Over the last 30 years, one of the major trends is that American made cars have become more reliable and demonstrate longer lifetimes. Much has been made about how this was done because Japanese cars were already doing this well by the mid-1970s.
I remember growing up and the typical lifetime for an American car was considered 5 years or 50,000 miles. Today we routinely use cars well past 100,000 miles and 10 years. In the right climates (those without salt and ice on the winter roads) cars can now last 200,000 miles and 15-20 years! At the same time, we have lengthened the lifetime of tires and other elements of the car.
Having said all of this, a car that is used for 100,000 miles and is driven at an average speed of 50 miles per hour over that life will have been operated 2000 hours total. Even if we use the longer 200,000 mile figure then this only rises to 4000 hours.
As I write this I am in Singapore working on starting an Incubator for start up companies that will focus on clean technology and optical systems. To get here, of course, I flew over in Boeing 747s, the basic design of which dates back to 1969. Probably all of those original planes have been retired but I suspect that the average 747 airframe has probably an average of 20 years service.
What kind of service? Well such planes are probably used 16 hours per day and for a total of 250 days per year allowing for routine maintenance and repairs. (The one I flew on had to have one engine manually started out on the tarmac after we had left the gate!) So that means that a typical Boeing 747 is used 4000 hours per year! And that the average 747 airframe has an average total use hours of at least 80,000 hours and that some probably have well more than 100,000 hours.
Compare that to our cars that we think are so reliable because they give relatively trouble free service for 100,000 miles or 4,000 hours.
This means that we knew very well how to make reliable machines before the Japanese began their lessons for Detriot.
Moreover these 747s see temperatures as high as 100F and as low as -80F nearly every day! They fly through winds of 550 miles per hour, and carry passengers, freight and fuel that totals at least 500,000 lbs. Wow.
I was glad that Boeing was capable of such great engineering as I slept crossing the international dateline last night. And I wonder what they have in store for us as they soon launch the 787 Dreamliner – their most radical new design in 40 years since the launch of the 747.