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Are Automakers' Managers Hurting Engineering?

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42 mpg not as good as >45 mpg
jeffbiss   3/30/2012 11:17:41 AM
My 1984 CRX still beats the ECO. So did my 1985 and 1991. We can do far better but choose not to.

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Failed free market
jeffbiss   3/30/2012 11:14:05 AM
Regulation is a double-edged sword, but when applied correctly produces better results than a free market, as the market is people and they don't care about consequences, until it's too late.

The fact is that free market theory is a failed theory is proven by the existence of financial crises and bubbles. This is simply fact. Then there's your point that free markets really don't and can't exist, except in small arenas, precisely because people use their clout to improve their situation. Real human nature refutes ideology about human nature.

From what I've heard there are designs for power plants providing far higher mileage, but they are not produced for a number of reasons, including the fact that the market is more concerned about power and speed and having the government supply them with cheap fuel. Ah, the delusion and ignorance of the market! Therefore, there's little impetus for manufacturers to produce high mileage vehicles, which results in pressures to extract more of a finite resource at ever increasing financial and environmental costs.

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Re: Gas mileage still very poor
Absalom   3/30/2012 10:56:17 AM
Failed free market? The auto industry hasn't operated in a free market in decades. If it did I might be driving a diesel car getting 100 mpg burning fuel made from garbage squeezings. Regulation stifles innovation.

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Well, Duh!!!?
EricMJones   3/30/2012 10:47:47 AM
You can say what you want about how things "should be". But when you pay more money to lawyers and bean counters and less to engineers.

You get what you pay for.

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Gas mileage still very poor
jeffbiss   3/30/2012 10:23:07 AM
I know that this comment doesn't fit neatly under this article's topic, but I'm going to gripe anyway. My 1984 Honda CRX got better gas mileage than any cars built today. It got between 45 and 50 local and 58 to 61 on the highway and it had a kludge carburetor setup. We're past peak oil, and the car companies can't produce far better mileage with today's far more sophisticated technology? Come on!

Whining about "quality" continues to miss the bigger problem, that we are wasting resources that carry very heavy consequences. But as most Americans don't believe in anything other than failed free market ideology, I suppose the fact that today's cars are worse performers than a 1984 design doesn't matter in their minds. After all, CEOs drive teir engineers to meet customer demand and customers only complain about high gas prices because they're clueless.

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Re: ADDING my 2 cents...
sdoyle   3/30/2012 10:18:36 AM
@Dave Palmer >A Chinese friend of mine, who is a philosophy professor, says that Western cultures tend to be reductionist, while Asian cultures tend to be holistic.<


Based on this article, that certainly seems to apply in the automakers culture.  But I believe that tendency is more pronounced in the medical viewpoint than anywhere else.


My wife recently had her gall bladder and then her appendix removed within a span of a few months.  I told her that something her system isn't working right, but who do you go to see about your body as a system in our standard medical community?  She ended up going to an accupuncturist who told her that her liver is overloaded and out of sync.  She's been working to clean out her liver and many of the symptoms she's had for several years, that our regular doctors have had difficulty finding the root cause to, have begun to disappear.  The accupuncturist was able to tell my wife the symptoms she had been experiencing several years ago, and why she was having them, in less than an hour.  My wife had been going to doctors about those same problems for years, with the result that later on the "bad parts" were removed.


@williamweaver - I believe you nailed it that the magic happens when we can view a problem from both aspects, both reductionist and holistic.  Unfortunatley, I think the Western mindset has a long ways to go before the acceptance of a holistic approach is commonplace.  Although the world is changing ever faster...

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It's in the parameters
ChasChas   3/30/2012 10:09:34 AM

Every engineering project starts by setting the parameters of the design. Management usually sets the bulk of the parameters - at the least, the more critical ones like cost and time.

For the most part, companies that choose their top managers out of engineering have much better quality than those that choose top managers out of sales, accounting, or other departments.

It's the difference between the "get her done" mentality and the "do it right" mentality.

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ADDING my 2 cents...
OLD_CURMUDGEON   3/30/2012 9:57:06 AM
While many of the posts are very analytical in nature, I would add one observation, which I'm not injecting in a flippant manner.  When one drives down the street, on the boulevard, or the highway, or the interstate, and one observes the autos in the adjoining lanes, what does one see?  They see a lot of American vehicles that aren't the latest off the showroom floor.  Yet, in your observations, how many vaunted Mercedes Benz or BMW vehicles of 5 or 10 or more years past do you count?  Certainly nowhere near the number of 5 or 10 year old Chevrolets, Fords, Dodges, Plymouths, etc.

While my analysis may not be a classic statistical study, it sure does prove a point........ American vehicles ain't as bad as some of the pundits would have us believe!

Charles Murray
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Re: Quality Differences
Charles Murray   3/29/2012 9:32:25 PM
Naperlou, I agree that the differences in reliability are not all that great. Ovr the past 20 years, all automakers have improved. Twenty years ago, you could expect a vehicle to go 100,000 miles or maybe 120,000. Now I have two cars that have more than 160,000 miles on them. Now if they could only close the gap between bottom and top.

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Re: Systems engineering the key
williamlweaver   3/29/2012 7:18:43 PM
@Dave Palmer, wise council. I'm often surprised by the reliance on reductionism here in the West. Perhaps it is my terminal degree in Analytical Chemistry that has taken me to the bleeding-edge of analysis so that I can appreciate the importance of system integration. There is often no better zealot for a cause than a convert, and I've been evangelizing Systems Thinking for some time. There is an amazing dichotomy in our culture. Those who can see Similarities among items that appear Different have a "Scientific" talent, while those who can see Differences among items that appear Similar have an "Artistic" bent. Scientists dissect to generate additional parts, while Artists integrate to create fewer wholes. We have a strong scientific / technical reputation here in the West, yet we are often also seen as being a hub of Artistic talent with Hollywood, Broadway, and Silicon Valley.  

The magic happens when the Analyst and the Systems Integrator are talents that are developed within the same person, or at least the same team. Knowing when to view a problem from each reference frame is a valuable tool. I totally agree with your suggestion that optimizing the strength of a single part simply transfers stress to surrounding parts, which in turn, fail. It's amazing how the Systems View can be used for all manner of systems; mechanical, electrical, biological, and philosophical. 

Ironically, the process of Systems Thinking has been Analyzed into its parts in an attempt to standardize and optimize it within the Business Schools. All of their proprietary terminology and paradigms have made it appear specialized, wonky, and niche. Perhaps if the Scientists and Engineers rescue Systems Thinking from the MBAs, it would have a better chance to gain popularity...

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