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Have you thanked an engineer lately?

John Day

John Day

Posted Aug 21, 2010

Cars coming off assembly lines around the world today are far more complex than ever before, but are they any less reliable – or more so? I’d say the latter, and attribute much of the improvement to the efforts of automotive electronics engineers. So, thanks.

According to J.D. Power and Associates, 25 of 36 vehicle brands improved in long-term dependability in 2010, continuing a steady trend of industry-wide improvement.

In the research firm’s 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study, overall vehicle dependability improved by 7 percent to an average of 155 PP100 (problems per-100 vehicles), compared with 167 PP100 in 2009. The rate of component replacement fell from approximately 68 percent to 65 percent.

Most of the reliability, durability, and performance, safety, and comfort features in cars today involve electronics technology. Especially in today’s highly polarized, highly opinionated marketplace of ideas, It’s easy to criticize the auto industry for past mistakes and prideful attitudes – but consider what automotive engineers have accomplished. And there is lots more to come.

Back in the ‘70s, a typical vehicle contained 100,000 or so lines of software code. In the ‘90s, the number was nearer 1 million. Today, it’s 100 million, and growing. The number of ECUs in cars is also growing, from around 20 a decade ago to nearer 50 today, and in-vehicle systems are increasingly interdependent.

New features result in more complexity, which has forced migration to math-based design and validation tools and is forcing automakers and suppliers into collaborative efforts from which standards are emerging. With all that’s happening under the hood and inside the cabin, monitoring vehicle performance is more important than ever, and sensor data is contributing to vehicle reliability.

Electronics technology is changing the driving experience and in the future may change the vehicle ownership experience for the better; for example, by predicting failures before they are likely to occur. As the auto industry continues to recover, watch for more positive contributions from automotive electronics engineers – and let’s give them the credit they deserve.

J.D. Power and Associates, Automotive Electronics

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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