This is a follow-up to the article Anticipating Abuse and Misuse of Equipment and Balanced Designs. Here is where the design engineers thought they had a balanced design.
This story took place in Germany and told to me by a very senior engineering manager in the USA. The events may date back to the 1960’s or early 1970’s but the lesson is timeless. The warranty repairs for cars made in Germany by the American subsidy in Germany and driven in Germany were having unusually high manual transmission failures in particular regions of the country.
A US warranty manager and the German engineering manager met in Germany. Somehow, each of them decided to demonstrate driving ability and technique. How much was added to this story is lost in time but it makes for a great story.
The German manager gets into the car and puts on his driving gloves. Pulls them tight and snaps the cuffs closed. He then accelerates at maximum rate without spinning the wheels demonstrating his mastery of clutch and throttle control. He shifts beautifully through all the gears maintaining RPM and never a grind or a missed shift bringing the car to the track’s maximum speed.
The US manager gets into the car and asked the German to ride with him. The US manager needs “no stinking driving gloves.” He starts the engine, depresses the clutch and stomps on the throttle. With the car standing still and the engine screaming he side steps the clutch burning rubber for a great distance before the tires fully grip the road.
The German manager yells over the scream on the engine screeching tires “No vun thrives like dis” (excuse my poor German accent). To that, the US manger replied they sure do in the USA!
This was in the days of muscle cars* and stop light racing in the USA. There were few places in the USA with roads having Autobahn speed limits. The cars made in the USA for the USA had very strong lower gears and lighter top end gears because of brutal starts and lower highway speeds. In Germany, the drivers got their kicks at high speeds 60-100+ MPH while folks in the USA did it 0-60 MPH. So the US and German cars were balanced for their markets - but it is a small world after all.
To avoid giving away the ending, I delayed fully explaining what made the high failure rate doubly unique. The high failures clustered around US military bases. The US soldiers (who may have had a muscle car back home) would rent the locally made vehicles while on leave and drive them as they drove their muscle cars. The lower gears on the German transmissions were not designed for such extreme impact and were lighter than what the US engineers would have designed for the US driver. Similar but reversed thinking for the upper gears.