Mercedes Surpasses Lexus in J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Survey

Mercedes-Benz was ranked higher than rival luxury automaker Lexus in the 2010 J.D. Power & Associates U.S. Initial Quality Survey. It is the first time in 21 years that the German automaker has beaten its Japanese rival in the prestigious quality study.

For 2010, Mercedes ranked third, up from sixth last year while Lexus fell from first position in 2009 to fourth place. Taking first place in the 2010 survey was Porsche, followed in second position by Honda Motor Company’s Acura premium car division.

This year marked the 24th anniversary of the annual quality survey which had awarded top honors to Mercedes in 1987 and 1989. In 1988, Mercedes fell from the top position to second place and had not retaken the top position from Lexus since it was initially included in the survey in 1990.

Since becoming Mercedes-Benz USA’s president and CEO in September 2006, Ernst Lieb has made reestablishing Mercedes dominance in the premium car sector his top priority.

To that end, Daimler AG’s Mercedes brand has focused on improving its engineering and manufacturing processes and dealer relations. In a taped address to employees last week Lieb mused, “Are we happy?” then declared, “Third is not first,” and vowed, “We are going to try and work hard to be first next year.”

Mercedes is also challenging Lexus for the title of best-selling luxury brand in the U.S. According to the Automotive News Data Center, Lexus’ year-to-date U.S. sales through May stood at 90,098 units. Mercedes was close behind with sales of 88,010 units while BMW, with sales of 81,450 units, placed third.

Daimler executives readily admit that their tumultuous involvement with Chrysler caused them to lose focus on Mercedes; that lack of focus resulted in the brand ranking 25th in the 2006 J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey.

Since initially being included in the survey in 1990, Lexus has taken top honors in the quality survey 13 times. An official with J.D. Power attributed this year’s fall to fourth place to Lexus’ deteriorating quality or the safety recalls of its parent company, Toyota. J.D. Power vice president of global vehicle research David Sargent said Lexus’ rivals “just got better.”

Mercedes’ improved quality rating was helped, in great part, by the introduction of its redesigned C-class and E-class sedans. The current generation of Mercedes’ M-class luxury Sport Utility Vehicle also bolstered the brand’s reputation among survey participants.

Sargent said, “What moved the needle is each (model) improved significantly, and together they are two-thirds of Mercedes-Benz [U.S.] sales. Mercedes Benz has showed good steady improvement, and one of the challenges is they have do it with so many different models.”

By comparison, Lexus has fewer models and Sargent said the changes in the quality scores of those models were “fairly marginal.”

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