In the course of 10 years, VW produced six generations of defeat devices
July 25, 2016 7:09 PM   Subscribe

For the first time the true scale has been revealed of a coldly calculated, deliberate and sustained scheme by scores of Volkswagen executives and engineers to defraud American car buyers and deceive American regulators.
posted by Sebmojo (135 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
The scale of the cheating is incredible - if you fudge the figures and your car emits 20% more pollution than stated that's one thing - but to emit 40x more pollution is just beyond stupid.

The US is making them pay $15 billion in compensation over 500k vehicles. There's around 9 mil vehicles in Europe equipped with their defeat devices (straight line extrapolation = $270 bil) but with European regulators what they are - and entwined so closely with Germany and VW itself - they might not have to pay any penalty for their crimes.

I don't know the specifics of the legal situation there but it seems like UK should hurry up with the Brexit so they can fine VW the true amount they should be paying =p
posted by xdvesper at 7:21 PM on July 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


"At the same time VW’s Management Board, the nine men who had presided over the perpetration of fraud, the cover-up and then a public relations debacle that followed its exposure, were awarded $70 million in executive compensation for 2015 alone."

Any chance these people will be personally fined or jailed? Probably not ...
posted by Arbac at 7:30 PM on July 25, 2016 [15 favorites]


These people should go to jail. I don't see how this isn't just plain fraud.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:33 PM on July 25, 2016 [43 favorites]


Thank you for the article!

Here is the 90 page complaint and the accompanying press release.
posted by vert canard at 7:38 PM on July 25, 2016


And from a company with such noble origins, too!
posted by entropicamericana at 7:40 PM on July 25, 2016 [92 favorites]


In an alternate timeline, Rudolf Leiding sees the cute trick Soichiro Honda plays on GM, and orders his engineers to make the classic VeeDub flat-four less polluting than the cleanest Japanese car, igniting an arms race... one that ends with the 2017 Super Beetle and Sicher-Kombi, wait, USA, Safety Vanagon on VW lots throughout the Americas, because he also picked a fight with Pehr Gustaf Gyllenhammar over the safety thing, too.

In this timeline there is much curling of one corner of the mouth and unsurprised disappointment. Sue them out of existence. The last air-cooled vehicle from Porsche or VW rolled off the line years ago.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:42 PM on July 25, 2016 [9 favorites]


Jesus. The whole TDI enterprise is suspect.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:45 PM on July 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


and even calculated the cost of getting caught was still worth it

Because politicians sold out and placed a cap on how much crooked companies had to pay out.
posted by Beholder at 7:47 PM on July 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


Every time I read something about this I am struck, yet again, by how incredibly sick it is. They took advantage of ecological catastrophe to sell vehicles that would directly contribute to it, by pretending they would do the opposite. Not just by a little, but by a lot. They put time and energy into this. The level of contempt this shows for their consumers, not to mention the millions of people indirectly affected, is just staggering.
posted by teponaztli at 7:48 PM on July 25, 2016 [117 favorites]


I wonder what the final cost will end up being, including the lost sales and fines, and if at the end of all that they will consider it a good financial decision or not.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:00 PM on July 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


As a Penn State grad who drives a VW (gas-powered), I'm seeing a few dismal parallels here. I don't want to conflate them, or make light of either side, but the revelation, and the coverup, and the sanctimonious lies, and the long history...

(and sorry for derail, but the Daily Beast cite of the Toyota maxim "Genshi Genbutsu"(local place, actual thing) has a typo. Should be "Genchi", as in 現地現物 (see Toyota's "Toyota Way" page (Japanese)))
posted by kurumi at 8:00 PM on July 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


Jesus. The whole TDI enterprise is suspect.

One word. One not-covered-by-warranty word no matter how many Jiffy Lube receipts and stickers you could provide:

Sludge.

Sludge in the engine (this is the thick, pasty residue, usually from engine oil that isn't changed once every 30k miles or so) means they don't got to cover its repair or replacement, as it's "proof" you didn't maintain your car. Even if you did.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:01 PM on July 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


And then they tried to throw a handful of engineers under the bus.

Christ, what a bunch of assholes.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:01 PM on July 25, 2016 [18 favorites]


Jesus, truly staggering. I hope the EU crushes them; they deserve to go bankrupt and those that enabled this in any way deserve jail time.
posted by smoke at 8:05 PM on July 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


Heads. Spikes. Walls.
posted by lalochezia at 8:12 PM on July 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


My wife and I have bought exactly one brand-new car. It's not a diesel but it is a VW and it apparently runs ridiculously sooty. Even the outside of the VW's tailpipe is blackened, whereas even the inside of the tailpipe of our years-older Japanese brand car is still shiny.

I'm half expecting to learn that the diesel thing is only the beginning of VW's sins.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:12 PM on July 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


Any chance these people will be personally fined or jailed? Probably not ...

It's extremely possible. The $15 billion is only one part of the penalty VW will eventually face -- civil and criminal penalties for violating the Clean Air Act, including possible jail time, is still being hammered out. But it sure as hell won't be zero.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:14 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Although I've never owned a Volkswagen, I had a favorable opinion of them (and Audi as well). But after this I will never even consider one of their products. And they are definitely getting off easy, despite all the press saying what a good deal the people who bought the fraudulent cars are getting. VW should have to buy every one of those cars back at full list price (maybe plus damages). They deliberately defrauded their customers. If I bought, say, a diamond that turned out to be fake, I would expect the seller to give me a full refund. This is no different. If it drives the company out of business, so be it. It would not be bad to put a corrupt corporation out of business every once in a while. It might make other corporations behave better in the future.

And I don't know how they expected to get away with it. I am surprised that one of their competitors didn't discover the scandal while trying to reverse engineer their "clean" diesel technology. Or maybe they did, but just kept quiet about it out of professional courtesy, or a fear their own dirty secrets might be exposed.
posted by TedW at 8:23 PM on July 25, 2016 [19 favorites]


Let's make clear that I'm not defending VW here. OK? We got that down?

I can feel a bit of sympathy for those engineers, because regulators have a tendency to pick target numbers out of their ear without considering the design consequences.

In about 1980 I worked for a company that built test equipment for electrical engineering. Our stuff connected to target electronics with test leads, and the FCC published a standard for how much EMI the test leads could broadcast. One of our engineers saw that number and sat down and determined that it was physically impossible to achieve without changing the universal electrical constant. After which several of our engineers took an emergency trip to DC to give the FCC regulators a quick class in physics.

In this case, it probably wasn't that the spec was outright impossible, like ours was, so much as that it would be grotesquely difficult and expensive to achieve it. The chance of getting the regulators to reconsider is negligible, and the temptation to lie and cheat must have been overwhelming.

What they did was wrong, but I can understand why they did it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:32 PM on July 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


Not only was the regulation possible to satisfy, VW did in fact satisfy it -- the "defeat devices" engage EPA-approved emissions controls under test conditions, and disengage them in road conditions. What's impossible was to keep those controls active and still deliver diesel mileage far beyond what the company's law-abiding competitors could claim. Nobody forced VW to try to have their cake and eat it too. Especially since they specifically marketed the cars as super-efficient "clean diesel"!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:41 PM on July 25, 2016 [72 favorites]


grotesquely difficult and expensive to achieve

The idea of mandating pollution limits in gradual stages like this is to organically force the industry to eventually switch to electric vehicles - the cost of pollution control devices will eventually be equal to electrification. This is a feature not a flaw.

In any case numerous other diesel vehicles in the US were able to (apparently) meet the standard - so it wasn't something beyond the realm of physical or financial possibly, it was just greed and profit margins.
posted by xdvesper at 8:44 PM on July 25, 2016 [15 favorites]


VW should have to buy every one of those cars back at full list price (maybe plus damages).

They are buying about 500K of the cars back. But they'll almost certainly just resell them in other countries with weaker regulations. So I don't see how this is a net benefit for the world.
posted by miyabo at 9:05 PM on July 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


loosies = field execution

vw fraud...
posted by j_curiouser at 9:08 PM on July 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


They are buying about 500K of the cars back. But they'll almost certainly just resell them in other countries with weaker regulations.
Their deal with the EPA specifically disallows that.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:08 PM on July 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


I can feel a bit of sympathy for those engineers, because regulators have a tendency to pick target numbers out of their ear without considering the design consequences.

In this particular case they don't care about the design consequences. If the answer is "diesel engines are not feasibly going to meet these numbers without a major design change" then "no diesel engines of the current design" is fine.

Sometimes it's different--you don't want "no one can meet drinking water requirements anywhere"--but this is not one of those situations.

n this case, it probably wasn't that the spec was outright impossible, like ours was, so much as that it would be grotesquely difficult and expensive to achieve it. The chance of getting the regulators to reconsider is negligible, and the temptation to lie and cheat must have been overwhelming.

Good. I don't want regulators to allow companies that picked a bad design to spew dirt into the air to help them protect corporate profits. That would both make the air dirtier, and remove the incentive to come up with good designs.

What they did was wrong, but I can understand why they did it.

On some level I do too. I just hope you extend the same level of sympathy to financial managers who make a bad decision then start lying about their accounts. Exact same thing.

I actually think the engineers should get less sympathy, because I view the finance industry as a bunch of hucksters and engineers as an honorable profession devoted to true facts and reporting, but I've been told that's my nerdy bias.
posted by mark k at 9:26 PM on July 25, 2016 [17 favorites]


The chance of getting the regulators to reconsider is negligible, and the temptation to lie and cheat must have been overwhelming.

If "but the temptation was overwhelming!" was a real defense, I think all sorts of moral and ethical issues would have to be reconsidered. Do I really need to list out examples?

Sounds like your engineers did the right thing. Sounds like VW did not. I can't see, in clear conscious, how the engineers can't be at least held somewhat accountable for not whistle blowing this. Superior Orders and all? Very fitting for the People's Car.
posted by alex_skazat at 9:35 PM on July 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


Researchers Who Exposed VW Gain Little Reward From Success

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The scientific detective work that forced Volkswagen into a $15 billion settlement began with a handful of researchers armed with just $70,000.

For years, the research team at West Virginia University, which first noticed big discrepancies in Volkswagen’s diesel emissions, has scrounged for grants and research funding to survive. Only a fraction of its $1.5 million annual budget comes from the university, and that is being cut.

posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:36 PM on July 25, 2016 [57 favorites]


But it sure as hell won't be zero.

"We're not to blame!"

"Then who killed the world?"
posted by mhoye at 9:39 PM on July 25, 2016 [15 favorites]


Their deal with the EPA specifically disallows that.

I've been told the diesel cars will be bought, de-tuned to permanently run in the approved emissions zone with lower performance (acceleration, etc) and then re-sold.

Who will buy them is a completely different question.
posted by GuyZero at 9:47 PM on July 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


They cited the highest fine, imposed against Hyundai/Kia as amounting to “barely $91 per vehicle” and added “fines in this amount are not even remotely capable of influencing the share price of a globally operative company such as Volkswagen.”
Oh man, the public hates this sort of cost benefit analysis when people are being killed; especially when the _cost_ is so minimal.
posted by Mitheral at 9:49 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I agree this is outrageous behavior, but does it really surprise anyone who's been watching the way corporations work? This stuff seems par for the course lately for me. I'm not excusing the behavior, but merely pointing out that the MBAs and bean counters of the world will only fault VW for getting caught.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:58 PM on July 25, 2016 [9 favorites]


I can feel a bit of sympathy for those engineers, because regulators have a tendency to pick target numbers out of their ear without considering the design consequences.

I hear that, but the flipside is that, by cheating, VW fooled regulators into thinking for years that the standards were perfectly achievable. It's like if the whole class cheats on the homework and the teacher is suddenly surprised when everyone fails the exam. There were absolutely consequences to the emissions standards, but we never got to hear what the true compromises were because VW was cheating. And whenever another auto manufacturer complained, everyone could just point to VW and say "they make it work, why can't you?"
posted by zachlipton at 10:01 PM on July 25, 2016 [17 favorites]


They are buying about 500K of the cars back

But not at the original sales price, rather at the market value before the scandal broke.
posted by TedW at 10:01 PM on July 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just so everyone knows, because I wasn't sure from some of the comments, nitrogen oxides cause acid rain, not global warming.
posted by BentFranklin at 10:09 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's like if the whole class cheats on the homework and the teacher is suddenly surprised when everyone fails the exam.

Why is this reminding me of doping in bike riding competitions?

Anyway...I loooove New VW Beetles. Adore them, think they are the cutest, always wanted one, got talked out of it for reasons of practicality. Part of me is all, "whew, dodged this bullet" and the other part is sad I'll never have one now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:10 PM on July 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


Anyway...I loooove New VW Beetles. Adore them, think they are the cutest, always wanted one, got talked out of it for reasons of practicality. Part of me is all, "whew, dodged this bullet" and the other part is sad I'll never have one now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:10 AM on July 26


According to my few friends who have bought one, you're lucky. They both say that their cars (new beetles) are practically constantly having to go back into the dealership for service, which never seems to quite fix the problem. Cute or not, I don't think I'd accept one even if it was free. Merely anecdotal, of course.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:17 PM on July 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


nitrogen oxides cause acid rain

The main culprit for acid rain is traditionally sulfur emissions. Nitrogen oxides do create nitric acid though, as well as ozone, indirectly. But these pollutants aren't killing forests, for example, which was a big problem with sulfuric acid rain did. NOx pollutants are more notable for being directly harmful to humans. The wikipedia article has more.
posted by ryanrs at 10:21 PM on July 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


My wife works in software development--as a software tester. When I first heard about this scandal, my first comment to her was that there is NO WAY the defeat software was the result of just one or two rogue developers.

Software design, development, and testing in a big corp like VW just doesn't happen like that.

Rather, this was CLEARLY the end result of many years of deliberate planning, design, development, and testing. And that means that ALL SORTS of people all up and down the chain of command had to know all about it.

And . . . it looks like it was all that and even more.

This is the sort of thing for which there should be a corporate death penalty. And--in addition--numerous individuals in jail for lengthy periods.

Beyond that, the industry pool of people working on specialized projects like this tends to be a somewhat small, with many professional interconnections with others in the industry working on similar projects. People move from one company to another. They have a sense of what the competition is doing, and how.

If the planning and execution of the defeat devices involved so many people over such a lengthy period of time at VW . . . well, what did these people do when they moved to a different company?

My guess is, they cheated the same way. Why wouldn't they?

This sort of thing becomes the industry standard. Maybe VW is the most egregious example--but surely it isn't the ONLY example. And, uh, it looks like Road and Track agrees with me.

Some real housecleaning needs to be done here.
posted by flug at 10:23 PM on July 25, 2016 [39 favorites]


Why is this reminding me of doping in bike riding competitions?

I don't think it should. TFA is clear that other companies looked at the performance and (supposed) emission numbers for Volkswagen's diesels, scratched their heads and this marvel of engineering they couldn't figure out how to reproduce, and then stopped to trying to sell diesel. Rather than engaging in the same massive fraud that VW did.
posted by mark k at 10:34 PM on July 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


The designer Victor Papanek wrote that "you are responsible for what you put in the world."

Everybody involved in this looked the other way and decided money was more important than doing the right thing. Raze the HQ and sow the ground with salt, a whole lot of high-level execs should be facing jail time for fraud.

I suspect we'll be looking at some minor fines and a couple of feel-good donations, business continues as usual.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:42 PM on July 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


The state of Lower Saxony in Germany owns ~12% of VW. A German friend cited this as the reason that VW will not be censured in Germany.. What a crock. Those execs should all be doing jail time for criminal conspiracy.
posted by benzenedream at 10:45 PM on July 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


But not at the original sales price, rather at the market value before the scandal broke.

No, not market value, trade-in value, which has little relation to what you could actually sell the car for the day before the scandal broke.

Not only trade-in, but trade-in value with a mileage deduction. So if you decided to actually take advantage of the reported high mpg, well, joke's on you.

This buyback settlement is coming on the backs of the people Volkswagen deceived and I encourage all owners of the affected class to write the judge and express your dissatisfaction.

(I do give the government credit for not allowing a "contingent on condition" clause. As I understand it, so long as the car can make it to the dealer under its own power, it qualifies.)
posted by madajb at 10:56 PM on July 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


TFA is clear that other companies looked at the performance and (supposed) emission numbers for Volkswagen's diesels, scratched their heads and this marvel of engineering they couldn't figure out how to reproduce, and then stopped to trying to sell diesel. Rather than engaging in the same massive fraud that VW did.

Or more likely, took apart a few cars, discovered what VW was up to, and decided they didn't want to kick over that rock, lest the governments of the world start looking too closely and discover whatever shenanigans they themselves are up to.
posted by madajb at 11:00 PM on July 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


Just so everyone knows, because I wasn't sure from some of the comments, nitrogen oxides cause acid rain, not global warming.

Yeah, my comment was badly worded because I just got a smartphone for he first time in my life and I'm getting lazy at writing long comments. What I meant to say is that they exploited fears about global warming by selling a car they promised would be more fuel efficient and eco friendly (the ads with the towels behind the exhaust pipe and so on). And then sold a car that directly negatively affected the health of millions of people.
posted by teponaztli at 11:09 PM on July 25, 2016


Or more likely, took apart a few cars, discovered what VW was up to, and decided they didn't want to kick over that rock, lest the governments of the world start looking too closely and discover whatever shenanigans they themselves are up to.

Doesn't seem particularly likely to me. I mean, companies rat each other out and sue to block behaviors for things they are trying to get away with themselves all the time. But rhetorically I probably can't compete with the more-cynical-than-thou gambit.
posted by mark k at 11:19 PM on July 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


While VW should be at risk to no longer exist as a company, when has that kind of result ever happened? I mean, aside from the market shifting away from a company (e.g., Edsel) I don't recall any instance of a company being eliminated by regulatory action.
posted by yesster at 11:20 PM on July 25, 2016


Yesster, Johns-Manville was pretty much annihilated by asbestos lawsuits. Does that count? (A bunch of other companies were severely threatened, and may still die as a result.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:34 PM on July 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Everybody involved in this looked the other way and decided money was more important than doing the right thing.
More likely they decided their rent and food was more important and looked the other way.
Create enough fear and you can get people to do almost anything.

I can't figure out if this is a consequence of the current state of capitalism or the goal.
posted by fullerine at 11:41 PM on July 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle, yes, that does count. Surprising how similar that medical director's comment is to the financial calculus of the VW executives.
posted by yesster at 11:43 PM on July 25, 2016


Johns Manville still exists, and is owned by Berkshire-Hathaway. So, maybe it doesn't count.
posted by yesster at 11:53 PM on July 25, 2016


Before you call for VW to be shut down please consider that they employ over half a million people most of which were not aware of or part of any of this..

I'd rather have the company continue to exist in a publically humiliated and severely punished state. Punish and jail leadership, sure. But don't take it out on the workers just to make a point.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:00 AM on July 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


I've been called overly cynical, but I tend to assume that all companies that big and that powerful I have something this bad to hide.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:05 AM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Corporate structure isn't the same thing as the company, I guess? I'm not sure I can articulate this well.

Yes, keep making cars (in accordance with all regulations).

The physical manufacturing facilities are fine.

The employees are fine.

It is the corporate structure that deserves the punishment. Some of the executives under that corporation should be exposed to prosecution.

It might even be the marquee that needs to go. "Volkswagen" and "VW" are what should be buried and salted.

The manufacturing operations can continue on, under new management.
posted by yesster at 12:10 AM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Practically speaking, it may make little difference, but being forced into bankruptcy isn't the same as revoking their corporate charter.

Instead of changing up some minutia of accounting rules, and prosecution for some executives, who end up paying a light fine, and face little jail time, if any, revoking a corporate charter would break up a corporation, distribute the companies assets and intentionally put them out of business.

It hasn't been used recently, nor on quite such a large scale before, but in extreme cases, like this, Enron, the perpetrators of the 2008 financial crisis (if you could figure out exactly who they were, that is), maybe the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, that a prosecutor could send a very clear signal that terrible behavior by corporations and their executives is simply not acceptable.

One punishment, past monetary fines and potential jail time that doesn't go as far as revocation of corporate charter, but is more exacting, would be for all executives at VW found culpable to find themselves legally unable to "executive" for some period of time. This has precedence in health-care company Theranos, with the owners being prohibited from owning or operating a lab for two years, after controversy arose with their technology.
posted by fragmede at 12:39 AM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Some of the blame needs to be directed at the EPA, which apparently didn't consider the possibility that VW was cheating. Worse, from Flug's link it turns out that European companies are blatantly rigging their tests and that this is a known thing. Surely the EPA should have taken that into account.

Where were the source-code audits? The on-road tests? Even roadside tests would have shown an emissions excess amounting to 40x the permitted limit. Sure, impose fines on VW, but if you're looking for people to sack: fire or demote everyone at the EPA who failed to do their job. And throw money at this West Virginia University team so they can expedite production of portable on-road testing units.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:52 AM on July 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


Instead of changing up some minutia of accounting rules, and prosecution for some executives, who end up paying a light fine, and face little jail time, if any, revoking a corporate charter would break up a corporation, distribute the companies assets and intentionally put them out of business.

Would it help the state more to nationalize VW?
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:55 AM on July 26, 2016


Also in a lungful of dragon's link:
“I still have sleepless nights trying to figure out how I’m going to pay the guys the next pay cycle,” said Dan Carder, director of the university’s Center for Alternative Fuels Engines and Emissions.
$70,000 pays the salary and benefits for one postdoc's time plus a handful of equipment. The stress described by Dan Carder is the situation throughout academic research. Independent science done in the public interest is not free, but it is a really tough market right now to win grants to carry it out. How often, I wonder, do Dan Carder and his colleagues toy with the idea of quitting the academy to go work for companies like VW instead? How many sleepless nights spent worrying about how to keep paying your postdocs' and grad students' salaries before it starts to seem worth it?
posted by biogeo at 1:17 AM on July 26, 2016 [27 favorites]


Jail for these executives. And sued into oblivion. Take them down, Kamala and Loretta.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:41 AM on July 26, 2016


And I live in SoCal. This is personal.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:43 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


B-b-but they told me the free market private sector was self-regulating!
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:12 AM on July 26, 2016 [25 favorites]


If I bought, say, a diamond that turned out to be fake, I would expect the seller to give me a full refund. This is no different.

This is ridiculous hyperbole. It's not the same. You weren't sold a car that turned out not to be a car. It'd be more like if you were sold a 2-carat diamond that turned out to be 1.6-carat, or it was claimed that it was cut to 506 faces when it's actually cut to 440.


If this demonstrates anything, it's a need for much better, closer to real-world emissions tests. And that corporations are incredibly effective at extracting souls from the people they employ.
posted by Dysk at 2:44 AM on July 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


I wonder how long until some “free-market conservative” asserts that our society is based on Personal Responsibility (something something not Soviet Russia/Communist France), and if you don't want to die of asthma/cancer/heart disease from diesel fumes (I mean, even if such things were proven, and of course, the science is still out), it's your responsibility to buy a filter mask and wear it at all times.
posted by acb at 3:24 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Where were the source-code audits?

One of my favourite things about the Trans-Pacific Partnership is that it expressly prohibits source code audits by preventing member states requiring access to the source code of imported products (Article 14.17; other similar "free trade" agreements tend to have the same kind of provisions). So any government that wants to do a source code audit on other car manufacturers had better hurry!
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:29 AM on July 26, 2016 [24 favorites]


This is particularly galling for me, since I'm a huge car guy, pollution notwithstanding. So within my group of friends and family, I'm the putative car advice guy and one of the biggest recommendations that I've been passing down for years are the various VW TDIs. While not quite as (anecdatally) reliable as some Honda products, I find that their longevity and superior gas mileage more than make up for that. Now I'm not quite sure how to apologize to you folks, but yeah, I'm very sorry. Goddamn you Volkswagen.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 3:40 AM on July 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


VWs have long had a reputation in northern Europe at least for holding their value better than almost any other comparable car in any given segment. A lot of people's financial calculations are going to be hit with a big resale value markdown.
posted by Dysk at 4:01 AM on July 26, 2016


I remember hearing about how 50-60 years ago US dealerships, because of their lagging sales, begged Mercedes to add air conditioning to their cars; and how Mercedes kept refusing --- basically "we don't need it here in Germany, so you don't need it either". The dealerships only managed to finally get the idea through to Mercedes when they got a bunch of company bigwigs into the US, and drove them, in an un-airconditioned Mercedes, through Texas, Arizona and New Mexico for a week in mid-summer....

It sounds like decades later, VW has that same corporate attitude of "We're German engineers, so shut up and genuflect when you take whatever we feel like giving you". VW didn't make the 2001 concept Microbus a reality because while it would have sold in the US, it probably wouldn't do well in Germany; and how for the longest time they saw no reason to even add cupholders, for crying out loud. And while the US had emissions laws, those silly laws weren't German, so they didn't matter.
posted by easily confused at 4:55 AM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the notion that a handful of rogue developers could pull something like this off is risible. Even assuming that their development practices have really high segmentation (e.g. the guy writing the piece that detects whether the car is running in a test environment has never talked to the guy writing the piece dynamically controlling fuel-air mix or whatever, and there's a third guy whose job it is to connect the two pieces together without understanding how either one does its job, which is catastrophically expensive to the company because everything takes five times as long to connect into a final product), everyone's pulling from the same source repository. If you want to keep your developers in the dark about the horrible end-product they're contributing to, you'd have to do something insane like maintain a separate, hidden build environment that behaves differently from what all of your developers are using.

In summary, VW is contending that a handful of software architects decided, against corporate orders, to install and maintain a wildly expensive and byzantine hardware and software setup to defraud millions of customers. Since corporate didn't know about it, these architects weren't paid any extra for doing so, and in fact were all at risk of being fired or prosecuted for their grievous misuse of resources.

You'll have to pardon my skepticism, senior VW exec.
posted by Mayor West at 4:57 AM on July 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'd like to point out that this was an effective large scale conspiracy lasting more than a decade involving lots of people. Every time someone trots out the notion that conspiracies are not possible because it would require too many people to be dishonest they need to hit them with examples like this. Large long term conspiracies are possible.
posted by srboisvert at 5:49 AM on July 26, 2016 [15 favorites]


One of my favourite things about the Trans-Pacific Partnership is that it expressly prohibits source code audits by preventing member states requiring access to the source code of imported products (Article 14.17; other similar "free trade" agreements tend to have the same kind of provisions). So any government that wants to do a source code audit on other car manufacturers had better hurry!

yes - this is totally why this is in a free trade deal. You got it.

This was VW engineering arrogance not being able to accept the fact they made a bad bet on diesel. Of any Eurostoxx 50 company Volkswagen is hands down the least shareholder friendly. Not only is the supervisory board by definition 50/50 Labor/Capital as in all German companies, but the capital component is controlled by Lower Saxony, the Piech family and Qatar. None of whom give a fuck about what Anglo Saxon capitalists think.

I mean fine the hell outta these guys, send them to prison, all those things - but recognize why this happened.
posted by JPD at 6:09 AM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is ridiculous hyperbole. It's not the same. You weren't sold a car that turned out not to be a car. It'd be more like if you were sold a 2-carat diamond that turned out to be 1.6-carat, or it was claimed that it was cut to 506 faces when it's actually cut to 440.


No, you were sold something the *opposite* of what it was claimed to be. If that mattered to you--if you bought it because you thought it was good for the environment per the core marketing campaign--you are in worse shape than the person with the cut rate diamond.

It'd be like a vegetarian finding their tasty soy crisps were actually kitten jerky or something. You can't just say, "sure, higher in fat than we said but basically food, what's the problem?"

To me, without the eco marketing campaign, it'd be mostly a crime against the regulators and I'd be willing to look at the consumer damage the way you describe. With it though the fraud level against the consumer is massive.
posted by mark k at 6:09 AM on July 26, 2016 [20 favorites]


In summary, VW is contending that a handful of software architects decided, against corporate orders, to install and maintain a wildly expensive and byzantine hardware and software setup to defraud millions of customers. Since corporate didn't know about it, these architects weren't paid any extra for doing so, and in fact were all at risk of being fired or prosecuted for their grievous misuse of resources.

There is evidence Piech knew about it.
posted by JPD at 6:10 AM on July 26, 2016


No, you were sold something the *opposite* of what it was claimed to be. If that mattered to you--if you bought it because you thought it was good for the environment per the core marketing campaign--you are in worse shape than the person with the cut rate diamond.

It'd be like a vegetarian finding their tasty soy crisps were actually kitten jerky or something. You can't just say, "sure, higher in fat than we said but basically food, what's the problem?"

To me, without the eco marketing campaign, it'd be mostly a crime against the regulators and I'd be willing to look at the consumer damage the way you describe. With it though the fraud level against the consumer is massive.


That logic doesn't really make any sense, as anyone who bought any car thought it was hitting the NOx standard. The argument here is that in order to fix the cars to hit the NOx standard you need to reduce its combination of power and fuel efficiency, things you specifically selected this model for.
posted by JPD at 6:12 AM on July 26, 2016


If I bought, say, a diamond that turned out to be fake, I would expect the seller to give me a full refund. This is no different.

But the owners did get the use of the cars for those years (at least when they weren't in the shop). I can see the logic in compensating owners for the loss in value that occurred when the fraud became public (though no help for owners of other VW models that probably dropped in value as well), but I'd like to see the big payout going to the government, which is going to have to bear the costs of the additional pollution and regulatory issues
posted by Dip Flash at 6:15 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


That logic doesn't really make any sense, as anyone who bought any car thought it was hitting the NOx standard. The argument here is that in order to fix the cars to hit the NOx standard you need to reduce its combination of power and fuel efficiency, things you specifically selected this model for.

No, that's telling the consumer that all that matters is the car itself and they shouldn't care about the environment. If I'm an eco-conscious type, finding that I've been driving around for the last five years actively polluting and harming my city is *way* worse than being told my car is going to have somewhat degraded performance.

I'm sure many consumers don't actually care as much as I would. But clearly VW thought many of them do care, which is why they made it central to marketing. I'd say let them eat the loss whenever a consumer says there are injuries beyond just the loss in 'objective' car value.
posted by mark k at 6:23 AM on July 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


As a side note I love my Volkswagen and am getting ready to purchase another. I hope that they don't go out of business before I've had the chance.
posted by damnitkage at 6:43 AM on July 26, 2016


Harm to workers is bad, but allowing this sort of thing to go unchecked is vastly worse.

Volkswagen deserves the corporate death penalty. Revoke its charter, force a sell off of all goods. Use some of that to give the employees a year or two of salary so they can get a new job.

I'd also like to see every single person in management who was involved banned from management for life, or at least ten or fifteen years. None of this "oh, well, you can't be an executive for two years" business. Screw that. There are people doing more than two years in prison for having a few grams of crack. What the executives did was worse. Strip them of their assets (again, use some of that to pay their employees for a year or two) make them poor, and let them flip burgers for their living. They proved that they can't be trusted to be rich executives so don't let them be that anymore.

Wealth is a privilege. Being an executive is a privilege. Neither are rights. Take away their money, their homes, their jewelry, all that, sell it at auction, and ban them from being management. Not even management at a fast food joint. They can't even be salaried anymore, pure hourly labor only.

That's what should happen. Instead what will happen is that VW will get a slap on the wrist fine, the executives will get massive bonuses, and we'll go on letting corporate scumbags rule the world and hurt us all with no penalty.
posted by sotonohito at 6:45 AM on July 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


I'm a little bitter, because I considered buying a VW TDI about a month before the scandal broke and they stopped sales of the diesels. Buying right then would have been financially a great decision given the buyback offer that was announced, but obviously I had no foresight about this and decided not to buy it because my current vehicle was running fine, and because of the reliability concerns about VWs. My logic was sound and it was the right decision with what I knew at the time, but I'd be feeling more flush if I had chosen otherwise.

And I agree that in addition to the financial penalties, it would be nice to see at least a few executives facing prosecution. But I'd hope that it would be high executives, not the junior engineers and programmers who were told to implement this.

It's come up before in previous discussions of this here, but I have to suspect that various forms of cheating on emissions and mileage tests must be rampant and largely ignored. The article someone linked above described a number of recent cases that have come to light, and undoubtedly a serious investigation would turn up many more.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:51 AM on July 26, 2016


No, that's telling the consumer that all that matters is the car itself and they shouldn't care about the environment. If I'm an eco-conscious type, finding that I've been driving around for the last five years actively polluting and harming my city is *way* worse than being told my car is going to have somewhat degraded performance.

That logic makes sense if you were being told its NOx emissions were significantly lower than the standard, but they weren't saying that. The sale was "You can have your cake (low fuel consumption) and eat it too (power)" in a legal manner.
posted by JPD at 6:51 AM on July 26, 2016


It's come up before in previous discussions of this here, but I have to suspect that various forms of cheating on emissions and mileage tests must be rampant and largely ignored. The article someone linked above described a number of recent cases that have come to light, and undoubtedly a serious investigation would turn up many more.

That's actually one of the best details of how they go caught. The assumption in the industry has always been that the engines are optimized for the tests, i.e. in the RPM bands/operating conditions where the tests are run the engines perform to standards, while once you punch the gas and get higher up into the revs and drive for performance the actually performance is significantly worse than advertised. The WVU guys were trying to prove that. Instead they discovered the fraud was even more cynical and involved the defeat devices.
posted by JPD at 6:54 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


The cars cannot be exported unless the emissions are fixed. Per Appendix A of the Partial Consent Decree [pdf], page 9:
7.2.3. Sale and Export of Returned Vehicles. [...] Settling Defendants may not export or arrange for the export of 2.0 Liter Subject Vehicles, unless such vehicle has been modified in accordance with the applicable Approved Emissions Modification pursuant to the terms of Appendix B of this Consent Decree.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:55 AM on July 26, 2016


*raises hand*

Um, isn't biodiesel a thing? Couldn't the various groups work out some kind of "institute nationwide biodiesel fueling stations and we'll call it even"?
posted by petebest at 7:06 AM on July 26, 2016


yes - this is totally why this is in a free trade deal. You got it.

Why the sarcasm? It doesn't matter why that provision is in the TPP; the fact is that it would preclude any member state from requiring source code audits as a condition for market access. Here's a discussion of Article 14.17 in the context of the Volkswagen thing. Obviously the TPP didn't have anything to do with Volkswagen's defeat device, because the TPP isn't in force yet and Germany isn't part of it.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:08 AM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


the reason why you don't want to allow countries to audit source codes is because all countries have a history of stealing IP for their national champions.
posted by JPD at 7:11 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


And this, folks, is why Paris reeks of diesel fumes, or did when I was there.
posted by ocschwar at 7:20 AM on July 26, 2016


I'd like to point out that this was an effective large scale conspiracy lasting more than a decade involving lots of people. Every time someone trots out the notion that conspiracies are not possible because it would require too many people to be dishonest they need to hit them with examples like this. Large long term conspiracies are possible.

I mean, we're talking, what, dozens, a few hundred people at most? When people point out that the wackiest fringe conspiracy theories involve an implausible large number of people successfully orchestrating a lie with no mistakes or leaks, they're generally referring to conspiracy theories that would involve many tens of thousands of conspirators, e.g., 9-11 trutherism. No one doubts that conspiracies on the scale of dozens-to-hundreds are possible -- they're in the news and a matter of undisputed public record on a pretty regular basis.
posted by biogeo at 7:25 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


the reason why you don't want to allow countries to audit source codes is because all countries have a history of stealing IP for their national champions.

Who gives a shit what the reason is? The purpose of a system is what it does.
posted by enn at 7:41 AM on July 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


Something to remember is that VW doesn't make all of their engine computers by themselves. There are second-party manufacturers like Bosch and Continental that do a lot of this work for all of the carmakers worldwide.

Bosch seems to gently distancing themselves from the VW deal, but I bet they'll eventually get a huge audit as well. This is far from over.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:43 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


the reason why you don't want to allow countries to audit source codes is because all countries have a history of stealing IP for their national champions.

I'm okay with that if the only alternative is forcing regulators to treat any software system as a black box that does exactly what the manufacturer claims it does, because that leads directly to situations like this.

I doubt that's the only alternative, and if the TPP had been negotiated with a reasonable degree of transparency maybe someone would have come up with a better way. I mean, gambling machine manufacturers have to deal with source code audits (because gambling regulation is much more serious than emissions control, of course) and they have adapted. But here we are.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:47 AM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Ugh. Enough with the bluster and fanfic.

Literally the worst case scenario is VW exits the American market. VW isn't going to shut down, nor is it going to send its executives to American prison. North America's not a tiny market for them, but they could live without it.
posted by effugas at 7:52 AM on July 26, 2016


the reason why you don't want to allow countries to audit source codes is because all countries have a history of stealing IP for their national champions.


No. They don't.

Because trade secrets are not intellectual property.

Intellectual property is a legal construct, in the form of patents, copyrights, and international reciprocity of patents and copyrights, and its purpose is to discourage reliance on trade secrets.

One of the biggest neoliberal usurpations of the last half century is to try to turn trade secrets into a form of property. Don't be party to this. Trade secrets are a necessary evil, but they should never be a justification for things like letting companies get away with poisoning the environment with (for example) fracking fluids or antibiotic resistant bacteria (in both cases companies use trade secret claims to avoid scrutiny), or unsafe X ray machines (recall Rapiscan), or now the fuel-injected diesel engine.
posted by ocschwar at 7:52 AM on July 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


We should outlaw close source software outright actually. I've previously suggested this should be done merely by making the copyright that compiled code derives from the source code contingent upon publishing the source code, but maybe we should employ stronger legal measures, given that some source code appears to be hiding serious crimes against millions of people.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:53 AM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


As for the engineering here, it was certainly not a few rogue engineers, but it couldn't have been a company wide initiative because then it would have leaked. Think of it as there was probably some sort of ... shall we say ... localization group. Each market requires some tuning. There was a group that did that tuning for North America. Yes, they needed to have proper engineering practices for testing purposes, but nobody needed to know anything more than "put this in US SKU's".

I'm not sure it was even hardware? Sounds like it was just software. Not that vehicles don't have region specific hardware (catalytic converters, etc).
posted by effugas at 7:57 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it was code that told the NOx control technology when to turn on and when to sit down and shut up, as it were. "Defeat device" is a term of art from the EPA rules that applies to any component of a product that exists to circumvent emissions standards.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:04 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]



Literally the worst case scenario is VW exits the American market. VW isn't going to shut down, nor is it going to send its executives to American prison. North America's not a tiny market for them, but they could live without it.


No, they have a much worse case in front of them. European cities are escalating the "war on cars" now.

Expect car-free altstadt quarters to be expanded. Expect driverless sundays. Expect lane reductions. Parking restrictions. More stringent inspections.

And since Europe leads the world in showcasing what the upper class good life should look like, they can expect populations in emerging nations to stop seeing a family car as the thing to aspire to. The Chinese already flat out copied an entire Austrian village down to the last beam. Imagine millions of Chinese tourists visiting European cities and coming back with the idea that the good life means living in a Huotong (sp?). Kiss the Chinese car market goodbye.
posted by ocschwar at 8:06 AM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


So VW is reimbursing owners, but will they paying some sort of fine/restitution for everyone else stuck with the externalities? Several billion dollars that can only be used on active transportation projects would be a good start.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:12 AM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


The settlement already announced includes paying $2.7 billion into an "environmental trust" whose purpose will be to remediate the effects of high NOx emissions, and a separate $2 billion to support "zero emissions vehicle infrastructure, access and awareness initiatives." And that's before any direct Clean Air Act fines have been decided.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:19 AM on July 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wow, color me pleasantly surprised. The cynic in me is guessing the zero-emissions vehicle money is going to be spent on electric cars and not bicycles, though.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:21 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


European cities are escalating the "war on cars" now.

Expect car-free altstadt quarters to be expanded. Expect driverless sundays. Expect lane reductions. Parking restrictions. More stringent inspections.


In places like the US and Australia, this could backfire, further feeding a right-wing culture war (“We're not like the decadent prosperity-hating socialist Europeans, we believe in the freedom to drive!”), resulting in NSW-style anti-cycling laws and politicians taking Rob Ford-style photo opportunities tearing up bike lanes.
posted by acb at 8:42 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


To me, this just proves that VW has had the best engineers. Now that the jig is up, they can put that talent to work on other problems...

It won't deter me from buying another VW, when my GTI dies.
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 8:42 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


ocschwar,

Orthogonal. A general decline in the vehicle market is its own problem. The point is that the worst case scenario from *violating American policies* is eliminating exposure to them, not this florid other stuff. Notably, it's not like the Asbestos situation, where you could point at specific dead people.
posted by effugas at 8:47 AM on July 26, 2016


VW has the best engineers money can buy (off).
posted by benzenedream at 8:49 AM on July 26, 2016


(It'd be pretty damn expensive to abandon America, so it does make sense to spend tens of billions, but shut down the company? Hahahahhahahahahahahahhaa no.)
posted by effugas at 8:50 AM on July 26, 2016


I'd like to point out that this was an effective large scale conspiracy lasting more than a decade involving lots of people. Every time someone trots out the notion that conspiracies are not possible because it would require too many people to be dishonest they need to hit them with examples like this. Large long term conspiracies are possible.

I mean, we're talking, what, dozens, a few hundred people at most?


The other factor to consider when you are trying gauge the "size" of this conspiracy is that engineers are not lawyers, and wouldn't necessarily know that what they were being asked to implement was illegal.

I used to work as a software engineer in a highly regulated industry. Some of the requirements of our systems were dictated by strict governmental regulations, but many were just based on sales/marketing data about customer preferences or manufacturing ease or whatnot. When I started, there wasn't a good sense of why things were required, which led to situations where, say, engineering managers would modify/drop requirements that they saw as unnecessary only to lead to fuckups/problems down the road.

It took a pretty big internal culture shift (and a LOT of new procedures) to get things set up so that product specifications were properly traced to their source, so that engineering knew who to talk to about the whys. Which is when I started getting more involved with the regulatory side of things and acting in a "translator" role.

The point of this story is that when Engineering sees a requirement like:
When in "emissions test mode" enable the running parameters that will produce the least emissions/When in "normal mode" enable the running parameters that will produce the best performance.
The engineers might be completely ignorant of the fact that this is a "defeat device." If they think about the Whys at all, maybe they just assume that the purpose of emissions testing is to verify that the car is capable of running with very low emissions, not that it does so on a regular basis.

Sure, there had to be people (even engineers) within VW who knew what was actually going on... but it didn't need to be that many.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:51 AM on July 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


FWIW, I *loved* my 1999 Passat ( gasoline ) wagon. Finally died last year. 17 years from new to junkyard.
posted by mikelieman at 9:02 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


sparklemotion,

That must have been quite the clusterfuck. Wow. Did someone die, get fired, or suffer a 7+ figure fine?
posted by effugas at 9:22 AM on July 26, 2016


But the owners did get the use of the cars for those years (at least when they weren't in the shop).

If someone sold you a kit car, but told you it was a Ferrari, would you be ok with "Well, you drove it for 5 years and didn't notice, so here's half your money back"?
Somehow I doubt it.
posted by madajb at 10:01 AM on July 26, 2016


That must have been quite the clusterfuck. Wow. Did someone die, get fired, or suffer a 7+ figure fine?

Yes.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:03 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]



Orthogonal. A general decline in the vehicle market is its own problem. The point is that the worst case scenario from *violating American policies* is eliminating exposure to them, not this florid other stuff.


The reason they were caught violating American policies is that the EU was so wholly invested in turbodiesel that they made a conscious choice not to look too closely at engine emissions.

The USA, in the meantime, is invested in the Daimler engine for family sedans, and was thus far more inclined to regulate these emissions and look at compliance.

This willful blindness on the EU side is a direct contributor to the heinous smog that engulfed Paris and Milan in recent summers. While what WV did in the USA gets them in legal problems, what they did in Europe has gotten them in a political bind that will result in even worse legal problems in the future.
posted by ocschwar at 10:08 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Maybe this is old news here, but I just found out I can buy an aftermarket computer for my puny car that makes it go faster quicker.

The base model is all shiny anodized aluminum and big ass logos, to look cool when you have your hood open at a car meet.

For an extra $80 I can get one that looks just like the stock computer, with a quick way to set it to factory mode. For when you go get smog tested and the fun hating government decides to look under the hood of your lowered, spoilered, stickered, racing seat having commuter car.

I also found out that in my specific car, some undocumented read only values from the common bus are actually writeable. Brb, building an ODB shield for an arduino.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 10:17 AM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


The counter argument is that because none of the US producers ever succeeded at even coming close to producing a usable diesel light vehicle US standards are easier on other emissions and harder on diesel specific emissions.
posted by JPD at 10:20 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


It'd be like a vegetarian finding their tasty soy crisps were actually kitten jerky or something. You can't just say, "sure, higher in fat than we said but basically food, what's the problem?"

No, you bought a car with emissions, you got a car with emissions. It'd be like your soy crisps being advertised as low fat and actually having a high fat content. Nobody was sold anything fundamentally different to what they thought they were buying, it's just a matter of numbers, of degree, not a difference of kind.
posted by Dysk at 10:35 AM on July 26, 2016


The engineers might be completely ignorant of the fact that this is a "defeat device." If they think about the Whys at all, maybe they just assume that the purpose of emissions testing is to verify that the car is capable of running with very low emissions, not that it does so on a regular basis.

Disciplined Minds. Check out episodes 176 to 201 of the Unwelcome Guest archive for a reading (second hour each episode, I think).
posted by Chuckles at 10:45 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Or just watch CUBE.
posted by Chuckles at 10:46 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


petebest Um, isn't biodiesel a thing? Couldn't the various groups work out some kind of "institute nationwide biodiesel fueling stations and we'll call it even"?

Only if you think biodiesel is a **good** thing, and a lot of environmentalists and energy experts don't.

You can get biodiesel from waste products, bu it costs a lot in purification, and there really aren't that many waste products that yield a lot of biodiesel.

Which brings us back to the ethanol problem. You'd have to start devoting farmland to fuel production, and we're just barely feeding the planet on current farmland. I'd say that asking VW to invest heavily in biodiesel as a penalty wouldn't really gain us much.
posted by sotonohito at 11:18 AM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


it's just a matter of numbers, of degree, not a difference of kind.

Would it not be fair to say that VW marketed these cars as having next-generation diesel technology ("TDI™ Clean Diesel", as the post-2013 cars were trademarked)?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:27 AM on July 26, 2016


If there's one thing I learned from this thread, it's that while you can find a fairly accurate car analogy for almost any situation, the reverse is almost certainly not true.
posted by bizwank at 11:33 AM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


This doesn't really prove much about the ability of big companies to conspire over long periods of time, because it wasn't managed as a conspiracy. The requirement was "make it so this car can pass emissions tests" and that's exactly what they did. The engineers weren't asked to fake results or disguise system failures or anything else that would have twinged their conscience or gave them something to rat on the company to get their son off the hook when arrested for dealing drugs (or whatever the German equivalent of having an incentive to inform is.)
posted by MattD at 11:36 AM on July 26, 2016


Would it not be fair to say that VW marketed these cars as having next-generation diesel technology ("TDI™ Clean Diesel", as the post-2013 cars were trademarked)?

Yeah, which would be equivalent to magically Low Fat crisps, when in actual fact the crisps have a higher than usual fat content for crisps.
posted by Dysk at 11:48 AM on July 26, 2016


If only we had an emissions market. Finding the price of the additional illegal emissions and punitively trebling it for the willful deceit. On top of paying fines for the laws they broke and making the owners whole. Which would be 120-150% of their losses, because the car they were sold cannot exist at the price/performance ratio so the customers will have to spend much more to end up with specs they were sold on.
posted by 6ATR at 12:06 PM on July 26, 2016


A grad student is surveying perceptions of VW in the US and Germany following Dieselghazi*. You can participate!

Via Green Car Congress, which has some terrific coverage of this story. This backgrounder on VW's 2.0l diesel engine at the center of the scandal is a must read.

----------------
*Dieselgate? Diexit?
posted by notyou at 12:38 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


This doesn't really prove much about the ability of big companies to conspire over long periods of time, because it wasn't managed as a conspiracy. The requirement was "make it so this car can pass emissions tests" and that's exactly what they did. The engineers weren't asked to fake results or disguise system failures or anything else that would have twinged their conscience or gave them something to rat on the company to get their son off the hook when arrested for dealing drugs (or whatever the German equivalent of having an incentive to inform is.)

They did fake the electronic log output, didn't they? I mean, what's the innocent explanation for that? But it's a good question exactly how many people could see the whole picture, knew they were doing something illegal, thought they were doing something wrong etc. Is my interpretation mistaken that they did meet standards in [many places in] Europe where the environmental tradeoffs of diesel are more accepted? So if the engineers were thinking "these American regulations are crazy but what they don't know won't hurt them..."
posted by atoxyl at 1:39 PM on July 26, 2016


Before you call for VW to be shut down please consider that they employ over half a million people most of which were not aware of or part of any of this..

You manage this much like Obama managed the bankruptcy of GM.

1. Fire the management responsible (and while your're at it, fine them and send them to jail)
2. Wipe out the shareholders and their ill-gotten gains
3. Give a haircut to the bondholders for their ill-gotten gains
4. Put in new management, get the company running again, and sell the company back to the public.

Most of the employees keep their jobs and the company continues to produce (EPA compliant) cars.
posted by JackFlash at 1:45 PM on July 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


Is my interpretation mistaken that they did meet standards in [many places in] Europe where the environmental tradeoffs of diesel are more accepted?

By which I mean - the deal with diesel is that you get high fuel efficiency at the cost of NOx/particulate emissions which are harmful to people in the local area, right? The idea that this is an okay trade seems to be kind of grandfathered in much of Europe but not in the U.S. So if the cheat was for the U.S. market and the technical people could convince themselves that we (in the U.S.) were the ones being unreasonable about the issue I could see them finding a way to be okay with it.
posted by atoxyl at 1:53 PM on July 26, 2016


Is my interpretation mistaken that they did meet standards in [many places in] Europe where the environmental tradeoffs of diesel are more accepted?

Yes, the European standards are looser to favor diesels, but VW still could only pass the lower standards with defeat software. It is not just a U.S. standards issue.

But that is still no ethical excuse for violating U.S. standards. The laws are what they are. VW's entire marketing shtick was that they could produce diesels that were clean enough even for the U.S. VW and other European car manufacturers were also making gasoline cars that met U.S. standards. VW tried to sell the idea that you could get higher mileage and cleaner air with diesels at the same time. That was a marketing lie.
posted by JackFlash at 2:13 PM on July 26, 2016


Of course it's unethical I was just theorizing about how people in the company might have been able to justify it to themselves. But if there were cheating everywhere that might not even hold up.
posted by atoxyl at 2:56 PM on July 26, 2016


sparklemotion, thank you! I feel like vilifying the entire engineering department for solving a prickly engineering problem is misguided vitriol. Even as a consumer I could get behind an ECU that automatically ensured I passed emissions testing but delivered better performance on the road... sure, maybe I'd like to have it selectable by an option within VAG-Com.
posted by a halcyon day at 3:04 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


The WVU lab that tested the vehicles on the road was hired by a Euro/International enviro group called the International Council on Clean Transportation to test the NA Volkswagens. A spokesperson for that group theorized in an interview with NPR about how engineers and others could do something so egregiously wrong:
"You take a little step, you don't get caught. So yeah, you take another little step," he says. "And then maybe you don't even realize how far over the line you are."
Elsewhere the spokesperson notes how wide the conspiracy must be to work: VW would need one set of engineers to write the cheat device code and another set to come up with the test to validate it. And since VW gets its ECU from an outside vendor (Bosch)... other organizations might be involved, too (interesting discussion of some of the issues involving Bosch and the emissions testing regime, here).

--------------------
Digging around the ICCT's website turned up a document called the Napa Statements on Motor Vehicle Policy from 2003, which spells out the org's advocacy goals. Under the Diesel subhead:
M. As new vehicle standards are introduced, special attention must be paid
to ensure that these vehicles are not equipped with defeat devices that prevent
attainment of the same emission levels in-use as in the laboratory. Similar
attention must be paid to prevent an aftermarket in defeat devices.
Probably can go ahead and tick that one as "Done."
posted by notyou at 3:31 PM on July 26, 2016


Even as a consumer I could get behind an ECU that automatically ensured I passed emissions testing but delivered better performance on the road... sure, maybe I'd like to have it selectable by an option within VAG-Com.

The latest VW ECUs are tough to crack, apparently, but consumer market devices like you describe exist. Here's one for the 2015 GTI. Previous editions allowed map selection via headlight stalk buttons, iirc. I considered purchasing one, but decided against following the emissions scandal. I shouldn't be making the world's air dirtier.

However, I did buy and install an ECU tuner for my previous car, a Subaru WRX. That car passed the standard California emissions test twice without resetting the ECU tune to "stock," (which was as simple as reconnecting to the OBD-II socket), so while it was likely the car emitted more crud than it would have without the tune, it nevertheless complied with the law.
posted by notyou at 3:47 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Gas engines and diesel engines have pretty big differences in terms of how much particulate matter they put out even when tuned away from emissions standards - like a difference of a couple orders of magnitude. So your ECU tuned WRX is still nowhere near a diesel, even one operating normally much less performance tuned.
posted by GuyZero at 3:52 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is my interpretation mistaken that they did meet standards in [many places in] Europe where the environmental tradeoffs of diesel are more accepted?

I don't know if it's "more accepted" than just different priorities.
EU standards are more restrictive on CO and CO2 emissions, the US is more strict on NOX and PM (Particulate matter).
It's my understanding that the US is driven by smog concerns (In California, CARB especially is focused on this, and CARB determines by default a lot of US standards) with the EU more focused on greenhouse gas and global warming concerns.
posted by madajb at 4:59 PM on July 26, 2016


The engineers weren't asked to fake results

No indeed, that was the ECU's job.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:59 PM on July 26, 2016


Diesels are more efficient per gram of CO2, but the difference is extremely small. For example, a gas Golf produces 300 grams per mile, while a diesel Golf produces 297. People get confused because a gallon of diesel contains more energy than a gallon of gasoline, but it also emits more carbon when burned. Which shouldn't be surprising, the energy is all contained in carbon chains that have to be oxidized in order to produce heat.
posted by miyabo at 9:34 PM on July 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


Looks like all diesels pollute much more when driven in the real world
All vehicles tested except one met the legislative limit of 80 mg/km of NOx over the less demanding NEDC cycle. Most EGR- and SCR-equipped vehicles performed better than LNT-equipped vehicles over the WLTC, but their average emissions were still far higher than those over the NEDC (by a factor of 2.3 for EGR-equipped vehicles and 2.8 for SCR-equipped vehicles). The same factor was 8.0 for the average of all LNT-equipped vehicles....The study appears as the European Commission is about to propose emissions limit multipliers that will apply to the new on-road vehicle emissions tests.
The older 4 cylinder VW diesels used LNT (Lean NOx Trap) which doesn't require periodically adding diesel exhaust fluid (urea) for SCR (selective catalytic reduction). Looks like the VWs that do use DEF don't consume it as fast as they should when not on the test cycle. Convenience!
posted by morganw at 10:15 PM on July 26, 2016


notyou: "However, I did buy and install an ECU tuner for my previous car, a Subaru WRX. That car passed the standard California emissions test twice without resetting the ECU tune to "stock," (which was as simple as reconnecting to the OBD-II socket), so while it was likely the car emitted more crud than it would have without the tune, it nevertheless complied with the law."

While a chipped car (or really any engine or emission related modification) will often pass a garage sniffer test it's unknown whether it actually maintains mandated emission limits. The garage test is more to determine if the system components are functioning rather than determining regulatory compliance. You see this misunderstanding in enthusiast forums all the time. And in California if it didn't have a CARB number it wasn't legal regardless of test results.
posted by Mitheral at 10:48 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


These revenge fantasies are just that: pure fantasies. VW is not going away, especially when the German state of Lower Saxony owns 20% of the capital stock. Germany even has a "VW Law". That's a lot of skin for a government to have in this game.

I'm not sure what's worse -- VW cheating consumers and regulators, or the naivete that had to precede it. The whole clean diesel story stunk to high heaven from the beginning. How else do you explain the flat (or rising!) emissions in European cities in spite of the fact the fleet is more modern than ever? Or that competitors tried and failed to replicate VW's "success" and gave up because it was "too hard"? And look at the driving cycles. Look at all the loopholes in the emissions certifications. It's a joke all around. This is a game of interests. The United States protects its interests, and the European Union protects its.

VW is not alone. They simply flew too close to the sun and got caught. Believe me, there are others. That doesn't excuse it, and I'm not an apologist for VW -- they will feel the pain and this will likely shape their corporate culture for the next couple of decades (the company finally has a compliance officer!).

But if you want this shit to change, then hold the feet of your elected officials to the fire and lobby for emissions standards with actual teeth, or fight to get rid of cars entirely. They're going to have to mostly disappear at some point anyway, it might as well be sooner.
posted by rhombus at 1:20 PM on July 27, 2016


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