Just when you thought it was safe to slip back into that ego-soothing leather

MercedesCclass – all that money, so little safety. See that 3 pointed star, you may be wearing it soon.

Aaah the quality of luxury brands: Your safety is optional and brand damage protection is not included

Most of us know a quality brand when we see it, from luxury cars and Apple computers to Rolex watches and Starbucks’ coffee. We can tell the difference and many of us don’t mind paying for it. Because we know what we’re getting, right? Wrong!

Rolex has its knock-offs and most people can’t tell a diamond from zirconium. And Starbucks, for god’s sakes, is just another coffee. But Apple, BMW, Mercedes, Audi … well, they’re different. Special. True quality. Worth the price. Brand names that we can trust.

BMW: a “Marginal” rating. Yeah, just what you want for all that money.

Guess which brands just took a hit?

  1. Apple
  2. BMW
  3. Mercedes
  4. Audi
  5. All of the above

If you guessed “all of the above,” you’re wrong. Apple is doing fine and since your life doesn’t depend on an Apple computer, ipad or iphone (unless you’re using it while driving), you’ll be okay. But those big-ticket car brands just took a big hit. Or more accurately, couldn’t take a hit. And you can bet there are a few brand management groups cringing in the corner hoping you don’t find out that their brand folded like a cheap suitcase.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently did a new series of tests for partial head-on collisions and the results were not pretty. The method is called the new “small overlap frontal crash test,” which tests vehicles traveling at 40 mph into barrier at the front driver-side ¾ panel. Only 3 of 11 midsize luxury and near-luxury cars evaluated earned good or acceptable ratings7 did not! Institute President Adrian Lund said, “Nearly every new car performs well in other frontal crash tests conducted by the Institute and the federal government, but we still see more than 10,000 deaths in frontal crashes each year. Small overlap crashes are a major source of these fatalities” If you want to avoid the “10,000,” don’t avoid reading the full article/report.

Audi: Gets a poor rating. But it looks so cool. How do you think those 4 rings would look on your forehead?

The cars being put to the test were some of the industry’s most prominent sellers: the 2012 Acura TSX, 2012 BMW 3-Series, 2012 Lincoln MKZ, and the 2012 Volkswagen Passat CC, which were all declared “marginal” in their safety rating. Yep, that’s what were paying for, “marginal” safety.

Others – more expensive models – like the 2012 Audi A4, 2012 Lexus IS, 2012 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and the 2012 Lexus ES were rated as “poor.” Yikes! At 40 miles/hour it’s poor, can you imagine at 60? So many bucks, so little safety. But not to worry, they look great.

Brand extension

What we have here is one of the hidden failures of brand extension – sometimes called “brand creep.” For several years now, the luxury car makers have  been reaching down-market and extending the power of their brand so as to entice all those people who can’t afford the BMW 5 series or the Mercedes 500s, to stretch their budget and get into some luxury for less – under $60,000, under $50,000. What they don’t tell you is that they don’t extend the same quality of safety. All that leather, chrome and “we’ve-arrived” image, but not enough steel and protection to prevent you from being “sadly-departed.” But who cares, it’s a “Benz.” The manufacturers move down-market with their quality brand (several are in the top ten brands in the world. See earlier blog: Just when you thought it was all about branding) selling to the can’t-afford-it but desperately-wannabe crowd. Of course, they have to make it cheaper so in the crunch, your safety doesn’t rate … well, maybe “marginally,” most likely “poorly.” But what the hell, you still get the ego-massaging brand image and they know you can’t resist that.

Coyote ugly; tank safe. Because the Swedes give a damn about your safety.

Coyote ugly, tank safe

Guess who came home safe? The dummy in the ugly Volvo. How do those damn Swedes do it – not the design, the safety? Simple, they put in an extra steel beam to protect you (see video below) and still charge you less than the Germans – you will notice that three of the “poor” and “marginal” luxury cars were all German (Mercedes, BMW, Audi).

LEFT: Survival space for the driver wasn’t well maintained in the Lexus IS crash test. The A-pillar bent and the footwell collapsed as the left front wheel and tire were forced rearward. The dummy’s feet were entrapped by intruding structures.
RIGHT: Results for the Volvo S60 were very different. The S60’s occupant compartment held up well, with only minor intrusion.

Pretend you’re a dummy

If you own one of these cars or would like to buy one just peruse the photos on the left and watch the video (2 1/2 minutes). Pretend you’re not stupid, just a dummy in a car. But then again, we are all such slaves to brands: What we wear, where we eat, what we drive. We’ve come to believe that being able to say,  “My Benz,” “My BMW,” somehow makes us more than we are. And “My Volvo” just doesn’t get much attention at social gatherings. Maybe you think what you drive is important, until everyone knows you’re stupid enough to put your ego ahead of your safety. Then you are the dummy in the room – and the car.

Your choice

So you have a choice. Drive beautiful, die ugly. Or drive ugly, live beautiful.