peugeotroadtrips.carmagazine.co.uk/car-road-trips

    2. Despite only a few clues, I think Mr Kacher has done rather well from motoring journalism. He has one of those nice house in the country with a massive stack of logs. That said, yes, he probably might not be living so cosily if he had noticed the indifferent quality of the S-class. I can imagine the chaps at TTAC are doing okay with their approach which is to accept nothing but the car and the petrol; some of the American magazines were quite robust (Automobile springs to mind).
      The generosity of the car business in the 1970s and 1980s was astonishing if George Bishop and Setright´s anecdotes were anything to go by: trips to European capitals to assess tyres, car fresheners and fog lamp covers. Funnily, George Bishop didn´t have any other articles in the magazine, just that one about jollies around the UK and Europe at OEM´s expense.

    3. Georg Kacher would’ve been able to afford a new W220, back in the day.

  10. After the 1990 Massachusetts Institute of Technology book The Machine that Changed the World, Mercedes were highly embarassed. The rework area was the obvious main problem and the clue to the rest of the shambolic production system, the largest floor area anywhere where rectification on badly-assembled vehicles were put right by blokes in white coats, literally. At the end of the assembly line where some disassembly might well be required prior to rectification. And they missed a lot while they were at it. A giant overhead cost, making no return on investment whatsoever.

    Mercedes came dead last among car makers in the MIT book, and Toyota came first — their processes were under control on a statistical basis, it’s called quality assurance. Make all the parts to a high precision and sample the output to ensure uniformity and closeness to spec. From design to manufacturing parts to having an assembly line where workers found that all the bits fitted, procedures were established and randomly sampled for adherence to the system, and moreover, the result was everything worked first time. NO inspectors required. No missing parts like Airfix model aeroplane kits. The result was that Toyota was the lowest cost producer in the world, and Mercedes by far the highest; they were clueless. They were still inpecting parts the old-fashioned way with quality control inspectors for 100% coverage. Too bad it doesn’t work and is expensive to boot. If it had worked, there wouldn’t have been a need for the rework area at the end of the assembly line!

    I bought that MIT book right away after publication because it was background for the statistical quality assurance program I had to implement by government decree for testing and maintaining calibration of electricity meters without checking every single one. That book and all of Professor Deming’s as well. He’s the quality guru first sent by the US to Japan for free when there was reconstruction after WW2 and help was needed. The father of Quality Assurance.

    Mercedes realized they were in trouble after that MIT book and its reviews in the business press, and hired McKinsey, who so far as I know hadn’t a clue themselves about statistical QA, to implement guess what, quality assurance, considered a black art by old timers and customers who really haven’t thought things through. There were few consultants around who had much of a clue on QA — I know, I tried to hire some to help me. Of course, no consultant would ever admit they weren’t geniuses and knew it all. It soon became apparent I knew more than they did. So it was all brand new from scratch for me and my staff.

    For Mercedes too, and they quickly thought they knew what QA meant, but obviously didn’t, because they were, after all, engineering geniuses who really didn’t need a lecture, thanks all the same. So for a decade and more, they bumbled around even more lost than before, buying stuff, including Chrysler, and screwing it all up royally while making mediocre cars. And these Daimler upper management people were completely out to lunch, while of course denying it and strutting about like the proverbial emperor with no clothes.

    If you think I’m making things up, buy the MIT book, and then you’ll see what I’m driving at. There’s quite a bit more there about documenting processes and having every team member knowing their job inside out, and being able to answer questions unhesitatingly in unannounced audits by independent outside companies.

    Lamenting that Mercedes had lost their engineering skills in the 1990s by commenters here, merely means they do not understand what it is they do not understand. Sorry, it’s true. I didn’t either before I studied the subject. Actual design of the car was not a Mercedes engineering shortcoming before 1990, they were fine. But making them consistently was their problem, like my friend’s ’88 300E and its myriad build shortcomings. Sure it had a great warranty, but so what? Toyota made a Mercedes with the LS400 for half the price, and it was higher quality overall where it mattered, low warranty costs, because the cars were assembled properly first time through when they were made.

    German hubris being what it is, these Mercedes managers believed their own myths, just like their customers did, so their QA implementation was a farce, Mckinsey input included. I’m not sure if they really have it all sorted to this day, to be honest. Mazda has, Toyota obviously, probably Honda, but not the rest of the Japanese makers. In fact, your average car company is an amalgam of old style quality control and statistical quality assurance, and not particularly effective as a result. When you hear someone going on about six-sigma quality, you know you’ve just met someone who really doesn’t get QA, and nor does their employer. Nice jargon, though.

    As I say, buy that MIT book, it’s fun to read actually if you’re a car nut and it’s not mathematical. It’s more an in-depth look at car manufacturers by a team who visited factories and design centres and documented the reality. The book will gen you up and you’ll learn what you’ve been thinking about mythical wonderful Mercedes pre the early ’90s is over thirty years out-of-date, and wrong. And be generous, send a copy to JLR, they need a gross really, what with the silly rubbish they badly produce.

    Ford USA is going through terrible problems with rework in the USA currently. They lost the plot over there years ago. At present, Jan 2021, there are fields covered in tens of thousands of new dud F150s in Detroit. Talk about hundreds of acres of rework area! This comes after the new Explorer fiasco of two years ago, where tens of thousands were shipped all over the place to rectification “Centers” for final “quality checks”. What a load of nonsense. I wouldn’t touch a North American made Ford with a bargepole; even bonnets and tailgates are hung crookedly, a shambles. Obviously Mercedes is more advanced than Ford US these days. But then just about everyone is. Mullaly, Boeing, then Ford. And 737 Max as a result of letting bean counters run the show, entirely unaware about quality assurance. Wouldn’t hop on one of those myself, either, despite the “re-engineering”. Big time execs get paid big time money, so pfft, this QA stuff, where does it help MY career and freedom of action to express my genius for all to see, they think. Cannot happen in a working auditable quality assurance program, because all procedures are documented, as are updates and all must conform to the overall system in place. Some overpaid loon in a suit having a bad day can’t change things at the drop of a hat. Oh yes, the new Ford CEO, Jim Farley is reputedly one of these know-it-alls. So expect no change there, or worse.

    My meter testing and calibration QA program was implemented in 1997, and has survived annual unannounced audits from outside inspectors till now, right through my being put out to pasture and new hands at the helm. Very few nonconformances and all easily rectifiable. I’m proud of that. No executive manager can overide the program on a whim of personal bias and innate genius, or you lose accreditation as a QA establishment by having to report a nonconformance. Which is not good, and costs money.

    .So I have a bit of a clue when I make my pronouncements here about cars and Mercedes. The average bloke in the street simply has no idea about quality assurance whatsoever. I didn’t, and I was an engineer. But once the logic of it all seeps into your mind, you realize that the old way is the next best thing to useless for quantity high volume well-made production. And Mercedes used to epitomize the old way of quality control, before misunderstanding the new quality assurance. Disaster. It’s taken a long time for them to crawl back out into the sunlight.

    Meanwhile Toyota is so rich, $40 billion in the bank not needed, they have pocket money to slosh around on projects of all kinds. Like the new solid-state battery, and hydrogen cars, and the best hybrids by far mechanically and electrically. In fact they had enough spare cash to get BMW to make a Supra for them in concert with Magna-Steyr and rode herd on the quality assurance discipline they required and expected of their contractors, from design through production. I wonder if it has sunk into BMW what they were handed for free — a system that works, or if they just follow it, because contract.

    1. Dear Bill
      One book ordered. Amazon, £7. Looking forward the read (it’ll be in the pile of those “resting in anticipation”) and I’ll comment later. Thanks for the heads up.

  11. Bill

    Yup. That’s an impressive summary.

    In my world the term quality means meeting the specification and that specification has to be properly determined, defined and recorded. It had better meet customer needs and values!

    My experience (as owner of some Merc sedans) was that Mercedes had provided World leading quality and reliability in their product- even if it did need significant rework undertaken either on the line, beside it or behind it. BMW were no different. They too had the white coated specialists on “track 2” fixing up the defects.* Once Mercedes realised they were in trouble they exhibited the hubris and arrogance to rationalise a handy expedient of introducing specifications at the lower rent end of the scale. The revised specifications were supposed to be relatively easy to attain for lower effort and much reduced cost. The customer experienced the results of the cynicism. Meanwhile Toyota demonstrated what quality actually is and how to attain it consistently.

    I’d add to your commentary that Toyota were not only using the statistical methods. They were the TQM exponents extraordinaire. They also deployed into small group activities, kaizen (continuous improvement), poke yoke (originally somewhat offensively labeled baku yoke), the basic seven tools, the new seven tools, double source inspection, avoiding the eight wastes, 5S and so on.

    It is a cultural shift. It is a total revision of thinking, lost on the West by and large. It is a community and a different style of real leadership is necessary for it to operate and to thrive. It is about proper values and a very high ethic. It is top down and all must be involved 100%, especially management who have to lead by example- no excuses. Most important, it is alien to what is prevalent throughout Europe and the US.

    Did you deploy B7 and Poke Yoke? What about 5S? What was your largest SGA? Our was six but now it is only four.

    Happy times!

    J T

    *I remember visiting the BMW three-series line in Munich during the early ’90s. They had tracks parallel to the line to buffer vehicles for rework. That was expensive and inefficient for certain. They knew.

    I had been invited to do tour of factory. Just before the guide and I went, a young Asian man was walked over by a guard from the museum. He was a BMW enthusiast who had been promised a tour. I was asked if he could come along with me and said sure, why not, of course he can join us. He jumped into the golf cart but immediately we went towards the factory building we were stopped and he was pulled out of the cart. He had to hand over his camera (I was never asked for mine) and was then carefully searched for any recording equipment or even anything to write with. I enquired why this was and got informed that BMW did not want Japanese nationals spying on their state of the art production facilities. There were secrets see. Well, the Asian guy was a Cambodian (which you could easily tell) who had been resident in Australia. He had nothing to do with the automobile manufacturing industry. I was involved in the industry at the time and they knew exactly who I was associated with. Not a problem though. Nothing said about it…..

    Anyway, I had previously attended production lines at Nissan, Ford and Honda. After the tour I knew there was nothing special or secret about what was on that 3-series line. They were inefficient and quite old-fashioned, behind the times and behind what was prevalent in Asia and Australia even.

    It was not good how my Cambodian passenger was treated. I wondered how he felt about BMW after that. Was he still a fan? Never did find out.

    P.S. You sure are right about Jaguar and the things it is making nowadays.

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