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How to throw away trust

The old Mercedes A class isn’t everybody’s dream car. It didn’t have a good start. When it was launched in 1997 it was put through its paces by some Swedish journalists. The first version rolled over when they applied their “elk test” which involved drastic swerving, as if to avoid a moose that jumped on the tracks. Having fixed the rolling over problem we acquired one of these cars and it has been a much loved servant of one of our households for the last 15 years.

If you are a car manufacturer the thing you fear most are product recalls. This old A class had a recall in September 2021. It was a fault related to the air bags and therefore potentially pretty serious. Our A class was booked in to the Mercedes dealer in Stockport as requested only to have the booking cancelled because the parts didn’t arrive from Germany. Eight months later we received a notification to say that the parts were now available and the car was booked in again. The day before it was due to go in, a phone call from the dealer said this second booking had to be cancelled as the parts hadn’t been delivered.

We are not talking about a small car manufacturer here. We are not talking about a small dealer either. And we’re not talking about an inconsequential product failing – it is one that could be serious if it goes wrong. So, how as a customer do we feel? We know that things can go wrong and product recalls sometimes take place. But this debacle left us feeling queasy. We expected Mercedes, with its emphasis on engineering excellence, to get things like airbags sorted out. And we expected a large Mercedes owned dealer to be able to handle product recalls and manage the scheduling in a professional manner. Surely the dealer knew there were no parts available before 4:30 PM, the day before the car was booked in. Not only does this lax approach to the recall tarnish the image, it is disrespectful of our own timetable (we had set aside the day knowing that we would be without a car).

Car dealers do not have the best of reputations for excellent customer experiences. When we buy a car we worry that somehow the dealer has a stronger hand and we may well be paying over the odds. When we take a car in for service is not unusual for the dealer to say they didn’t have time to finish the job and can we bring it back on another day. Car dealers haven’t done a great deal to earn our trust over the years.

And car manufacturers haven’t done much to earn our trust either. We are all well aware that brands as big as Volkswagen are capable of violating the clean air act because their diesel engine cars were equipped with defeat devices designed to cheat emissions tests.

Trust is one of the most important attributes of a brand. We will forgive one error, or maybe two. But if brands in their arrogance continue to treat customers in a shoddy way they have only themselves to blame if they are taken apart by a disrupter. It's no surprise to us that Tesla is now worth more than BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen combined.


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