If this customer's account of GLE ownership doesn’t convince you we need better lemon laws, or at least an ACCC with balls, nothing will
Chris and Veronica Jovanovski bought a brand new Mercedes-Benz GLE 350 for $113,000 in late February this year. Everything went just fine until the 6th of June - when the car just stopped in the outside lane of the Princes Highway in thick traffic, on approach to a roundabout. Not good.
Two hours of traffic chaos later, with the two young kids in the car - very stressful, I’m sure - the tow truck arrives and the Jovanovskis get the hell out of there - to the dealer, and the on-duty mechanic there did … whatever.
If that was the end of the story, you wouldn’t be watching this report. Cars break down. All brands have problems - isolated incidents happen all the time. But what happened next is a front-row seat in car owner hell for the Jovanovski family.
LITANY OF BREAKDOWNS
In addition to that first pre-roundabout breakdown, the GLE failed in exactly the same way again three days later. Then two days after that, then two days after that, then three days later. Then it lulled the Jovanovskis into a false sense of security by waiting four whole days before shitting itself the next time.
Then eight-days of failure-free driving went by, before the GLE again went poopy in its engine control ECU’s underpants. Then almost a fortnight. In total the Jovanovski’s lemon-scented GLE failed eight times.
On five of those occasions - including one memorable three-hour stranding in the forest in Canberra with the kids, in the middle of winter, 20 minutes’ drive from the nearest mobile reception, the car just sits there dead for two hours and then decides it’ll re-start.
On the other three occasions, it gets towed to a dealer. In total, two different dealers and a Mercedes-Benz head office technician have attempted to fix the problem, each claiming success. And then … Groundhog Day.
ENGINEERING FOR DIAGNOSIS AND SUPPORT
Diagnosis … fault-finding. All part of the support ecosystem. If Mercedes-Benz engineers a car that develops a problem, and the technicians cannot fault-find it, then the company is either not training them well enough, or the fundamental engineering for in-field support is under-done, or both. I’m an engineer - there is no other possible assessment here.
At this point, the car’s been off the road for almost three months, with the Jovanovskis dutifully making their lease payments on this car they either don’t actually have, or which might shit itself at any moment. That’s not what they signed up for.
CONSUMER LAWS: CARS ARE NOT EXEMPT
If this was a friggin’ toaster, not even a Smeg, just any old toaster, you’d be back to the retailer before this, demanding your money back. And you’d get it. So here’s the newsflash - the law doesn’t think cars are any different to toasters, but those arrogant arseholes at Mercedes-Benz (this is a reference to the corporate culture, not individuals within it) … they seem to think the law does not apply to their cars.
Every breakdown is three to four hours of abject inconvenience for the Jovanovskis - missing the music lessons, the soccer practice, whatever. Driving on the edge, because the car might just not restart after automatically shutting itself down at a red light. This experience is not in the brochure.
So, Mr Jovanovski is over it. He wants the car gone. Complete lack of confidence in it. Hard to blame him for that. The dealer tells him they’re trying to work something out with head office. Head office - when Mr Jovanovski enquired - twice - basically brushes him back to the dealer. ‘You’re not our customer - this is between you and the dealer.’
This is, like a vortex of infinite frustration. (Also not in the brochure.)
HEAD OFFICE NON-SUPPORT
Last time I contacted Mercedes-Benz in Australia on behalf of a customer, the company's principal apologist David McCarthy told me:
“Any and all future customer concerns should be directed to our customer assistance team on
1300 730 200.”
- David McCarthy, Senior Manager, Public Relations, Product and Corporate Communications, Mercedes-Benz Australasia/Pacific
So they can politely dismiss you and your objections. It’s positively Orwellian. Mercedes-Benz promises: “the best or nothing”. It’s the write-off under the logo, for Christ’s sake. The GLE, it says will: “Make the best of every ground.”
Those superlatively arrogant cocks (no reference to individuals is intended) say the GLE is: “Impressively expressive.” And “a match for any terrain”. But my favourite is the Benz claim that the GLE will: “Bring intelligent light to darkness.”
(Although clearly this light/darkness transformation did not in fact occur for the Jovanovskis on June 6, 9, 11, 13, 16, 20 and 28… And of course, July 11.)
This is the game of Russian roulette you play when you buy a Mercedes-Benz. Also, not in the brochure. My assessment is that Mercedes-Benz believes Australian consumer law simply does not apply to it, or its products - which are, let’s be frank, nice looking and pleasant to drive, but poorly engineered and badly supported.
If you bought a Kia Rio and it performed like the Jovanovski’s GLE, you’d be livid, and you’d want your money back. And - here’s the rub - you’d probably get it, without much of a fight.
MARKETING VERSUS REALITY
Mercedes-Benz says the GLE is:
“A vehicle that stands with confidence and class right in the thick of it: The new GLE exudes assurance.”
What a neat juxtaposition of bullshit marketing and the reality of ownership. ‘Exudes assurance … sometimes. When not broken down on the highway or in the forest. Chris Jovanovski says:
“This whole ordeal has been totally frustrating and totally unexpected and unacceptable from Mercedes and a $113,000 car. It has caused us a great amount of inconvenience and negative impact on my family, not to mention the anxiety we get when we get into the car, and the stress financially as we are paying for a car that we cannot use, and in which we have no confidence.”
- Chris Jovanovski, Mercedes-Benz GLE owner
WILL THE ACCC RESPOND?
I call on ACCC Chairman Rod Sims to act in relation to Mercedes-Benz. Mr Sims bravely declared about one month ago, that the ACCC was putting the car industry on notice:
“The ACCC is deeply concerned about the level of non-compliance with the Australian Consumer Law in the new car industry. We will continue to take action to address failures by car manufacturers and retailers to provide the remedies to which consumers are entitled.” - Rod Sims ACCC
Full ACCC press release putting the car industry on notice >>
I’d suggest to you, Mr Sims, that Mercedes-Benz in Australia is gagging for the kind of pull-through that only the ACCC can administer. If a freelance reporter such as me can acquire sufficient data to draw this conclusion objectively, it would be child’s play for an organisation such as the ACCC, with its effectively unlimited resources.
WHY NON-SUPPORT IS COMMERCIAL SUICIDE
To Mercedes-Benz (and, I know you guys are avid viewers - thanks for that; every view counts) I’d suggest that this fiction you craft around the three-pointed star suffers the death of a thousand cuts every time the truth gets out about your under-done engineering, the North korean-style customer support and your arrogant non-compliance with fundamental consumer law obligations.
Audi already has you covered on fit and finish; BMWs are better to drive. You’re standing on an iceberg with arguably more cachet … but the iceberg is melting. You’re melting it. Admitting you have this problem is the first step towards solving it.
This would of course also help you retain those well heeled customers you have fought so hard (and paid so much) to acquire. So, there’s that.
I fear, however, that you have lost the Jovanovskis for good, here. Certainly this is the impression I got, talking to Mr Jovanovski for 20 minutes this morning on the telephone. He did not give me the impression it was a beat-up, and I independently corroborated much of his account.
I have no doubt the Jovanovskis bought that GLE in good faith because of the badge and what they thought it represented. And I’m certain they wanted to love it. Now, they just can’t. And it’s hardly their fault.
So, how about you get off your arrogant Benz head office arses (no reference to individuals is intended) and do the right thing by Chris and Veronica Jovanovski? I know right and wrong simply does not factor into your behavioural calculus all that often, but you might choose to do this simply because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s a new experience you could perhaps embrace in the boardroom: Doing something because it’s right. For no other reason than: Morality.
To you, in the market for a GLE right now, I’d say: BMW X5 is looking pretty good. At the very least I think you’ll find it gives you more opportunity to exude assurance, and turn darkness into light. Or even a Lexus. Buying a premium car is not all about the badge - it’s also about the management of risk - as the Jovanovskis know today, painfully, only too well.
I hope this report helps you make an informed choice about buying your next premium German SUV. Stalk me via the website - I can assist you with that. But only in Australia … because, world domination is proving harder than expected. I’m John Cadogan. Hope this helps. Thanks for watching.