Hi ttemple... As a System Designer I praise good design whenever I see it. Electronics, hardware, software, education, administration - Like "fine art", I can recognize good design when I see it and like to praise it highly.
It is a personal quirk of mine not to bash poor design. The trouble and expense we have had over the past five years of owning the "German" car were not individual lemon problems with bad components --- it was an overall failure of system design. The layout of the parts was a perfect example of "fallacy of sub-optimization". It is wrong-headed to think that if all sub-components are optimized to near-zero tolerance the overall system will be improved. The truth is exactly the opposite.
System Design should concentrate on how out-of-tolerance behavior will be accommodated by the system as a whole, making it fault-tolerant and adaptive. The Toyota "J-Factor" is incorporated throughout the corporate culture (see here for example) and has been described recently:
"J-factor is known to be the DNA of Toyota design that synergizes various conflicting elements in harmony and give dimensions to new values. It is the element that defines the Japanese design structure, aesthetics and values that blend seamlessly with the global standards. One very good example of synergizing the contradictory element is the combination of engine power and electric motor to create hybrid vehicles. Likewise, many other elements of a car are well harmonized to give a completely new look and feel to every car. The j-factor is the trademark of Toyota's car design and it delivers an extremely striking and magnificent appeal." - link here
With two teenagers, my wife and I have 4 drivers in our household. We've owned 4 Toyota Corollas and are currently driving 3 of them which vary from 15k to 150k miles. We keep returning to Toyota because of the reliability and systematic build quality. I don't wish to bash the manufacturer, but we recently salvaged my wife's German car that was losing components faster than we could earn money to replace them. After we lost the transmission at 75K miles this summer, we traded it in for a two-year-old Corolla. Performing home repairs was near impossible and even a check of the transmission fluid level required a car lift and the removal of guards and plates under the car in order to reach the fill plug. The instructions for checking the level was to remove the plug and observe how much fluid escaped.
The Toyotas are extremely maintenance-friendly and our independent mechanic is delighted when we bring them in for routine service and inspection. Each component is designed with the other components in mind and the car as a whole is a tightly-integrated system even though (because) the individual components are not engineered to fine Swiss-craftsmen tolerances. I'm delighted to hear the Toyota engineers are being open with the debate.
Keeping the tin whisker problem on the forefront should help with future designs. Toyota is also very concerned with the floor mat issue. Our Toyota is a 2011, and the required 5000 mile preventive maintenance requires a floor mat inspection each time. They want to be sure this issue does not materialize again.
Hopefully rather than to point fingers or cast blame, this on-going debate will serve to spotlight the issue of tin whiskers and keep the potential problem on the front burner as engineers hit the drawing board on future designs. Obviously, it's a critical issue and potentially, a deadly problem if overlooked. So maybe the continued attention is a good thing.
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