Cars: A storm of criticism over safety; and Mercedes' rolls over

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The Independent Online
Daimler-Benz has halted delivery of its revolutionary Mercedes A-Class model after it rolled over during a safety test. Britain's motoring industry told Ian Burrell that the crash could have irreparably damaged the once exalted name of Mercedes.

Moose are unlikely to feature ever in the standard British driving test. But a test designed to gauge the ability of new motor vehicles to avoid the antlered beasts while driving in Sweden, has left a jagged score across the once lustrous image of Mercedes in the eyes of the British motoring public.

Last month, as the new Mercedes Benz A-Class model attempted the "Moose Test", it flipped over. The company's response was a promise to fit the car with electronic stabilisers.

But when the adverse publicity refused to go away it decided this week to halt delivery of a vehicle that was intended to revolutionise the small car market.

According to Lydia Aydon, the news editor of Auto Express: "Mercedes wanted people to believe that although this was a small car it would be as safe as their bigger cars. But they were the first car to fail this Swedish test for 20 years except Skoda, and from now on people are going to look at them in a different light."

She added: "Mercedes has a reputation for safety and knowing exactly what they do; a Germanic idea of everything being absolutely perfect and without problem. They will now lose this image."

She said that the company's initial attempt to play down the problem, followed by its decision to halt delivery of the car, would have exacerbated the suspicions of potential buyers. "They are now going to have to prove without a shadow of a doubt that there is nothing wrong with this car," she said.

Other industry commentators felt that Daimler-Benz had been too sensitive to criticism over what had been an extreme test of the car's performance. Mark Payton, editor of What Car? magazine, said: "I think that maybe they have over-reacted to the situation and fed the fires a bit."

Although the A-Class handled poorly during the magazine's own test drives of the car, it displayed no deficiencies in safety, he said. "In our view it is safe in normal urban conditions and in all conditions that most drivers would ever experience."

Mr Payton blamed Mercedes problems on the company's recent diversification, producing four-wheel drive vehicles, the radically designed E-Class model and now the smaller car. According to Mr Payton, there has been a shift in power away from the company's engineers in favour of its accountants. "It means that you get a better-priced Mercedes but I wonder if there are people within the company wondering whether it's the right thing to do," he said.

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