BARCELONA -- DaimlerChrysler is debating whether to abandon its goal to place its Mercedes-Benz brand first in the prestigious J.D. Power and Associates car quality survey, Mercedes chief Eckhard Cordes said on Friday.
"We are carefully analyzing whether this is a reasonable goal or not, and then we will answer the question once we have finished our analysis," he told reporters on the sidelines of an industry conference here.
The premium Mercedes-Benz brand has been pulling out all the stops to address quality problems that have dented its elegant image and raised doubts about its avowed goal of topping J.D. Power U.S. survey of initial quality in new cars by 2006.
"In order to become (number) one in J.D. Power, it is not only about hardware quality. It also has to do with the American taste, how they want cars," Cordes had earlier told the Automotive News Europe conference.
A car's ratings may be marked down, for instance, if buyers feel they have too many functional buttons on the steering wheel, he said.
"One has to carefully analyse whether with a global car it is really advisable to strive for being J.D. Power number one," he added.
"If we come to the conclusion that the clear answer is 'yes', we want to be number one. But you see that we are still debating this, or whether we are better off with number two or number three. That is still open."
Should the company decide a second-place ranking is acceptable, that does not mean that cars sold under the Mercedes brand are worse than those sold under the top-ranked brand, he added.
Cordes did not specify which J.D. Power survey he was referring to. In the J.D. Power 2004 Initial Quality Survey of auto nameplates, Mercedes-Benz ranked No. 10 with 106 problems per 100 vehicles. Toyota's premium Lexus brand ranked No. 1 with 87 problems.
CHINA EXPORTS UNLIKELY
On other subjects, Cordes said Mercedes had done extensive analysis on building an engine plant in Eastern Europe but then decided not to proceed for now.
"At least for the time being as a premium carmaker, we have decided that we can continue to operate our plants, our factories in Germany, and we have invested here," he said.
"But I add I am definitely not in a position here today to exclude this option for many years to come."
He said he still saw "enormous potential to take costs out of the system in our German plants, which should keep us fit".
He played down prospects for exporting Mercedes-Benz cars from China, where they are about to start being assembled for the domestic market.
"I dare say that the Mercedes-Benz brand will not be at the forefront of exporting cars from China. Maybe other brands will come first, and I am not only talking about my company, DaimlerChrysler," he said.
"Most of us will see cars being exported from China to other regions of the world, but I think the premium cars will be late followers, if ever."
Fellow DaimlerChrysler management board member Ruediger Grube told reporters in Shanghai last month that the carmaker was in talks with a Chinese partner about building Chryslers there and exporting them to North America.
But he stressed that a decision on whether to go ahead with the idea would be made only in the second half of the year.