D/C's board has clearly expressed its desire to make M-B No. 1 in key J.D. Power and Associates consumer surveys by 2006. Plagued by electronics problems, Mercedes has slipped to No. 28 in the survey's vehicle dependability ranking in the US and to No. 11 in initial customer satisfaction in Germany.
To fix the brand's quality problems, former M-B head Jürgen Hubbert initiated a shake-up that Cordes will continue. Hubbert began changing processes, auditing suppliers and delaying new vehicle launches to iron out problems.
Cordes, 53, who took over as head of the Mercedes cars on October 1, must also focus on his two other brands, Smart and Maybach.
Smart has not been profitable since it debuted with its innovative minicar in 1998. A replacement for that first model, the ForTwo, is still far off, even though Smart will soon face new competition from cars such as the Peugeot 1007.
Cordes needs to adjust the strategy for the Maybach super-luxury brand. The huge sedan is selling below expectations and will start to look old when the new Mercedes-Benz S class debuts next year. The Maybach shares many components with the current S class. It would be difficult to adapt new S class features to the existing Maybach platform.
The new boss also needs to create a successful strategy for M-B in Asia. The brand will play a bigger role in D/C's strategy there now that D/C's relationships with Mitsubishi and Hyundai have collapsed.
"The company needs to decide whether to bring smaller models such as the A class or the B class to China," said Jochen Siebert, CSM Worldwide vice president for Europe.
Cheaper segments could also be covered by Smart or the Chrysler brands, another analyst said.
Insiders say D/C is counting on Cordes to cut costs at M-B without sparking industrial unrest such as the strikes workers at Mercedes' German factories held this summer to protest personnel cost cuts.
Cordes could be the man to do it. Under his direction, D/C's commercial division eliminated 16,000 jobs and pressured the division's units to share more components.
But he won over employees' hearts by obtaining a truck driver's license.