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Cars: German vs. Japanese Engineering

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Once upon a time, a German auto engineer visited a Japanese auto plant. The engineer noticed that the die used to punch body panels was not machined on the outside of the die as he was accustomed to in Germany.

Indicating his distaste to the Japanese engineers, the engineers looked confused and responded by questioning whether anyone would spend money machining something that performs no function or that the consumer is not and will never be aware of.  The German engineer expressed his concern about what the boss will think and how unprofessional it will make him appear. To which the Japanese engineer replied that it was his idea, and because it saved the company a lot of money, he was promoted.

There’s no question that both German and Japanese automakers have long been renowned for their engineering prowess and commitment to quality. However, their approaches to vehicle design and manufacturing differ, resulting in distinct driving experiences, interior aesthetics, reliability, maintenance requirements, innovation, and longevity.

Here's a comparison of German and Japanese engineering in passenger cars across these aspects:

1. Driving experience

German cars give a sturdier, controlled, and smooth ride whatever the road conditions. Japanese cars would likely shake and rattle more on bumpy roads.

  • German cars, particularly those from brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi, are known for their emphasis on performance and driving dynamics. They prioritise precise handling, responsive acceleration, and a sporty driving experience.
  • Japanese cars, on the other hand, often prioritise comfort and smoothness over outright performance.

2. Interior

German cars come with more luxury, space, airbags, and better sound quality. So while Japanese cars are generally cheaper to buy, you pay for the luxury of sitting pretty.

  • German car interiors are typically characterised by a blend of luxury and sportiness, with high-quality materials, premium finishes, and a focus on ergonomics.
  • Japanese car interiors, while well-built and functional, tend to prioritise practicality and simplicity over opulence, with a minimalist aesthetic and a focus on efficient use of space

3. Reliability

Both German and Japanese automakers have a reputation for producing reliable vehicles, but their approaches differ.

  • German cars are known for their robust engineering and attention to detail, but they can be more complex and expensive to maintain.
  • Japanese cars, particularly those from brands like Toyota and Honda, are renowned for their exceptional reliability and durability, often requiring less maintenance over the long term.

According to Consumer Reports category rankings, four out six of the Most Reliable cars are Japanese manufacturers, in positions 1, 2, 3, and 5. No German cars feature in the top category.

In the Least Reliable rankings, no Japanese manufacturers feature, while two German cars, Mercedes-Benz (20) and Volkswagen (24) take two slots.

Consumer Reports breaks its rankings down into three subcategories. Here are the full rankings with the movement in ranking relative to the previous year:

More Reliable 

  1. Mazda (up 1)
    2. Toyota (up 1)
    3. Lexus (down 2)
    4. Buick (up 14)
    5. Honda (up 7)
    6. Hyundai (no change)


  1. Ram (no change)
    8. Subaru (down 1)
    9. Porsche (down 5)
    10. Dodge (down 2)
    11. Infiniti (up 2)
    12. BMW (up 5)
    13. Nissan (down 2)
    14. Audi (no change)
    15. Kia (down 6)
    16. GMC (up 6)
    17. Chevrolet (up 8)
    18. Volvo (up 6)
    19. Jeep (up 7)

Less Reliable

  1. Mercedes-Benz (up 1)
    21. Cadillac (up 9)
    22. Ford (down 6)
    23. Mini (down 13)
    24. Volkswagen (up 3)
    25. Tesla (down 2)
    26. Lincoln (down 11)

4. Maintenance

Priding themselves in mechanical excellence, Japanese cars need less mechanical attention and servicing than German cars, with the main replacement parts being the battery, engine oil, tyres, and brake pads. While both perform just as well, German cars need to be serviced at regular intervals.

  • German cars generally require more frequent and specialised maintenance due to their complex engineering and use of advanced technologies. This can result in higher maintenance costs, especially for luxury models.
  • Japanese cars, on the other hand, are designed with simplicity and ease of maintenance in mind, often featuring more accessible components and lower overall maintenance costs.

5. Innovation

According to a study conducted by the Center of Automotive Management (CAM) when it comes to automotive innovation, German carmakers are up there with the best with Volkswagen taking top spot followed by Daimler and BMW. The Japanese automotive industry however, has lost its innovative strength overall.

  • German automakers are known for their pioneering spirit and willingness to push the boundaries of automotive technology. They have been at the forefront of innovations in areas such as performance, safety, and luxury features.
  • Japanese automakers, while innovative in their own right, tend to focus more on refining existing technologies and improving efficiency, reliability, and practicality.

6. Longevity

If luxury and comfort is not at the top of your priorities in a car and you want a dependable vehicle for the long term, Japanese cars are less likely to let you down.

  • German cars are engineered to withstand rigorous use and maintain their performance over time, provided they receive proper maintenance.
  • Japanese cars, particularly those from brands like Toyota and Honda, are renowned for their exceptional durability and ability to rack up high mileage with minimal issues, thanks to their focus on simplicity and reliability.

7. In conclusion

While both German and Japanese automakers are highly respected for their engineering prowess, their approaches to vehicle design and manufacturing result in distinct driving experiences, interior aesthetics, reliability, maintenance requirements, innovation, and longevity. German cars prioritise performance, luxury, and cutting-edge technology, while Japanese cars emphasise comfort, practicality, reliability, and longevity.

That’s the difference between German and Japanese automobiles. The former is about image, prestige, comfort, class, innovation, and masterful craftsmanship in the smallest of details. The latter is about world-class technology, an error-free reputation, and engineering a vehicle made to last.

Also read:

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Are High Performance Tyres Worth the Investment?

News: Vehicle Safety Technology

Tyres – Art, Engineering, & Science

Disclaimer: This information is for educational, or entertainment purposes only. It must not be construed as advice, legal, financial, or otherwise. We do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability, and accuracy of this information.


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