I just returned from a trip to Germany with my wife to pick up our new car. If you read the current article on this trip from a Mercedes-Benz sales person it sounds like a drive from heaven but, at least from my experience, it is the drive from hell. It isn’t even a great Mercedes-Benz experience, actually that is a massive understatement, it was a horrid experience. Not only did we not have a particularly great time, you probably won’t get us on another vacation outside of the US, well, ever. So the trip in the article looks amazing, but that isn’t the trip we actually got at all. At one point I literally wanted to take the car back where I picked it up and just go home.
Let me share my experience. I’ll leave out the 30 hours it took to go and return from Germany because that wasn’t their fault (nature of flying on miles during a holiday week).
I should start with the fact you get two cab vouchers, one from the airport to the first hotel and one from the hotel to factory. The wording on the vouchers are very clear that they will only work with two cab companies but, in Germany, they generally don’t put the name of the cab company on the car so finding the right company is like going on a hunting trip.
It seemed from the start like someone designed this trip to be as stressful as they absolutely could. (I should point out that everyone seemed to be OK with the vouchers, the rule just made going through the effort more stressful than it needed to be).
The referenced article doesn’t talk about this but, in my head, I thought we’d be taken to a modern factory, see cars like ours being built, maybe be able to ride in some of the more interesting vehicles, and hang out with some other car people while getting indoctrinated to our new car. We bought an AMG with a hand built engine so maybe meeting the guy that built our engine would have been cool.
What actually happened is we had a short tour of a factory that likely was new before I was born, using technology that looked old last decade, making cars I generally didn’t care about. If you have seen a modern Jaguar or Tesla factory this was from a whole different era. I watched one poor guy try to figure out how to put the right part in the right slot in a process that should have been done by a robot in the 1980s.
Then a nice lunch, followed by the shortest briefing on a new car I’d ever received having me on the road with a lot of stuff I needed (like auto-rerouting for the GPS) not functioning. This became a problem because, apparently, Germany is updating their roads and one of the critical ones was closed. You see the GPS system seemed to only want to go on that road leading to some crazy detours down really narrow streets always leading right back to the beginning of the closed road and not our destination. For a while there it kind of felt like we were in the movie Groundhog Day. We eventually figured out a new route but we pretty much lost a day.
Zur Traube Tonbach
This was the first stop and it is a beautiful hotel in a lovely part of the country. One of the highlights in the above article is that it also has “Germany’s Greatest Chef” but the meal you are given is meatballs. Seriously meatballs on a plate and you are put in a room off to the side of the hotel’s restaurant which feels more like a pub and a place where folks on a budget hang out. We paid an additional 55 Euros to at least get drinks and a better dessert. What messed us up was we discovered that somehow we didn’t have a room for the following night so burned the airwaves trying to fix that. I’ve never actually had so many sympathetic Germans tell me that fixing our problem wasn’t their job. This on top of a phone number for help that had been disconnected back in July and being sent the same documents over and over again to argue that our pain was our fault just didn’t turn me into a happy camper at all.
This was our next stop and the location is beautiful but because we had no reserved room they put us up in a suite above the restaurant that appeared to have been designed for munchkins. Very low ceilings and what I’d refer to as a suicide shower. This is a shower with no tractions strips or hand holds and swing doors that pop open at the slightest touch coupled with water that goes from warm to scalding if anyone flushes a toilet. My trip, and life, almost ended right there.
We had two nights at this hotel apparently because the whole trip to Austria thing, in the above article, is no longer part of this “experience”. My wife made an appointment to have a massage only to find when she showed up to get it the place was closed and no one seemed to know what to do. The manager of the spa did show up and apologize and she got her massage that evening which was when we found out we had a 51 euro per person per day allowance that no one had told us about.
We had a shopping walk through the town where we discovered that even though the merchants had credit card signs on their windows they apparently didn’t actually take the things so it was a far shorter shopping walk punctuated with ATM hunts.
If you read the article there is a whole middle adventure with amazing drives and locations that were deleted from our trip. So no Hotel Villino or Interalpen Hotel just an extra day in a town that apparently had suddenly decided it didn’t like credit cards and shut down spas without bothering to tell anyone.
Hotel Bayerisher Hof
Now this was a particularly interesting because the article says you take care of all the paperwork to drop the car off again when you pick the car up, but that isn’t what happens at all. No you are supposed to contact the drop off location before you actually leave on the trip and arrange to drop off the car. This makes no sense and then we couldn’t seem to get a hold of the drop off location. Even though we’d signed up for the trip in May, apparently Mercedes waited until far later to book the trip and the Hotel Bayerisher Hof was booked so we ended up in the Hotel Kempinski in Munich.
But we were told by our Mercedes contact that this hotel they put us in wasn’t really an approved hotel and that they’d feel better if we dropped our car off before our stay. This is somewhat surprising since it is a really nice hotel, they promoted Mercedes heavily throughout the hotel (even giving test drives in the Mercedes Supercar) and they provided an AMG magazine in the room. So the last two days no car, which was actually OK, because they are also working on the roads in Munich and it was far easier to get around on foot. Oh, by the way, you have to have your car washed before they’ll take it but they don’t tell you where to go to have it washed until you get to the drop off location right next to an Audi showroom where they are happy to point out you bought the wrong car and where parking is extremely limited.
First what was included was all over the map. First hotel we got two drinks, second hotel (the one with the best chef in Germany) a plate of meatballs, third hotel a daily allowance we weren’t told about until the second day (the hotel made it right), fourth hotel zip. I should add every hotel had a great included breakfast (which likely kept me from going postal). Now the trip cost $1,800 plus airfare which wasn’t cheap (they do give a $200 voucher on Delta which we didn’t find out about until after we booked but wouldn’t have used anyway), and 4 car payments.
This last I didn’t figure out until I was on the trip. You have to pay for the car one month before the trip, then you don’t get the car until around 3 months after the trip so you effectively are out 4 months of car payments without a car. We paid cash and interest rates are near zero so that wasn’t a huge deal for us but boy if you were leasing or financing your car this could really suck. In effect you are paying something like $400 a day to rent the car you bought. And you are in your break-in period and you are sweating rocks, curbs, or anyone else driving your brand new car.
As noted above our briefing on the car at the factory was the shortest I’ve ever had. We didn’t realize until we were on the road that none of the connected features appeared to work. That speed limits were in Kilometers per hour and our speedometer was in Miles per hour and trying to do conversions when you are not connected to the web very difficult. The manual was nearly worthless in that it seemed to not take into account updates to the car (for instance the car had pushbutton start but it kept talking about the position the key needed to be in), the configuration of the car (often talking about features that were only apparently available in Canada), and not going into needed depth (like how to get the GPS system to orient on the car or actually get Car Play to work).
I’m really rather surprised the manual made it to the end of the trip as it was so frustrating that I often wanted to just throw it out the window. No issues with the car itself but, when it finally comes to the US, the dealer and are going to spend some quality time together learning how to do some things that the manual seems to have left out.
I’m a car guy, used to be a mechanic, and we live in an age where you can digitally create a manual matched to the car the buyer actually buys. I should point out one more thing, when we configured the car we pretty much picked everything but the huge spoiler and park assist. The reason we didn’t pick park assist was because it was explained to us in a way that made it sound like self-parking, and if I can’t parallel park I’m giving up my driving license. But it wasn’t "self parking" it is the more typical wheel and spoiler protecting sensor system which I would have bought had it been explained to me more clearly (I should add that it was also the kind of system cars got in the early 2000s not the kind of system more typically offerred today so I'm not really that upset). This confusion was due to the fact Mercedes wasn’t particularly clear what was going to be on a 2017 car which created all kinds of confusion when ordering it particularly because there apparently no brochures for the car.
No trip is all bad. The hotels and hotel staff were all very nice, the breakfasts were all great, the scenery was fantastic, and driving on the Autobahn (when there wasn’t congestion or road work or speed limits) was a ton of fun (I got maybe 40 of nearly 400 miles like this). We did meet an old friend in Munich and another couple that lives in Portland that was also on the trip. The car itself worked flawlessly and, as expected, it was a ton of fun to drive. It was a shame they put a huge “D” sticker on the back that, apparently, we didn’t need and I’m going to ask the dealer to remove.
I should add the dealer tried everything within their power to help fix this and we did get an apology gift of Champagne, chocolate, and fruit during the trip which was nice but, overall, we would never do this again and not only wouldn’t recommend it we’d suggest you run screaming from anyone who did.
Wrapping Up: Mercedes Has Lost Their Way
This kind of thing happens when you have a process that has been in place for a long time where people forget why it is done. This kind of a trip is typically done not because the firm wants to be in the travel business but because it wants to create a relationship between the car buyer and the firm. Mercedes-Benz is a luxury car company and the experience should match the car. Whatever the cost you should leave feeling the firm took good care of you and excited about the car you purchased and the firm who made it. That is clearly not what happened and had we not purchased the car before the trip we sure as hell wouldn’t have purchased it afterwards regardless of how much we liked it.
I travel a lot. I have 3 million miles on American and I’ve been to Europe, Asia, and Central America. I’ve been on bargain trips and luxury trips; I’ve even driven cross country on a motorcycle. Bar none, this was the worst trip I’ve ever taken and that took some work. I’ve also been to car events by Porsche, Audi, Cadillac, McLaren, and, of course, Jaguar (I have two). The other events were all about cars, this one, which was decades old, wasn’t. That’s at the heart of this problem, Mercedes-Benz has simply forgotten why you do events like this and that is why it was so bad. I mean it seriously suuuuucked.