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The counter intuitive software. (Up Front).

The noise and glitz of this year's auto show was just winding down when the ad arrived, bundled in the Sunday paper. The first page, opening to 11- x 18-inches, asks, "Where are the cars we were promised?" against a background of a 40's era Popular Science cover depicting the land yacht just two years down the road. There's the American family of three, each ensconced on their own sofa under the glass canopy, Dad in robe and pipe with the paper, Mom in an apron, child in the back, cozy and safe while the car hurries itself along the highway. The copy inside informs the reader that the car of the future has arrived, replete with drive-by-wire throttle, DVD navigation, and zero-lift, 0.26 drag aerodynamics.


The latest gewgaws, gimeracks and falderol are not resolving one of the most glaring problems in auto manufacturing today, and that is sheer bad design. Worse still are the machinations the manufacturers are contriving to cover for their fault. Example: my brother owns a minivan owned by major foreign manufacturer X. At 30,000 miles, he notes that the vehicle, on a family trip, is consuming oil. Lots of it. About 5 quarts in less than 1,000 miles. The oil that does come out is thick and sludge-y. Alarmed, he takes the car to the dealer, who informs him of possible internal engine damage because he did not provide proper routine service to the vehicle, and here's an estimate for $6,000 to repair the engine. Now, my brother knows to take care of his vehicles, so he does a web inquiry using Google. And finds notices from other owners of vehicles with the same engine, with the same problem. Lots of them. So many, that the company finally started shouldering the repair bills rather than face the bad publicity, tho ugh they are still blaming the customers' poor attention to regular service.

Remember the GM truck and Pinto fuel tank sagas? The Audi 5000? Have you heard about the recall on Wrangler Jeeps, because the ignition switch may short Out when exposed to dirt and water (thankfully, few people take their Jeeps into dirt and water anymore)? And this is just part of a long list of flawed design. Perhaps the question should be re-phrased -- where are the quality vehicles the advanced CAD and collaborative engineering software packages should enable the engineering departments to produce? It may be expedient to rely entirely on one's toolkit, but software is not replacement for understanding the product.

Richard Mandel
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Date:May 1, 2002
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