I love this question because, as a marketer, it’s an opportunity to explain buying factors.
The answer has three components:
Your data is inaccurate
Quality has become a hygienic factor for the most part
You are assuming quality is the #1 factor when buying a car
Let’s look at each:
German build quality is far worse than Japanese - or is it?
I don’t know what you mean with ‘official’ reports. The most trusted source for vehicle quality is JD Power and Associates.
According to their 2016 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS) , the top two spots for quality correspond to a Korean and a German manufacturer. Kia and Porsche. The first Japanese manufacturer on the list is Toyota, with BMW in #5.
If you look at the entire list, one can only conclude German quality is pretty good, and about the same, if not better, than that of Japanese manufacturers.
My experience is consistent, my VW CC has about 110,000 miles and runs like new. Maybe that’s why in 2016 Volkswagen passed Toyota as the World’s largest top car manufacturer.
Even though the perception might be that Japanese cars are better built, the facts do not support that claim. If anything, Koreans are the best built cars nowadays, with two of the four spots. Maybe a better conclusion is that the nationality of the brand is not a good indicator of quality.
Quality is mostly a hygienic factor
When consumers evaluate product attributes, there is a special category called Hygienic Factors. They are interesting because they are really important when they are missing, causing a great deal of dissatisfaction, but once they are satisfied, they lose all their power and value.
Think about a hotel stay. If the bed sheets are dirty and you find a cockroach in the bathroom, you might leave and find another hotel, never to stay there again. All other factors like luxury, price, or breakfast buffet, become irrelevant if your room is not clean.
However, once you reach certain level of cleanliness, it no longer is important. Imagine a really clean room. Now imagine hotel management spends an extra hour cleaning every nook and cranny in your room, disinfecting the remote control, replacing the air filter, etc. Most people won’t notice. You are unlikely to tell your friends ‘wow, this hotel is incredible, you won’t believe how clean it was!’.
After cleanliness has been satisfied, it’s irrelevant, and other factors take importance, like price, decor, and service.
In the 80’s quality was a big deal for automobiles. I was a kid and remember riding in cars where the electric windows did not work, the digital display was broken, a knob would fall off. It was not uncommon to see cars at the side of the road. I remember playing mechanic more than once, checking spark plugs, fuel lines, and adding a few drops of fuel directly into a carburetor. That’s no longer the case.
Back in those days it was very common to buy a VCR or a home stereo to find something was not working. Electric devices will break down often. Quality was a big deal.
No more. Manufacturers understand the economic costs of bad quality, and the impact to customer satisfaction and loyalty (repeat purchase). Manufacturing processes like six sigma or total quality management are common. We expect things to work at the first try because they mostly do.
In other words, the quality of both Japanese and German manufacturers is good enough (in general terms), therefore it’s irrelevant.
Quality is not the #1 reason why people buy a German car
There is a segment of customers who like Japanese design, they like the Japanese version of luxury, and can’t imagine a better way to travel wherever they need to go, doctor visit or bingo tournament (OK that’s a joke), than on a Lexus.
Then there are people who prefer a car like this:
Let me put it this way: Once you have driven A 2016 Porsche Cayman down a twisty road, and felt how the naturally aspirated flat 6-cylinder engine delivers power from 3,000 RPM to 6,000 RPM and felt the shift with the DoppelKupplung Triptronic transmission, you will understand why people buy German cars.
Notice I wrote ‘felt’, and I mean that literally. Both because the engine is a few inches behind your back (there is no room for a second row seat) and because the car is designed to make you feel the engine and feel the road.
This opposed to most Japanese cars who are designed to isolate you from any feeling with noise suppressing systems, super soft shocks and super-soft hydraulic steering. (remember the Lexus ad with the champagne glasses?).
In quick summary people who buy German cars are different types of buyers than those buying Japanese cars. People who buy German cars assume these will have good enough quality, and buy them because of their engineering, performance and because they enjoy driving.
In addition to the vey comprehensive answer Gerardo Dada has given, I’d like to add two more things:
20 years ago I met an engineer from Mercedes-Benz. She told me about the two most frequent complaints from the buyers of their top of the line SL roadsters: “Brake pad dust on the front rims. And, especially from the buyers of the SL 600 - a lack of engine power.” A Mercedes SL of that time used to be a 2 ton luxury roadster with all the bells and whistles you can imagine. It was capable of running 155 mph and therefore needed high performance brakes. These brakes would produce dust on the rims. The engineer told me: “We could have used brake pads which do not produce dust but then the brake would be less powerful, something we did not want to risk on such a fast car.” and those who complained about a lack of engine power with the SL 600, complained about a 6 liter V12 4 valve power plant which would crank 400 BHP into the gearbox.
What I want to say: If you spend an enormous pile of money on what is sold you as the best car on the planet, you may be very intolerant about even the slightest faults. Right now we see Tesla fans buying the S-Type sedan with a mediocre body finish - and not complaining about that, because they were not expecting better body finish on such a revolutionary car. And if you buy a 25,000 USD japanese sedan, your expectations may be lower than if you buy a 50,000 USD Mercedes - and have realized that this car still does not make you look better in the mirror.
Maintenance is a big issue for German cars. They are designed to work with a thorough service session at least every two years. This should be done by a factory certified workshop. So if you follow the maintenance suggestions in the handbook and have the tasks done by certified mechanics which know the cars and use the right tools and spare parts, then German cars are very reliable. One should keep in mind that less than 3 percent of all cars in the US are made by Mercedes, all Germans together have less than 10 percent market share. So, in the U.S. a German car is quite an unusual thing which not every mechanic may be familiar with.
Sorry to go off-topic, but it was necessary to give some background!
Now, ask yourself when was the last time you saw any Japanese brand talk about performance or 0–60 times, or may be try find an innovation that they came up with in recent years? Nada!, they’re happy making cheaper, lower performance cars and mass-manufacturing to pass on the cheap-luxury to end customers, who read consumer reports and JD power and think 0.9 issues are better than 1.3!
The primary focus of Japanese brands is “Cost-Leadership” like Walmart, both are biggest players in their markets and found in every corner. To commend their expertise, they ensure quality even with huge numbers of cars produced. Think of the identifiers used for a Japanese car: Reliable, Cheaper, Economical, Low maintenance etc.
Now, when you look at a Audi, BMW, Mercedes or Porsche, what does come to mind?
Expensive!!, then, Faster 0–60, hp/Torque, Engine, Sound etc.
That’s because the primary focus of German car-makers is performance, they build cars first to induce performance, then they add luxury, convenience and safety, and finally they decide the cost. They definitely want to make more sales, be more qualitative and reliable but not at the cost of performance or luxury features. Compare the quality of material in the interiors, infotainment, on-board technology and safety features, do you see the difference yet?
Now, lets use the microscope.
Germans automakers also share platform and engine, the same engine is used in multiple models. Like the BMW X5 35i and 535i have the same engine and both cost around $55k. Similarly Audi Q7 and A6, Mercedes C43 AMG and GLC 43 AMG use same engines and priced at a variation ~2–3k.
Now, lets look at Toyota, a $30k Highlander (3.5L V6) becomes $45k Lexus RX with some added faux leather. Moreover the $45K Sequoia (5.7L V8) becomes a $90k Land Cruiser and $95k for Lexus LX 570, using the exact same engine and mechanical specifications, $45k for an 8 speed gear box instead of 6?
Do the same comparison for Acura MDX to Honda Pilot, Nissan Armada to Infiniti QX80, infact compare any models from Toyota to Lexus, Honda to Acura, Nissan to Infiniti and see how you’re ripped off - left, right and center, all in the name of luxury with reliability!
Why stop here, lets go global. Toyota 4Runner of US is sold as Land Cruiser Prado, similarly Lexus GX460 is sold as Land Cruiser 200 series in other geographies at 1.5–2 times the prices compared to US.
So if your only concern is 4 wheels, low cost and 20 years of ownership, buy Japanese for sure, but luxury… don’t make a fool of yourself!
To conclude, I always use the example of athletes compared to the general population: They have better performance, power and stamina, they are high maintenance and prone to injuries but with all the thrill. Usually an athlete has 10 good years and then they retire, comparing them with us, we’ll work 35–40 years with reliable performance, low maintenance and lower cost to employ, and thrill?... not even close!
Hope it helps you tear-up your official reports!
P.S. Just to clarify, I’m not a German car fan or a Japanese car hater. My taste is British, the uniqueness and Tesla, the technology. The Mercedes in the bio is my wife’s car, my answer is purely based on havoc created by JD power, “Official” reports and pseudo-dominance claimed by Japanese automakers in Luxury segment and its buyers. Though I firmly believe Toyota’s and Honda’s are the best economical cars.
The fallacy on the German side is to come up with cheaper and sub-standard offerings to compete with the Japanese price and specifications, products like A3/Q3, 1-Series/2Series/X1 and A-Class/B-Class/GLA are no where close to the performance standards they built for decades, but then these are as reliable as anything.
EDIT: Few tips for Japanese fans.
My answer has been thoroughly researched and validated by Toyota/Lexus specification from their website. I’d appreciate if you could provide evidence to support your comments, if you actually have anything concrete!
There is a difference between luxury cars and sportscars, better understand it before bringing up a lame discussion. The GT-R, NSX and LFA are not part of the conversation here, if yes, then the RX-8, AMG, 918’s come into the picture. If you seriously wish a comparison, post a question and I’ll dissect them for you.
I love to respond to comments, respectable and nasty both are answered appropriately. It’s holiday season and I’m off-work with loads of times to return the gifts with good packaging. To add, we’re on Quora for good so lets mutually respect the BNBR policy.
I’m not the almighty, so don’t take my word for it. It just a personal opinion if you agree there’s upvote, if you don’t there’s downvote. I didn’t intend to cause mental stress or pain in the rear for anyone. You can still love your car and bash all others, but not here!
As several posters have pointed out, the ‘official reports’ actually say otherwise. I’d add one more survey, the JD Powers Vehicle Dependability Survey. Several posters have shown the results of their Initial Quality Survey, which measures defects at purchase. But what you really want to know is how a vehicle holds up at the *end* of the warranty, and that’s where the VDS comes in.
Porsche is tied for 1st, Mercedes is 4th, and BMW is 6th. Several Japanese nameplates are below average, including Nissan/Infiniti, Acura, Mazda, and Subaru.
The reputation of Japanese manufacturers is really based on Toyota/Lexus’ excellent quality and durability. The other Japanese manufacturers are a mixed bag.
It’s also worth noting that US automakers are very much in the race, quality-wise, having improved massively since the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s.
When shopping for a vehicle, most buyers have a variety of considerations, including cost, available infotainment options, style (totally subjective), economy, price, utility, reliability, and perceived status.
Some people favor reliability, others maximum driving enjoyment. I’ve had several Japanese cars, including a RAV-4, Lexus GS400, Honda Accord, 2 Mazda 3s, 2 Honda Odysseys, and two Nissan Pathfinders. While most have been reliable (the Odyssey had sliding door and transmission issues), only the Lexus was even remotely “fun” to drive. They are appliances, something you buy and put minimal thought and effort into.
I’m on my second BMW, the first being this, a 2011 335is convertible:
The sports exhaust had such a great sound I hardly ever turned the radio on. It had a 7-speed dual clutch from the M3. It handled amazing. It had a few issues, but everything was covered under warranty. Unfortunately the kids outgrew it, so I replaced it with an X1. still fun to drive (based on the E90 chassis), tight handling, quick, decent cargo area. When the lease is up I plan to replace it with one of these:
It will be out of warranty. It will be expensive to maintain. It will be expensive to repair if something major fails. I really don’t care. It’s probably the last naturally-aspirated V8 M3/4. It can be had with a manual transmission. I’ve wanted one since they came out in 2008, and I still love it’s unfiltered, analog nature.
Oh, and BTW, here’s the 2016 JD Powers Initial Quality ratings for US models:
You’ll notice the Porsche, BMW, and VW(!) are above average, while Audi and MB are just below average. Toyota, Lexus, Nissan, and Infiniti are above average, while Mitsubishi, Subaru, Honda, Acura, Scion, and Mazda are below average. Long term reliability is a different issue altogether, but the Germans have made great strides (along with Chevy and Ford) in closing the quality gap. FCA, not so much.
By ‘build quality’ you probably mean conformity of production (i.e. tight build tolerances), reliability (such as a JD Power - no relation - survey) or some kind of customer satisfaction satisfaction survey.
These are all important factors. Arguably customer satisfaction is the most important (but in the context of this question it is likely to be strongly affected by expectation).
While it might encompass some of these factors it is the perceived quality that a potential customer feels as they stand in a showroom which really counts as far as their buying decision is confirmed and this will also encompass luxury features (leather seats, aircon, infotainment etc), performance and prestige, plus natty little tricks such as gluing lead strips on the back of light plastic or alloy door handles to make them feel nicer to operate.
So a basic Honda Jazz might have superb build quality (Honda a renowned for their engines and the precision of their body pressings is second to none) but it doesn’t quite have the kudos of a fully loaded, leather trimmed, high powered BMW.
Brands are difficult and expensive to build. To some, Toyota are still making sewing machines :-) . Higher end Japanese brands have made inroads, but although they are undoubtedly technically excellent, Lexus, Infiniti & Acura still lack soul.
The world may be changing as we move towards autonomous vehicles, but cars up until now have been less about getting from A to B efficiently (if that were true there would be zero pickup trucks on the road) and more about what that vehicle says about you the owner.
I've owned a lot of cars. I also worked at a car shop for several years and had the pleasure of driving and working on just about everything. I can summarize this in two cars: my first car (a Honda Accord) and my current car (BMW M3).
It was relatively inexpensive
It rarely had any troubles
I drove it to 200,000 miles and then sold it within hours of posting an ad
Parts and support were easy to find on the occasion anything did go wrong
It had four doors, was easier on the passengers, and I never worried about dents or scrapes.
It takes several hours to change the poorly placed cabin air filter
The car often feels like it would prefer to kill me if I don't fully respect the throttle
I have not yet found a cup that fits in the cup holders
As I write this there are three broken sensors causing service lights on my dash. None of them are particularly important
It has two long, heavy doors, though there does seem to be slightly more space on the back for agile passengers that are willing to climb back there
It cost much more than the Honda, and most parts aren't available at the local auto parts store. All parts cost more.
Slam dunk for the ubiquitous Honda? Except that I actually grew to hate that car. It was so boring, disconnected, and free of anything resembling passion (or emotion at all). Driving was a thing I had to do to get from A to B. It was work.
Never, ever in owning that Honda did I have the urge to drive it when I didn't have somewhere that I had to be.
The M3? That's your wreckless, college girlfriend that you met right about the time she discovered alcohol for the first time. When you think of her, you don't remember all the healthy meals she cooked you. You remember the fun you had.
I'm not marrying a car. I'm enjoying it. And I do sometimes just go for a drive to nowhere at all.
Because there’s more to driving a car than just build quality. Also, past reputation.
First, the German manufacturers have a very long history—Mercedes-Benz has been around for over 125 years, and until the late 1990s, when they changed their perspective and started aiming for a global market more than just a German one, they were the only word in quality. There’s a reason that in Germany you see tons of older M-Bs everywhere; if you take care of them properly, they will last 2 or 3 times longer than your average car.
But there’s the catch: if you take care of them properly.
Generally speaking, the Germans are meticulous about car care in every aspect. Not just the mechanicals, but everything.
This is the 1988 260E my German Dad bought when I was a teenager.
I’m 41 now. It’s my daily driver, despite being nearly 30 years old and having just under 160,000 miles on it.
Now here’s what’s really going to blow your mind. A few years back, I was forced to give up one of my two cars. I had this old, expensive tank and a 2000 Civic I’d bought new.
Now, I’m not going to lie and say there wasn’t a ton of sentimental value tied up with the 260E. But I had to be practical about it.
So I sold the Civic.
Because, while the 260E is more expensive and more frustrating to own, it was and is every bit as reliable as the Civic was. But it’s likely safer, and it was in better condition. It’s more practical, in that it’s bigger. It has much better performance, and not just in speed—I had a ‘beater’ truck as well for a bit, and one time we’d gotten about 6–8 inches of snow. The Civic was buried, and the truck got stuck…. but the Mercedes got out, no problem (yay torque).
But the real deciding factor?
The Civic bored me stupid so much I rarely drove it. It sat at home unless the weather was crappy, basically.
The Mercedes, on the other hand, I jokingly referred to as “automotive Prozac”, just because of how it made you feel driving it.
As I’ve explained many times, the choice came down to this: the cost & reliability issues were pretty much even, but there was one negative to the Civic:
Why do some people eat cake when broccoli is the superior food.
The only way for this question to make sense is to assume both cars do the same exact thing with the same exact style, which is not true.
I just bought a Mustang GT when I already had a Honda Accord. Asinine decision, but I’ve taken my Mustang out twice in the past couple of weeks just to drive around the block, I’ve never done that with my Accord. The Accord is the superior value play in every regard: maintenance costs, fuel costs, value retention, practicality.
By the way BMWs almost always have the highest lease residual values (they are worth the most after the lease). Go figure.
People like owning and using good quality tools and are willing to spend money for what’s important to them. I have a luxury pocket calculator, a luxury soldering station, a luxury notebook, a luxury aquarium, a luxury pocket knife ans several other insanely high quality tools, considering that I’m a hobby user. And by the way I have 2 cars as well, a French and a Japan one. I like driving, and I need them for transportation, but a car is not particularly important for me. Especially the brand, I couldn’t care less.
I accept that other folks have different priorities. I’m happy with my priorities, because my two cars together did not cost half the price of the Audi’s, BMW’s, VW’s my colleagues are buying, thus I can spend more on my hobbies.
They were 3rd in 2015 behind Lexus and Toyota, but in 2016 they shot to #1 and Lexus dropped to 3rd. At least in the case of Audi, there’s actually nobody more reliable. If you have data that contradicts that, there is at least conflicting data. For another example, here is a link to Consumer Reports 10 most reliable car models. Audi has 2 in the top 10 and Mercedes has 1. 10 Most Reliable Cars. Lexus and Audi are the only manufacturers with 2 in the top 10, and it’s always been my experience that MB and BMW have similar build qualities as Audi.
It’s also worth mentioning that mechanical repairs are only one aspect of solid build quality. Japanese cars tend to use recycled steel in their cars. German cars use first generation, quality steel. That’s why you see so many rusted out Toyotas on the road. Granted, they’ll run forever, but who really cares if they’ve got rust holes the size of basketballs in the body? In fact, I have an aunt that bought a new Toyota pickup in 1986 when she went to college. She still has the truck to this day. It has over 200k miles on it, and is a ‘camp truck’ (it sits at our family camp for common usage) but they had to build a wooden bed for the truck 15 years ago because the original completely rusted off, and the front corner panels are practically non-existent at this point. It can’t pass inspection, so can’t be taken off the private camp road.
German cars actually dont have inferior build qualities, so then you look at other aspects of the vehicles, and I think the reasons people buy German cars becomes quite obvious. All you have to do it sit in one to understand just how well ze Germans can build a car. Drive one, and there’s generally no going back. Overall, there’s nobody better and their attention to detail is second to none. Year in and year out, the big 3 German car companies build the nicest sports sedans on the planet. Their only competitors are each other, and maybe Lexus. There’s no doubt you’re going to pay a high price to have one, but they are generally exceptional vehicles that are a blast to drive day in and day out.
I have had experience with variety of cars and having helped many of my friends and colleagues find//buy cars, I believe I am qualified to write this review. Please read on!
Performance: The heart of German cars is the engine. Being in an industry where the last bit of performance in our system requires an exponential effort, I so much appreciate the quality of a German engine which can run at 150 miles per hour on Autobahn for an *extended* period of time Vs the one that can run at 90/100 miles per hour. That is precision German engineering. However, practically, how much of this performance will they use? Depending on the country buyers are in, they may never get a chance to use any of that ‘peak performance’ on the streets / highways. The buyer may have to go to a race track to ‘experience’ the raw performance. Some people buy for this sheer experience.
This is one of the primary reasons for people to go after German cars.
However, this depends on the social circle and region that you are in. A social group at a given period in time has a preference towards a particular brand. It looks like German cars are a status symbol in your social circle currently.
Trends keep changing however.
In US, for the last couple of years Tesla is the king of status symbol. It competes with the best of German cars’ performance in terms of acceleration.
Before that, in a certain social circle, the status symbol was the Toyota Prius (Yes!) due to its green image. Leaving aside engine performance, Prius is simply a Japanese engineering marvel. Designed from the ground up, even after more than 10 years after its launch, no competitor has been able to make such a great hybrid. It’s a pleasure to drive the car every time.
Before that (may be 7/8 years back) Audi and BMW were the status symbol. Influencers have moved on to other status symbols, but followers still feel a sense of pride buying the brand that was once a status symbol.
In other parts of the world (eg China and India) however, German cars still hold their status symbol. Even British cars (JLR including) are more popular there as compared to Japanese cars.
Interiors and Ride Quality: If people are looking for a sporty interior and feeling of power at their foot, German cars are the way to go. If people are looking for a plush and comfortable interior, Japanese cars I feel are much better. American cars like Lincoln are the epitome of comfortable ride with their air suspension and Cadillac with Massage and recliner on back chairs.
German interiors in my experience do not have a long life. I have seen 7/8 old year German cars where the seats etc show their age that have not even done 100,000 miles. I have seen cracked dashboard plastic due to sun exposure on German cars. Equivalent age Japanese cars look much newer on the inside.
German drive train could easily outlast the life of car’s interiors. American car’s interior on the other hand could easily outlast the life of the drive train. Japanese car has a nice balance between the two.
It’s a nightmare if the German engineering marvel gets stuck with an electronic issue.
Once, I went to a dealership to checkout a (used) Merc. The salesman could not start the car despite having the key! I steered away from the test drive. Another colleague had his Audi at a local mechanic (not Audi dealer - since he could not afford it) for 1 month in order to detect electric short. Another colleague was desperate to sell his BMW just for the battery leakage. These kind of issues are infrequent with Japanese cars and American cars.
Service of German cars cost more and need specialized mechanics. Japanese and American cars can be serviced at the local mechanic for much less. But enthusiasts are willing to bear this extra cost for the status.
It’s a matter of preference. German cars look better in general compared to other cars. But as one clever car sales man told me - “From inside the car, you cannot even see what color is your car! So how much do the looks matter?”
Choosing a car is a culmination of many emotions: Peer pressure, social norms, status symbol, personal preference, brand loyalty, brand image, family needs, advertising, dealer discounts, availability, budget etc etc. which can drive you crazy until the decision is made.
With so many choices, you have to let your heart decide!
For the most part, it is a question of personal preference. Moreover, build quality is a very loosely defined term. It is just a measure of how closely the manufacturing meets the specs. So you can spec something really simple and meet those specs bang on (99.99999%) or you can get aggressive and meet them as close as possible (98%). Do those numbers tell you anything about the engine performance, handling, luxury, comfort, safety?
What do you think is a more fun, better handling, better performing and more luxurious vehicle - a Toyota Corolla that matches its specs 100% (indicating top build quality) or a Porsche 911 that matches its specs within 95% (indicating a worse build quality)
Having owned both Japanese (a few Nissans) and German cars (VW, BMW), I can say that they are worlds apart.
My Nissan Maxima was a workhorse with a very powerful and capable engine, leather seats, automatic climate control and all the works. It could easily haul 5 people with luggage or my entire drumkit and it was still going strong at 100k+ miles with minimal maintenance.
However, it never came even close to the driving pleasure and the comfort that I got driving our 328i convertible or my current M5. Of course, the parts and labor on these cars is much more, but I think I can live with that. Even my old 1997 VW Jetta had a much better driving feel than most of the Japanese cars I have driven.
Also, when I was in the market for a new car, I had a Mercedes salesman (about 6′2, 200lbs) open the door to the E63 AMG and actually hang off from the top edge of the door to show how strong the car was built. You can go challenge any Japanese car salesman to try and do that for you.
Bottomline, different strokes for different folks.
First, your “official reports” with no attribution is akin to trump saying “many people”: it translates directly to “I believe…”, not “it is a fact.
Having German heritage, I always lusted after BMWs. When I was in my early 30’s I bought a 318i. Followed by a 328i. I loved those cars. But then, when the 328i went from trouble free to $5K worth of repairs in one shot, I moved away from German cars. (My wife had a Mercedes E320 at the time, and her $800 visits to the dealer were getting to be too much…)
When I went shopping I discovered this difference: A BMW and an Infiniti (the high end Nissan brand here in the US) were almost exactly the same price. The big difference was that the BMW was a base model and the Infiniti had few if any options because all of the things BMW charges extra for were included in the base Infiniti. This made a $5–7K difference in price and I went with the Infiniti.
When that car was traded in we did the same exercise and again chose Japanese over German. Because the value was there.
But with that being said, the German cars were more fun to drive. I believe that German and Japanese quality is about the same. Quality does not vary by country of origin as much as it varies by price band. Two $35K cars will be the same approximate level of quality, regardless of the country of origin. However, they will have much better quality than a $20K car. But as you get more expensive the curve does weird things. A $70K car is not 2X more reliable than a $35K car. They just treat you better when things go south.
The assertion that build quality is “FAR” worse is highly exaggerated. Build quality of Japanese made luxury cars is only slightly better in most cases.
German luxury cars used to have build quality that was superior to everything else the world produced. Indeed Mercedes mantra is “the best or nothing” and ….they used to mean it. What happened to this legendary durability? Japan happened. When Japan started raiding the luxury market that the Germans had all to themselves with good product at much better prices the German manufacturers reacted sharply to preserve market share by putting out new models that were cheaper but cutting corners on build quality features that consumers were not willing to pay for. Indeed the users of these cars had moved from long term ownership to a model where they leased the cars for three or four years so what in the world did the Germans have to build indestructible cars for any more? Again this was not in a vacuum they felt they had to compete so they started producing some real garbage cars at dramatically lower prices.
I own what is the ultimate example of build quality that Germany EVER produced - a pristine low milage 1993 example of a Mercedes W124, the 300E with the double overhead cam engine, numerous refinements but still the million mile car and I cherish it because of how it was made. It was not only the million mile car, it was the last of them because the next series of E class cost thirty percent less yet had more features. Indeed my car cost $74k in the show room and today you can walk into a Mercedes show room and buy their current E class sedan for less now than my car cost then AND it has all sorts of new features, more air bags etc. so tell me how did Mercedes provide so much more in features, in the same model car for less today twenty three years later than they did then? What came OUT of my car that magically reduced the costs? Build quality - the new car only shares the same name not the engineering standards, not the quality of steel or how it was finished, not the over built last forever bank vault that I drive - a car that will outlive ME and be passed on to another generation along with my Great Grandfather’s pocket watch….
But you asked why with this change in build quality do people persist in buying Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Porsche products? Actually Porsche never dropped price or quality … but they are notoriously ridiculously expensive to maintain and for parts prices. Audi is technically insane in terms of feature inclusion but yes build quality of the non-Porsche product has dropped significantly. Fact is that most people don’t care much about build quality because they still lease their cars for three or four years fully protected by warranty and are done with them and they pay for the depreciation in their lease payments so it is more about financing than build quality for these users. The second drivers - get to deal with the things out of warranty, too bad for them. The other reason that people stay with the German product is the prestige of ownership and the HISTORY and legitimacy of owning these brands rather than Japanese names which have no history, no cache and are illegitimate upstarts. The third reason is the feel that a German car has when you drive it that the Japanese try but fail to replicate.
So I take VERY good care of my Mercedes and will own it forever… I love my car and I know WHY I love my car. It was not laden with useless gadgets, it will last forever, indeed longer than I will live, it has no cup holders and when people complained to the engineers that it has none they said “we built this car for you to drive, not to drink coffee in” and oh do I love to drive it - I mutter “outstanding” emotionally in German every time it pleases me. When I park it and the front wheels turn further than any other car on the planet, I know the engineers built it for ME alone to marvel at, when I realize that the exhaust system is 23 years old and still has the factory paint on it - I smile, the stickers from the factory are still on my shock absorbers the rubber in the bushings is new and the car makes the Mercedes mechanics weep tears of joy when they see it because they know, what I know and I love my car. No Japanese car ever built, EVER will ever elicit the emotion that this piece of engineering mastery does for me.
I guess because it just isnt true. Asian cars are uber more reliable than cars made elsewhere. But compared to German and British cars they arent nearly as safe, they rust quicker, they ALL look pretty much the same, they are boring as HELL to drive and they are without soul. Their seats and interiors are not as comfortable in general as well. Also, Asian engines dont last as long as Euro car engines. I could argue that the ONLY reason Asian cars sell at all is because they require less maintenance and that turns a lot of people who dont really enjoy driving. All the statements above are based on many years of experience. You may argue if you like but this is what I have seen.
All the cars I’ve owned have been either German or Japanese. Amongst others, that includes a VW, a couple of BMWs, and a Mazda.
Firstly there is no reliable evidence to suggest that the build quality of German cars is worse, let alone “far worse”. These “official reports” are not sourced or quoted by the OP, so I am unable to rebut them. Anecdotally, all the cars I’ve owned have performed well in that regard; I’ve never had any problems beyond a reasonable degree of wear and tear and I’ve kept several of the cars until they were quite old.
In practical terms there isn’t much to separate any of my cars. All were reliable to a satisfying extent, all used about the same amount of fuel, all cost about the same to tax, service and maintain. The German cars felt more solid, but there was no difference in how resilient they seemed to accidental damage, corrosion and the like.
The only difference for me is that I always looked forward to driving the BMWs and the other cars never had that effect on me. The Mazda was just a car; you sit in it and it goes where you point it and everything that you want to happen does happen. The VW Golf GTi 16 that I had was a good car but it never really lived up to its badge as a hot hatch; it wasn’t that fast and it was really just a family car with nicer trim and a slightly more powerful engine. The BMWs however were real driver’s cars, torquey six-cylinder engines, rear-wheel drive, with quite firm steering that you could feel the road through. I appreciated the functional design as well because, although the interiors could be quite spartan, everything was intuitive to me and worked the way that I would have designed it if I was in the business of designing cars. I always liked being in them, I was always sad to see them go, and I’d buy another one tomorrow.
If you just want a car that gets you from A to B there is a plethora of sensible choices and the German manufacturers tend to price themselves out of contention. But if you’ve got a bit more money to spend, and you want something that makes you smile every time you sit behind the wheel, the higher-end German models do deliver.
Because official reports of build quality don’t mean jack when build quality isn’t what you are looking for.
Japanese luxury cars are, at best, a different flavor of luxury compared to European luxury cars in general, and German luxury cars more specifically. The choice of materials is no less valid, but different. The design is very different.
The differences go on and on… Anyway when I bought a Volvo, I didn’t do it becuase I thought the build quality of my Volvo is better than build quality of, let’s say, Lexus IS250C is worse. I did it because I wanted the Volvo over any viable alternative.
In most cases German build quality is much better than their tinny Japanese counter parts. You are mistaking reliability over build quality.
In most cases, German cars are feature packed so that, sometimes things dont work as they should. eg: a Vento has a lot of electronic gimmikery to make life easy for the user, but then it turns out that a simple rat bite gives you an unsolvable problem.
The jap on the other hand doesnt have features, hence no problems!
I can tell you first hand in my experience testing and driving many Japanese, American, and German cars. Over recent years the quality has improved for Japanese cars, but in my experience, German cars, in close examination I am able to tell they are built of higher quality today and in previous years more than Japanese cars with the exception of BMW. I used to be a big fan of theirs but after driving a few in recent years, their quality has dropped subsancially. I would dare to say VW non-luxury vehicles have a higher quality of parts over BMW.
I have been to many Japanese car dealers and the most honest dealers will tell you the same as my guy from the Lexus dealership: If you want a nicer luxurious car, get a German car otherwise if you want to save money with the car on replacements get a Japanese car. I also asked a few Japanese dealership salespeople and the 5 most recent I went to all drive German cars. when I had an Audi A4 my maintenance was not extensive and was free. I actually spend way more on my used Jetta per month over the Audi. My two preferred cars today are the Audi group and Tesla. Try to schedule a test drive you will enjoy them. Audi especially has great surounding luxury features that will blow you away.
Actually, not only is the above true but also because many of the German cars do have a certain feel when driving that nobody else has been able to duplicate. Driving feel is a consideration for many people.
Additionally, most people who buy new German cars keep them until the warranty runs out and then they trade them in. So the higher costs of maintenance aren’t dealt with by the original owner. they get to enjoy the vehicle when it’s still new and any repairs are done under warranty. It’s the unfortunate 2nd and 3rd owners who get shafted by the ridiculous repairs, unreliability, and maintenance costs.
If you live in the USA then you’ll find that some of the notionally German cars are actually not built in Germany at all. US market Mercedes C-class cars, for example, are built in Alabama. I believe that all the world’s M-Class (the GLE as it has been renamed) are also built in the USA, though for a three year period some years ago they were also built in Austria.
I live in the UK and drive a Mercedes C-Class, mine was built in Germany. My wife drives a Honda Jazz, sold as the Fit in the USA, it was built in the UK. I live about 30 miles from Derby where there is an enormous Toyota manufacturing plant, there’s also a Nissan manufacturing plant further north in the UK. Cars from all three of these facilities are sold throughout Europe, and beyond.
Because some people want the assumed status of driving a luxury German car. Because some people can replace it every 4–5 years, so the maintenance is a non issue. Because alot of narcissistic woman believe if HE can love a high maintenance car, maybe he can love ME? Because some men are in a mid life crisis, or overcompensating.
Last- quit comparing JD power initial quality surveys. Look at 10 yrs down the road. Mercedes owned Chrysler, and they were never able to fix the quality problems there- Now, if only you could convince middle aged, balding men it was sexy to own a Chrysler, they would leave GM and Ford in droves-
Mssrs. Fabian and Cooper pretty well nailed it — German cars — and some other European cars as well — deliver a different, more precise, driving experience than most domestics and Asian cars. I happily drove domestics for 25 years before buying the 2001 VW Passat wagon, which has been a joy to drive, despite having a SOMEWHAT higher frequency-of-repair statistic than a Toyota.
Bear in mind, as well, that a car with mediocre frequency-of-repair by today’s standards would have been unusually reliable by pre-1990 standards.
If my sons and I did not do so many of our own repairs and almost all of our own maintenance, I might be more inclined to “turn Japanese.”
I have owned Italian, German, American, and Japanese cars over the years and all have their own strengths and weaknesses. German cars tend to have a different feel to them. They are more confidence inspiring, more solid, more predictable. A good example would be my 2004 Porsche 996TT vs. my 2004 Corvette Z06. On paper the Z06 is quicker in a straight line and around the track. However, I can drive the Porsche much faster than I can the Vette. The reason is simple; the magazine statistics are set by professional drivers that can wring every ounce of performance from a car. For the rest of us mere mortals, there are more factors to consider. The Vette was hard to get and keep traction, the Porsche just never gave up grip. The Vette feels loose and big; the Porsche nimble and precise. This allows me to push the Porsche further. It feels like the better car despite what the “numbers” say. Yes, the Vette has also proven more reliable than the Porsche. But no other manufacturer has been able to emulate the “feel” of a German car. Take one for a test drive and you'll see what I mean.
I wouldn’t say they are far worse in terms of build quality, as of my experience, both of the honda’s I’ve owned were great fun to drive, were built with great attention to detail and quality, what I should say is that you shouldn’t buy into talk from any of the japanese fanboys their talk, but neither should you buy into the shit people say about german cars being ultimate driving machines, i’ve driven every 3-series bmw since the E36 up to the E90, as well as the E60, I’ve also driven a Mercedes E220 CDI W212 as well as multiple VW’s like the golf 6 and so on…. don’t get me wrong they are great machines, they drive sporty yet comfortably and they are very well built, but don’t glorify them, as I believe german cars are notoriously overpriced. But, with that being said, if i’d have the money to buy a brand new car myself, the new Audi A5 is on my wishlist, it all depends on what you’re looking after, they are all good cars. It’s up to the consumer to decide on how to spend his money.
Any time you take one single factor out of the many that go into a consideration and say “why, if B is better in this one way, does anyone choose A?” you have your answer right there: because that one thing is not, and in virtually all cases should not be, the sole factor to consider. Especially when it’s a matter of degree.
If German cars habitually fell apart on the way home from the dealership, nobody would buy them. But trading off a *little* build quality for what people perceive as a better overall experience, however they personally define that, makes good sense.
Setting aside both “German” and “luxury” for a bit, because the principle is larger, Toyota and Honda have a better reputation than Ford, and this was at least as true in 2005 when I last went car shopping as it is now. I drove my sister-in-law’s Camry, and I drove my then-other-sister-in-law’s Accord, and found them both uncomfortable compared to the Taurus, and I liked its looks better, and so a Taurus I bought. the statistical difference in frequency of repair was significantly smaller than the difference in enjoyment when it wasn’t being repaired.
Going back into German luxury territory, many of those who buy them do so because they prefer the way they drive. Others will prefer their looks… or some will just want to show off that they have them. Any number of other things. But it all comes back to recognizing there are more things to consider than a single measurement when choosing a car, and different people will weigh them differently.
I don’t know if that’s actually true, but if it is, it’s probably a status thing. European cars have marketed themselves as luxurious and stylish, and the image has stuck.
Also, “luxury” doesn’t necessarily mean the car is high performance or that it will last a long time: sometimes, it just means a nice leather interior, more comfortable seats, more high tech amenities, etc. Some people who are buying cars want the driving experience to be more pleasant, and they care about that more than the dependability of the car.
Well, maybe because they do not only want to travel, but travel fast, luxurious and in style?
But seriously, “issues” and “issues” are not the same: The average japanese car owner simply ignores / takes for given a lot of minor imperfections that are “major issues” to the average german car owner. That is because you naturally have other expectations if you buy the most expensive or the cheapest car on the market…
So even if the german car is in fact more reliable concerning the basics “from A to B” statistically they seem to be less reliable because there are small issues like : ”door closes with a “Baaa-eng” instead of a “Baaeng”….
I buy German because of how it drives and how I interact with it while driving. Reliability in my current car has been very good, but I am willing to trade a higher maintenance bill for the driving experience, instead of having low maintenance and being frustrated every time I drive it.
You are correct, don't buy the faux luxury brands acura Infiniti etc. They don't sell them in Europe for the reason no one would buy one. No one would buy a jazzed up Honda. Even Lexus are rarer than hens teeth. Oh and I drive a new merc that makes me feel so good it actually lifts my day. For the weekend I have noisy harsh bumpy 911 that I cant hardly hear the radio in, but I am taking away for the weekend to do some Christmas shopping... Cant wait.ive even turned my wife into a car nut.
Cars have emotional attachment to human. We bond to the car and it represents us.
Love is blind, so when someone fell in love with BMW or Mercedes Benz, they would ignore their reliability
I don’t know what you mean by build quality. Having owned japanese cars and germany cars, I’d say germany cars have better build quality and attention to detail. Japanese cars feels like the materials got slapped on just to make a car, buttons are flimsy and the plastics are cheap and ugly.
They don’t buy. They lease. Of course they know the reliability is far worse. So that’s what they do. Lease 3 years. When the cars starts to have problems after 3 years lease expire, they get a new one from dealership with all the fancy new features they lust after. Bigger GPS screen, bigger and fancier toys to play with.
Dealers deal with the headaches of rapid depreciation values and mechanical problems of the old ones. The fancier the toys, the more complex they are to repair and prone to problems. So what they do? They jack up the price of the brand new lease vehicle and charge expensive bills for damages to leased vehicles.
However, they lower the price of used or expired-lease vehicles to sell them fast. The maintenance cost after 100k miles will be expensive compared to Japanese counterparts. That’s why when you compare used Toyota and German car of similar class, Toyota holds much better value.
That’s why Germans cars are expensive. But only new ones. Old ones, they are cheaper than the Japanese cars.
Well mainly due to one reason.. what luxury car does Japan manufacture??
Ok there is one.. Lexus
Germany makes a choice of luxury cars from Bmw’s to Mercedes and fantastic sports cars i.e. Porsche.
Japanese cars are more for the boring driver who cares about fuel and service costs way more than performance and luxury. The only Jap sports car that can compete with German cars is the Nissan Skyline GTR which is an awesome machine and definitely not for the faint hearted!
Overall I think Germans produce the best cars worldwide with a choice of car for any individual. Built quality is a lot better than most manufacturers and the German car brand is second to none.
My experience (three BMWs) is that build quality is great. Maybe evidence shows that the build quality is not quite as good as Japanese cars. But build quality isn’t the only factor.
When I chose my last car, I didn’t set out just to buy another BMW. I wanted a powerful (200hp), economical, rear-wheel-drive, manual car. I searched and I searched, and found every car on my list was the same model: the BMW 123d. Japan doesn’t actually make a competitor for this car!
So when I chose this car the options were: BMW first, daylight second.
BMW was absolutely the most reliable car on this list.
I bought a BMW Z4 3.0si and am in love with it. The sport but is fun and I can't help myself from taking off like a rocket at every stop light! Its going to get me into trouble I just know it. LOL But I tell you it feels so perfect and fits like a glove. It drives perfectly and wants to go. I get lots of people who roll down their window in their cars and compliment me on how beautiful it is which is something I wasn't use to but I am so proud of it I just grin and say thanks. I do love all luxury sports cars and supercars and if I had the money I would end up like Jay Leno and have one of everything but unfortunately at this point in my life I had to chose something more in line with my budget which is why I feel lucky to have gotten such a good deal on my Z4 because its NICE!