Ethics In Engineering: Volkswagen’s Diesel Fiasco

Every so often – and usually not under the best of circumstance – the field of engineering as a whole is presented with a teaching moment. Volkswagen is currently embroiled in a huge scandal involving emissions testing of 11 Million diesel cars sold in recent years. It’s a problem that could cost VW dearly, to the tune of eighteen Billion dollars in the US alone, and will, without a doubt, end the careers of more than a few Volkswagen employees. In terms of automotive scandals, this is bigger than Unsafe at Any Speed. This is a bigger scandal than the Ford Pinto’s proclivity to explode. This is engineering history in the making, and an enormously teachable moment for ethics in engineering.

Diesel and the Clean Air Act

Cars with diesel engines are far less common in the US as compared to Europe, and the reason for this is not as simple as fuel costs or simple preference. Diesel fuel contains more energy than an equivalent volume of gasoline, which translates to more miles per gallon. This comes at a cost, though: while gasoline engines emit more carbon dioxide, diesel engines emit far more nitrogen oxides (NOx) than their gas-sipping counterparts.

While diesel automobiles make up one third of the passenger vehicle fleet in Europe, they make up barely a fraction of cars on US roads. This comes down to a difference in environmental regulation. Since the introduction of the US Clean Air Act of 1970, NOx emissions have been under tighter controls than CO₂ emissions. In Europe, CO₂ is more tightly controlled than NOx. It’s a simple consequence of regulation that diesel cars would be more popular in Europe than the US.

TDIs and West Virginia University

Sales of Volkswagen diesels have been on the rise in the US in the last few years, despite this more stringent regulation. ‘Clean diesel’ is a goal for the industry, and a European non-profit, the International Council for Clean Transportation, got in touch with researchers at the Center for Alternative Fuels and Engine Emissions (CAFEE) at West Virginia University. The question of how Volkswagen was able to produce a diesel engine in compliance with US regulations was high on the list of priorities, and the team was well-equipped to test Passats, Jettas, and Golfs in real-world conditions.

Despite passing emissions tests required by the US government, CAFEE found these engines were out of compliance. This apparent discontinuity can be brought to light by examining how diesel emissions are measured. An EPA notice of violation explains this was done by a bit of code functioning as a ‘defeat device’ that would sense when the vehicle was under test. Software installed in the electronic control module (ECM) would detect when the car was undergoing emissions testing by reading, “various inputs including the position of the steering wheel, vehicle speed, the duration of the engine’s operation, and barometric pressure.” Under these conditions, the ECM would use a different ‘map’ that would reduce torque and NOx emissions. Under normal conditions – when the vehicle was not being tested for emissions – a separate ‘map’ would be used that would increase acceleration, torque, or fuel economy. CAFEE was able to determine this because of a portable testing rig; instead of testing emissions in a garage on a dynamometer, the researchers performed their tests in real-world conditions, driving around Los Angeles, from LA to Mount Baldy, and from LA to San Diego.

VW Admits They Were Wrong

The CAFEE study wrapped up in 2014, and in December of that year, Volkswagen issued a voluntary recall to address this issue. Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) conducted followup testing to investigate why the onboard diagnostic system was not detecting increased emissions. During this time, VW suggested potential technical issues that would explain the increased emissions. These explanations were not sufficient for CARB or the EPA, and it became clear the 2016 model year diesels would not be given certificates of conformity until the issue was resolved. Volkswagen then did something rather remarkable: it admitted it had designed and installed this ‘defeat device’ that would detect when a vehicle was being tested for emissions.

Which Brings Us To Today…

VW has over 400,000 cars on the road in the US that have this ‘defeat device’ installed in their ECM. The EPA can enforce civil penalties of up to $37,500 for each vehicle not in compliance with regulations, meaning Volkswagen could face a penalty of $18 Billion USD. Volkswagen stock has dropped 20% in the last few days, and the entire chain of command, from the CEO of Volkswagen down to the lowliest engineer are sweating bullets. Volkswagen is now the target of an investigation by the US Department of Justice, and there will be congressional hearings on the issue. It’s hard to imagine a worse situation Volkswagen could find itself in.

Ethics in Engineering

Despite these problems, a congress screaming for answers, investigations by the DoJ, and investors losing years off their lives, we may never know one key fact of this matter: why this ‘defeat device’ was ever implemented.

An engineer, either in Volkswagen or less likely at a subcontractor, signed off on code that would defeat the entire purpose of EPA and Clean Air Act regulations. Someone with the authority to say ‘no’ didn’t, and this code was installed in the electronic control unit of millions of cars. This is the teachable moment of this entire ordeal; at some point, someone who should have known better. At least one engineer will lose their job over this, and certainly more than one executive will be hung out to dry.

Like the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, like the Johnstown flood, and like that one scene at the beginning of Fight Club, this will be one for the engineering ethics text books. If this does turn into a criminal investigation – and chances of that are good – we will eventually learn how this complete abdication of law and social responsibility came to be. Until then, we’re left to guess how one of the biggest blunders of automotive history came to be, and where Volkswagen and the diesel car will be in the years to come.

360 thoughts on “Ethics In Engineering: Volkswagen’s Diesel Fiasco

      1. However the FoMoCo doing similar calculations concerning the Pinto gas tank installation would have been more related to motor vehicle manufacturing. The again age and generation has role what we recall first.

      1. Sounds like that was inspire by the ford motor company’s decision making process regarding the Pinto. No doubt GM did the same regarding the vulnerability of gas tanks mounted outside the frame rails. I have own such pickups. While a fiery T-bone crash was possible, since I still could purchase insurance at no more cost if it would be I owned a Dodge or a Ford I figured the probability was acceptable.

  1. two missed points.

    * cycle beating is a industry wide thing. the concept is totally broken. drivers real world experience and the test cycle values have nothing to do with each other. completely out of world. so this is not that surprising.

    * engineers at VW get about 25% to 50% salary on top depending on company success. any questions left why they do such shit?

    1. You wouldn’t break the law and leave the company open to penalties like this for 25 to 50%. An engineer doing this without permission might well find himself liable for most of the shit that’s coming to Volkswagen.

      This must have come from higher up. Must have. You wouldn’t even do this to save your job. Sure it takes a programmer to implement it, but the idea isn’t beyond someone reasonably intelligent with an understanding of cars. I imagine Volkswagen’s high-ups know a fair amount about cars and emission laws, since it’s their business.

      If it was an American company, some engineer somewhere would take the fall. The public wouldn’t fall for the ruse but it wouldn’t make any difference to what happened. Volkswagen are German, and in Germany engineers are respected! I mean they don’t vote them in to run the country or anything, but they’re treated better than burger flippers are.

      I can only guess some boss somewhere paid a large amount of money to some of the few people who ever see the code for the ECM. If it really was some grass-roots effort from some crazed engineer who took this risk voluntarily, that would actually be worse, it would mean the company doesn’t have proper control over it’s software. It’d mean there could be ANYTHING programmed in there, waiting.

      1. It reminds me of AMD and, in particular, nVidia, running driver optimizations to improve their benchmark results. That was a bit more of a grey area, since there already optimizations depending on which game you are playing, so having a separate optimization for the benchmark test can be kinda-sorta rationalized.

        Well, maybe the thinking wasn’t so different: we run profile A when city driving is detected, profile B when highway driving is detected, profile C when EPA testing is detected…

        The difference, of course, is it is not illegal to optimize for a 3D graphics benchmark, only morally questionable.

        1. I do not think any country has indeed made a law specifying how much a graphic card should score on a benchmark. No law, no guilt (maybe just moral, but who still expects a multi-national to have a sense of ethics?). When it comes to environment however, and polluting devices… that is another story…

      2. The last bit seems unlikely, with modern cars the code in all systems of the car (ABS, Engine Control, Body Control etc) is a pretty high security area, it has the potential to kill if something were to go wrong (Look at Toyota’s Cruise Control\Throttle fiasco…), they would have source control/check in software in place and the code would be peer reviewed and tested excessively before it makes its way into a vehicles ECU, if there is a single point in the process where someone can inject code undetected then they are failing.

        1. But at the same time the Toyota case could, to some extent, give room to possible explanations of what could have happened.

          I am speculating of course, but consider a desperate engineer/programmer having code failing when run in VW’s own engine engine tests, which would probably emulate EPA’s tests. How much would it take to try to sneak in that kind of code if the programmer knew it most probably would pass code review unnoticed and he/she felt his/her job depended on passing that test.

          For the software development management problems related to the 2005 Toyota Camry (hint: it is not pretty) see this link:“spaghetti”-code

          1. @Johan G
            The detailed Toyota report is harrowing. I actually caught myself saying “no no no no” at my screen the first time I read it.

            Highly recommended for any programmers who are also fans of Lovecraftian horror.

        2. That’s what I’m saying. This can’t just be one naughty engineer cutting corners. Has to have come from high up. Has to have involved at least a few people with authority. Hopefully the investigators will realise this.

          To claim otherwise, would be to claim they don’t have proper control over their systems code. That would be way worse, even if it’s not true. Of course they’ll try to minimise the blame, concentrate it on just one man. It’ll be an interesting study in corporate shenanigans to see how it all goes down.

      3. It doesn’t have to be too high up. The guy who made it possible to sell those 400k cars in the US got a huge boost in pay and I’ll be anything he’s middle management. I’ve worked with weasels that would sell out their subordinates because it made them feel good, no compensation involved. One weasel told upper management they could take several million as profit because the customer really didn’t want the product they paid for. Got a bonus. Got a promotion. Then retired before the crap hit the fan and the major layoffs happened in order to pay for it. But not before the weasel hired a bunch of fellow weasels who should all have been fired. But too late. Weasels had been promoted to too many positions and the top management really liked that slug of cash, even if the little people were fired to pay for it.

        It is probable that upper management at VW chose not to look closely at how this miracle occurred and just accepted the money from sales. Weasels.

        1. Problem is, weasels know how to please shareholders, and that’s all of what any publicly-traded corporation has to do, that’s the thing that ensures their continued existence.

          This is the bullshit in “ethical” capitalism. If company A does some unethical thing, and it increases share prices, companies B and C through ZZZ all have to do the same thing. If they don’t, not only will they not make as much profit (which they could live with), but shareholders will dump them in favour of A. Shareholders who, even if they were ethical human beings, or human beings at all, rather than computers, put their money where the greatest growth is.

          Companies with shareholders are incapable of ethics, if those ethics cost money. Sure the odd gesture is acceptable, you can count that as public relations spending. But they’re obliged to make profit, at the expense of all else. Not just profit but the most profit possible.

          Which is why when big businessmen complain about regulation, they’re bullshitting. Of course they are. Because if that gets rid of regulation, they’re free to make more profit, which is what they have to do.

          Same thing with abusing your employees, making cuts, etc. Some guy somewhere will do it, so they all have to. One burger chain puts all it’s employees on zero-hour contracts, they all have to.

          The only defence we have against it, is that the general population, with it’s needs, outnumbers them. This is expressed in the form of democracy and government. When rich men complain about “too much government”, you have to think, “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”.

        2. Oh, also on the subject of weasels, a recent book called “The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson. He interviews a man who invented the test used to evaluate if someone’s a psychopath. The guy’s name is Bob Hare. It’s a pet theory of Hare’s that so much of what’s wrong in the world is the fault of psychopaths in position of power.

          They’re good at manipulating people, and have absolutely no problem with fucking people over, in their thousands if applicable. This helps them get into power, in business, politics, or otherwise. And there, unhindered by the empathy that regulates the rest of us, they do their damage.

          There’s a great part in the book where he interviews a famous businessman, Albert J Dunlap, who laid thousands off, often “joking” with people as he fired them personally. “Well, you may have a nice family, but what you DON’T have, is a job! Ho Ho Ho!”. Ronson administered the test (as an amateur) to Dunlap. The interesting thing is, Dunlap had most of the qualities. But he reinterpreted them as being positive virtues, useful in business, that actually made him a GOOD man, or at least a good businessman.

          Selling people out, even for personal gain, is something that causes ordinary people a great deal of pain. Doing it for fun, well, that’s psychopathic. The official estimate is something like 1% of the population are psychopaths. Fortunately most of them aren’t smart or well-connected enough, so they end up doing their manipulations in prison.

          1. And that’s a large part of what is wrong with society- people that feel that being good at whatever business they are in makes them a good person. Professional success does not mean that you are a good person (going back to Fight Club- ‘You are not your…), and many times I think the inverse is true… if you run a successful business it’s usually because you are good at walking the line between legal and illegal as evidenced by a discussion I had with an ex-employer in regards to having to use extra caution when dealing with employees that are covered by Title XII because they are protected vs. employees that aren’t protected by Title XII.

            …and I’m skeptical of the ‘1% are psycopaths’. Unless we’re distinguishing between psyco- and socio-pathic behaviors. Both are mental illnesses and likely account for the vast majority in the old saying about ‘9X% of the population suffers from some form of mental illness.’

            Both business and politics thrive on mentally ill people.

          2. As far as I’m aware, “sociopath” is just the new word for “psychopath”. I actually looked it up. Professional psychiatric-type people still use “psychopath”

      4. The BIG question is: what does the law say?
        What law was broken if the law states: “You must pass this test”?

        Here in The Netherlands, small companies protested that the road tax would put them out of business. So a law was created that said vehicles that … [some conditions] … pay less tax. So, lots of non-business people got cars that fulfilled the conditions and paid less tax. After some 30 years (my guesstimate) they modified the law to say: “if you are a company and …….. pay less tax”. A similar thing might need to happen in the States if the law was written in a way that allows unintended consequences such as this.

        Similarly, the question is what happend at VW? Was the assignment for the engineer: “Make it pass the test”. Well, that’s what he did! Of course, the first plan-of-attack is to make the care comply in all cases. But if that proves too difficult or impossible, a hack as this might be chosen as “the solution”.

        1. The law doesn’t say “pass the test”; it says the car must perform a certain way in the real world. The test is a way to enforce that regulation. In other words, VW is in trouble for selling cars that don’t meet emissions standards, with cheating the test just the cherry on top. And quite possibly also fraud.

        2. This isn’t something you’d tell one engineer. It’s a system-wide issue, practically the whole car affects performance and efficiency, and therefore emissions. And as has been mentioned, they don’t take one guy’s compiled code and just stick it in a million cars.

          This isn’t a hack or a solution, it’s a cheat.

        3. The law says you have to pass the emissions test, but the law also says you’re not allowed to have a “defeat device”, that is, anything that’s intended to make the car perform differently in real-world driving than it performs while undergoing the test.

          VW passed the emissions test, clearly. They’re in trouble because their software algorithms turned off the emissions controls when the car wasn’t on the dynamometer. That was clearly against the law. Theoretically, there could be some grey areas where it’s not clear whether a certain algorithm constitutes a “defeat device” under the meaning of the law, but in this particular case, VW has already admitted that their software constituted a “defeat device”.

      5. You might not do it to save your job or to make a bonus.

        But you might well do it because it’s cool.

        Think about it: This is a cool application of a cool technology-feature of the engine and its control package (performance ‘mapping’). From the perspective of a software engineer, it’s a fantastic way to demonstrate that the engine isn’t just an engine anymore — it’s a total system.

        Which is not to say I approve. I’m just saying, I think the most likely origin for this is in the time someone spent testing the profiling system. I think the most likely scenario is that engineers did it for fun; it got noticed, and kept; and then it just stayed in the system. Because it was there, it had to be tested, so they wrote QA tests for it as well; etc.

      6. And for something this massive someone certainly must have tested that code to see if it followed “requirements” without spooking the authorities by bugging out intermittently, and those requirements had to originate and be vetted somewhere. And anyone working in a so called “matrix” organization would also be willing to bet that the “somewhere” had to be way up the food chain near the top, even if the intent was transmitted to the troops via. “a smile and a handshake”, just because the implications were just too great if it was discovered. Testing methodology is already being modified by both the EPA and CARB to get a more real world testing model in place (even if only by random sampling) but I’m already wondering if any other manufactures are going to get caught in that net, too. Should be interesting and Tesla stock should go up.

    2. I’m pretty sure I know why they did it: because it’s totally normally here in Germany. Every car manufacturer does it here and it’s known. They probably didn’t carefully consider doing this shit somewhere else. That’s the problem if companies and government get too close. This event should really be the spark for the great cleansing. This behavior had to stop somewhere.

      1. Can you explain what you mean is totally normal in Germany? European regulation doesn’t have such strict NOx limits, so why would the same cheating be necessary in Germany? I doubt…

        1. I think what Steve means is that: “optimizing the car for the test cases” is done.

          This happens in a lot of situations. As an example, Hard drive manufacturers publish reliability statistics based on “accelerated aging”. Some model predicts that you get 10 times more failures if you increase the temperature by X degrees. So they increase the temperature by X or 2X degrees and test a much smaller sample of drives than would otherwise be necessary. Engineers end up optimizing the drives for the reliability tests, and so the result is that the big google-drive-statistics show that drives are more reliable at 35 degrees C than at 25….

          The same thing might be happening with the miles-per-gallon efficiency measurements.

          Say you’re a manager at a car company.

          Engineer A comes to your desk and says: I’ve found a neat way to improve practical fuel efficiency by 10%. The only drawback is that on the standardized fuel efficiency tests, you’ll score 1% worse. But the tests are only performed once, so this is a huge win!

          Engineer B comes to your desk and says: I’ve found a neat way to improve fuel efficiency test results by 10%. The only drawback is that on the road fuel efficiency will drop by 1%. The results will be published and we’ll look much better than the competition!

          Now you get to chose which plan gets implemented. Of course now you’ll say that you’d do the “ethical” thing, but what do you think will happen in real life?

          1. True. Car companies aren’t in business to make good cars. They’re in it to make cars that sell.

            Of course the solution to that problem would be to have better, more realistic tests. Maybe in the future that’ll happen, since we now know cars are intelligent enough to figure out when they’re on the test bed. The world’s governments need to talk to CAFEE, and give them lots of money.

            In the mean time, lots of heavy punishment. If Engineer C points out the billions in fines, hopefully he’ll be the one they listen to.

          2. Cooked environments (and the numbers they produce) happens in university Bio medical and drug testing labs all the time. Lies, damn lies, and statistics . . .

      2. I was going to mention that other car makers should be looked at, too. They mentioned the Ford Pinto in the article. The Pinto was no more unsafe than the other small cars of the era, but Ford just happened to get the bad publicity for it. The same thing could happen to Volkswagen here.

    3. They looked at all the Russian two cycles and China chock full of medium diesel trucks that can’t be competed with (or imported in most of the west) and the mobile smoke generators all over India and South America and thought WTF? Why are we doing this when the results will be lost in the noise compared to these other vehicles?

      You should see Mexico versus US standards and enforcement and wonder why bother?

      1. You are absolutely right why bother, when US alone produce 12 times more CO2 emissions than Mexico and US have only 3 times more population that Mexico does this makes sense? obviously yes every US citizen is polluting 6 times more that a Mexico citizen, why should Mexico spend any effort in to produce less pollution if we have as neighbor the dirties country in the planet.

        1. Yet so many Mexicans want to move to the dirty dirty U.S. I think it is about washing machines. How many people in Mexico wash clothes by hand? The 4:1 CO2 per capita (if true) is related to about a 4:1 per capita energy use – actually 14:3 and not sure if that includes hydro. To be fair, if anyone buys products from the U.S. their country should place the energy cost of the product in their column.

        2. The United States’ GDP is 13.5 times larger than Mexico’s, right in the ballpark with your 12x figure for emissions. The US uses resources and creates pollution disproportional to its population, but it also produces goods and services disproportional to its population.

          1. I wouldn’t say disproportionate. More like showing how to do it right. Just harvesting solar, hydro, and wind most of the low ratio regions could do a lot better. Education? Attitude? Government or lack thereof? Personal freedoms acknowledged or restricted? Living without rule of law? Enough energy to build things to get more energy? Lots of places to look.

        3. The emissions equipment to reduce NO emission increases CO2 emission. The non-compliant cars actually produce less CO2. And the cars that they were able to sell as a consequence of this cheating’s making them competitive in the market produce much less CO2 than the cars they replaced.

          An interesting aspect of engineering ethics is left uncovered. Are engineers allowed to decide they “know best” and deceive non-engineers to get an outcome they privately think is more “optimal,” in an altruistic sense? Is it “ethical” just because it’s not selfish?

          I think many engineers would say yes. If something is not selfish, then it is ethical. The alternative is to behave in a way that avoids punishment, or that is obedient, and then argue about who you must obey. These alternatives are all very primitive ethical reasoning, and it’s not good enough, in my opinion. Too many engineers in my cohort were of the “I don’t care about politics. I just want to get cool projects done,” variety. not okay.

          1. We are harder on CO2 than NOx because Germany makes better diesel engines…Fact…..CO2 is less noxious (and not cancerous) compared to NOx….$$$$$$ see the BIG picture!

      2. NOx emissions aren’t a global problem, they’re a local one — they form smog and ground-level ozone. The US has cities that have *major* issues with these problems, including L.A., hence the focus on NOx here.

        NOx emissions produced in other countries don’t create smog here, so they aren’t the issue — although I think you’ll find Mexico City and Beijing both have serious smog problems, the kind of smog that has a visible death toll.

    4. Yeaaaaaah right.

      VW executives probably contracted this work out, using a false story about what the modifications are for… Something along the lines of ‘its just for in house data collection and testing”

      1. Actually subcontracting, or separate companies, are a time-honoured method of corporate arse-covering. Still I’m sure this code was only intended for deliberate fraud, who’d legitimately want a car that lies to their in-house testers? Except to check it’ll fool the government testers too.

        The car entered a special low-power mode that’d be useless for actual driving. What excuse is there to put that in an engine?

        1. VW is hit with dozens of class-actions now, and VW announced thy will start a criminal procedure against the CEO, who in turn says he was completely unaware that the hack was done. Meanwhile he has been fired too of course, to attempt to pretend it was one guy thinking this up and implementing it.

          Oh and they announced they are ‘very sorry’ and will work to ‘rebuild trust’.

          And interestingly there is not a single newsoutlet I saw that used the word fraud, instead using such euphemisms as ‘mishap’.

          fraud noun

          1 wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.
          2 a person or thing intended to deceive.

          1. A “mishap” in engine code would be way worse than someone doing this on purpose. Telling people their programmers let enormous “bugs” like this slip into the car’s essential code would put people off ever buying a VW again.

            At least if someone admits they did it on purpose, the public know VW is still competent. Still, I doubt anyone responsible will actually suffer for this. Justice is optional if you’re rich.

    1. Of course its all about money. In Norway (and I would guess most countries) the import, and sales taxes are directly linked to the cars emission ratings. If the car would appear to have low emission, it would be cheaper for the car dealers to import the car, and it would be cheaper for the customers to buy them. This would of course give VW a huge competitive advantage.

    1. Look’s like the jury’s still out, but the same researchers found that the BMW diesel X5 they had seemed to stay below EPA limits in all conditions. I would guess that any diesel with a urea injection system is probably playing fair, and might explain why the cheapest non-VW diesel (the Chevy Cruze diesel afaik) was notably more expensive than the cheapest VW diesel.

      I’ve heard from friends in the auto industry that vehicles sometimes have special intake ports that are uncovered when the hood is open. This is ostensibly to help during EPA/mileage tests by allowing the engine access to cooler air from above (the hood can be left open for some of these tests). However, they weren’t on the powertrain side of things and it’s a different class of “cheat” compared to having two completely different engine tunes.

      1. It’s not just cheating about performance but polluting way over the legal limit, and thus in fact endangering health and the planet. I think in california in particular they will that that part very serious and I advise the CEO to take a trip to venezuela and to lounge around a bit for say the rest of his life. Better than to sit in a US jail I’m sure.

        1. The cool air method isn’t for performance, it’s for fuel mileage supposedly. Modern cars actually have a lot of their frontal surface area blocked off to reduce drag (limiting air flow to the radiator). Since the EPA tests are done on a rolling road, the cars aren’t getting the same amount of airflow as they would in the real world (even with a fan). In the case of new cars, this would lead to unusually high intake temperatures, which might cause the ECU to pull timing, which would make the car burn more gas and produce more HCs in the exhaust.

          The intake trick ostensibly prevents this “unrealistic” condition. Google image search “2015 camry under hood” and look for the big oval to the right of the engine. Notice how it is normally covered by the hood, and even has little vents below it that seem to go to the grill, but they aren’t connected while the hood is up. The intake airway path changes when the hood is up. You can see other examples of such intakes on the new Grand Cherokees (look above the driver side headlight on any engine option), a lot of Chryslers, Hondas, Toyotas, and probably others. Car brands that don’t seem to do it include Hyundai/Kia, BMW, Ford, and others.

          I think this is much closer to the border of clever engineering vs intentional cheating because it is fully passive and seems to mostly prevent performance/emissions loss (from an arguably unrealistic test) rather than artificially inflate it (except in stop and go conditions, which they might actually be cheating on) while knowing the “real world” tune does not meet the regulations.

          1. My local emissions testing place uses the OBD2 port under my dash to verify compliance. All values checked are provided by the cars computer. The hood is never opened. Any or all manufacturers could be spoofing the numbers it could be as simple as changing the value received from whichever sensor gets the reading. VW apparently went the extra mile to ensure older test stations that still use a tailpipe probe to read emissions would be fooled.

          2. Presumably if there were a big benefit in normal driving they’d just put a vent in the hood? I’m sure the hypermilers would all have been cutting holes in their hoods by now if it were that helpful.

        2. The planet will still be here no matter what we do to it… It’s us that’s going to get screwed if we destroy our living environment…please stop using the stupid phrase “endangering the planet”…

      2. The urea injection system creates it own problems, notably if there is insufficient NOX to use up the urea then the system starts to emit amonia into the atmosphere.

        Exhaust sensors have a way of going out of whack so it is very likely that these will either stop working or be disabled shortly after being put on the road.

          1. There is. On big trucks in the U.S. you can often see it behind the normal fuel tank. It’s labeled “DEF” (for “Diesel Emissions Fluid.”) If it runs dry the emissions control system will first warn you, then refuse to allow the engine to start once it’s turned off. Jugs of the stuff are now commonly available at gas station convenience stores and truck stops.

      3. The VW engines do urea injection too, from what i’ve read/heard. During testing they inject the required amount of urea to pass the test. During normal driving, the amount gets reduced to save urea.

    2. Either hybrid or EV to meet the spec without cheating, or… yeah supposedly most/all companies use a similiar device. Fun conspiracy, because in real world ap- few cars meet what’s advertised. And it’s bad enough that constantly stopping for lights/signs isn’t enough to account for the discrepancy. I wish I remember which car forum they were discussing it.

    1. That’s due to the fuel consumption testing standards, which are relatively far off from real world conditions and often assume ideal operation conditions and driver behaviour

          1. Yep… they consistently beat the EPA Fuel Economy numbers. Not sure yet what’ll happen after the emissions fix, but in answer to the question about fuel consumption, the TDIs beat the EPA numbers…

        1. The sad thing is that if this recall is implemented in the form of a software patch, a lot of those cars could suddenly become a lot less efficient. Then a new wave of class-action lawsuits will come.

          1. Actually, they may become efficient enough to comply with laws, but will drop in performance.

            In which case, it may come down to any contract/wording that state that VW may change the specifications
            at anytime in required updates.
            Lots of angry people perhaps, but a lot more difficult to drop a lawyer on.

    2. That’s basically one single test for both, consumption and emission. And there are a metric fuckton of legal ways to cheat those.

      For instance: Very thin low resistance tires. So thin, you can’t even buy them for the car. And they have very low roll resistance. Because you basically don’t need any grip to make the car roll on a dyno. Thin low resistance tires result in less energy wasted due to tire/”road” contact, resulting in less consumption and emission.

    1. Yeah, I’ve heard of exactly this thing before. Either the people on car forums are surprisingly accurate conspiracy theorists, or it’s been an open secret for years that’s only now getting media play, a la NSA domestic spying.

      I’m interested just see how this actually plays out legally. Volkswagen after all has been designing cars that meet the letter of the test standards: under specified conditions, the emissions are indeed such and such (it’s not like the ECU is falsifying the data, just changing its behavior). It’s true that the cars don’t meet the emissions standards when testing is done in a non-standard way… But does the EPA actually have any legal grounds to complain about it? Do the standards say anything about third party road testing using alternative patterns and equipment? Consider that if I decided to sue Volkswagen because I said “my car doesn’t get the stated gas mileage when I drive it on my own personal test cycle,” I’d just get laughed out of court.

      1. You could argue about letters of laws, but it’s pretty obvious what’s gone on, it’s pretty obviously fraud. Emissions tests are meant to represent normal use, and normal use is what the emissions laws actually cover.

        1. For sure, but in any legal battle where billions of dollars are involved, common sense doesn’t enter into it. It’s likely to come down to “you didn’t say HOW the car had to meet the standards, just what it needed to do.”

          It’s the same fundamental problem as using standardized tests for evaluation of student performance. If the test doesn’t ever change, you just end up creating a bunch of solutions that are optimized to the test instrument.

          1. That’s what it sounds like to me. They have a set of legal requirements they must meet and they interpreted the grey areas. The same way Formula 1 teams push the rules.

          2. >“you didn’t say HOW the car had to meet the standards, just what it needed to do.”

            I wouldn’t take that excuse from a 6-year-old. So you’re right, that’s probably what they will say, with millions of dollars worth of professional liars saying it.

        2. What about this as an argument for the courts – the engine adjusts to conditions of load which causes changes to the emissions and fuel economy, so if you’re pulling a 3t trailer up a hill you’re going to use more gas and produce more emissions than if it’s sitting on a dynamometer during an emissions test; the lack of power required will change the operation of the engine which (in)conveniently changes the emissions

          Volkswagen will have their teams of lawyers on this one, im curious to see how it’s going to play out

          1. Also won’t fly. EPA allows for exceptional conditions (such as WOT) since those conditions are by definition exceptional. And a dyno can also a load on the engine to simulate the real world load.

  2. I feel that VWs cheating at the emissions analysis is in a very similar vein to the shenanigans that occurred a number of years ago on mobile phones where software in the phone/tablet/mobile-device would recognise it was running a benchmark and the turn up the processor performance to ‘max’ so it returned better results than would often normally be achieved. In that case it was Samsung who got caught (if I remember rightly) but many other manufacturers were also guilty of, er, being sneaky in their version of the software in order to maximise gains.

    Given the commercial drive to attain some arbitrary targets (much like the market desire for benchmark results), I can’t help feel that this story is going to run for some time longer as other car manufacturers have to run around to cover themselves.

    It’s not that the targets (or indeed phone benchmark data) aren’t useful to hold things against but it seems that the furore is that the ‘spirit’ wasn’t stuck to. It’s not that this is around a safety critical feature but purely a level of omissions that can’t be attained under normal usage when often the definitions of when the emissions are measured are not against a real drive (it’s a synthetic scenario – hence easy to recognise when it’s being performed and so adjust the ECU).

    1. I don’t completely disagree with what you’re saying here, but i think you have to admit that boosting benchmark results on a cell phone can’t really hold a candle to circumventing standards that are meant to protect the environment. Right?

      1. It’s arguably closer than some of the rhetoric being thrown up against VW at the moment (such as in this very article alone with the line “In terms of automotive scandals, this is bigger than Unsafe at Any Speed”)

        However, yes, this cheating is more of an issue than the cheating of mobile phone benchmarks but this is not about cheating safety requirements but an arbitrary stick defined for emissions (which were no doubt chosen by committee, as we don’t have any scientific definition of what would be “good” emissions beyond none at all). So VW should get slapped on the wrist (along with other automotive manufacturers who have done similar) if they have not genuinely met the emissions but equally the standards board need to take a bit of flack for allowing the intent of their standards to be so easily bypassed.

          1. Except, in this case, look at relative punishments.

            I’m not condoning this, but seriously – 400,000 new cars (which already have much much much more efficient operation than 99% of vehicles out there) that operate at maybe 10% above legal limits has contributed to what, 0.0000000000000000 (pauses to take a breath) 0001% more pollutants in the air than are already there?

            Considering the other fraud and outright criminal actions that have happened, I’m not sure putting VW out of business and ruining tens of thousands of people’s careers is really the right option here.

          2. What I’ve heard was more like 5-20 times. That means two things

            either way it’s way beyond limits
            we do not know much more than it is way beyond limits because media want to earn their share.

          3. The phrasing was up to 40times the legal limit. However given that the company doing the testing was specifically looking at non standard driving this could be with the engine running at maximum power output.

            During normal driving a normal person would not be putting the foot to the floor for very long at all.

    2. Glad you raised the point, Mobile banchmark fudging was the first thing that came to mind when I read about this incident. It was actually quite blatant when it was discovered through reverse engineering and decompiling the APKs.

      Posting the links here:

    3. A friend a number of years ago was working on his own version of netware [like Novel’s], and discovered that Novel’s has a software bit that could be set during performace tests to drop some error checking, and thereby increase the data transfer rate.

  3. I’d still put the Ford Pinto disaster well above this. There Ford made a calculation as to the value of human life and said it’s cheaper to kill a few people than to implement a safer alternative (something like $5-8/car). Car makers are always trying to beat the system, VW just got too greedy, pushed it too far, and got caught. And yea, this is going to cost them, even more than the EPA/DOT fines there are class action suits in the works where plaintiffs are seeking a full refund of the purchase price of the auto. The argument is they only bought the car because VW claimed the low emissions, and to them being green was the most important criteria in selecting a vehicle.
    This could be a real hit on VW’s bottom line.

    1. It wasn’t just low emissions though. It was also cost. Why would people select a VW over a Chevy – – for example? Because the Chevy (diesel) was more expensive.

      And the REASON it was more expensive, was because, to get acceptable performance that American drivers expect, Chevy engineered an adequate power plant, with more expensive emissions controls. Chevy engineered those controls, and that engine, so that reliability and maintenance would be acceptable.

      What VW did, was “punt” on the engineering. They ended up with a CHEAPER method of emissions controls, that, when fully enabled, would kill the performance of the engine, and impose reliability issues. (which VW already takes a huge hit on: I’m talking about leaking injection pumps, I’m talking about premature cam lobe wear, I’m talking about carbon buildup in the egr, I’m talking about particulate traps exploding, and circulating debris in the fuel system on regen, so that the entire system is contaminated and needs very expensive replacement. I’m talking about intercoolers that form ice on cold mornings, sending chunks into the turbo inlet – another extremely expensive repair).

      When they found that their system didn’t work, instead of re-engineering one that did, (and having to pay the costs of maintenance on cars that were already in the hands of customers), they DENIED they had a problem, and cheated with this software.

      To be fair, in 2013, VW had switched to a different emissions system (adblue) for NOx, and largely corrected the problems of the old system.

      1. Leaking Injection Pumps = Buna-N seals and 15 yrs or more fuel use on them
        Premature Cam Lobe Wear = VW Dealership’s not using the right oil during warranty oil changes
        Intake Carbon Buildup = Oil vapors from CCV mixing with EGR gasses. BMW has this problem too and they’re fully compliant
        DPF’s exploading = News to me. Having them melt from too much soot is about modded engines and driving style and idiocy
        DPF Regen contamination = This one I forget what the issue was, but it’s less of an issue than any of the above

    2. Actually the Pinto disaster is a large myth. The money for lives value was actually from the government standards docs.
      The Pinto actually had fewer fire related deaths than many other cars in it’s class including cars from Toyota and Datsun.

  4. I love how GM gets fined 900mil for killing at least 124 people and no one really cares. VW cheats on a sniff test and we’re talking $18b in fines and their stock plummets on something for sure everyone is doing in some capacity.

    1. EXACTLY! This is just an emissions test, not an ignition switch or airbag that could kill or maim. Was VW wrong to let this happen?…Sure. Is this an engineering ethics question?… Yes. Should VW catch a slap on the wrist for this?… Certainly. But calling this “bigger” than a design that can hurt/kill the operator is, at a minimum, ridiculous.

      1. >This is just an emissions test, not an ignition switch or airbag that could kill or maim

        EXACTLY! This so-called “air-pollution” would only affect the health and mortality of air-breathing land mammals.

        VWs decision has likely lead to the deaths of a non-trivial number of people. Initial looks at the overall impact are estimating that VWs emissions circumvention dumped an excess of over a million metric tons of NO2 per year into the atmosphere, predictably concentrated in high-population (e.g.: high traffic) centers in Europe. Even short term exposure to NO2 leads to a very quantifiable number of deaths.

        Just because you can’t see the machine that killed you at the time of your death, doesn’t change the outcome.

        1. To be fair, the whole scandal is because VW cheated the system to fit US norms. Which leads me to:
          a) Their emissions may be ok for Europe (which also may mean that they are not as dangerous as to cause certain death to hundreds of people)
          b) VW TDI cars in US make up for only a tiny fraction of all cars. So their impact cannot be that bad. In US.

          My point is – the fraud and harm done to the industry by those responsible for this far outweighs the environmental issues. I would say appropriate reaction would be a criminal investigation followed by jail time/fines for those who came up with and implemented this idea. Plus mandatory recall of those vehicles. Charging the company with $18B is way overboard and will only hurt innocent employees and the industry more.

          1. >Their emissions may be ok for Europe

            What leads you to believe that? Wouldn’t the testing cheat also be in place during EU testing as well?

            >So their impact cannot be that bad. In US.

            And it’s crazily larger in the EU. You can be certain EU centric investigations, fines, criminal charges are in the works.

            >the fraud and harm done to the industry by those responsible for this far outweighs the environmental issues.

            How have you quantified the environmental, health, and mortality impact of an additional 1,000,000 tons of NO2 annually, over the course of 6 years in order to make this a factual statement? What value did you assign to lives lost in your calculations?

          2. >What leads you to believe that? Wouldn’t the testing cheat also be in place during EU testing as well?

            As you can see I said “may be ok”. However, I’m basing it on the fact that this hack was implemented to comply with US’s rules – they didn’t have the need in EU. So, may be ok.

            >And it’s crazily larger in the EU. You can be certain EU centric investigations, fines, criminal charges are in the works.

            Define “crazily”? Again, if they didn’t have the need for this device in EU it may happen these levels are ok there (someone knows the numbers?). Sure there are 10 more millions of these cars outside of US, but are they that much worse than they need to be in _those_ countries?

            >How have you quantified the environmental, health, and mortality impact of an additional 1,000,000 tons of NO2 annually, over the course of 6 years in order to make this a factual statement? What value did you assign to lives lost in your calculations?

            Do you know how much 1M tons of NO2 over 6 years is? Sure it’s a long number, but what is the impact?..
            Let’s get back to US. It was 400K affected cars in US. Per some data, there are 2 million diesel trucks in US, each emits 20 times more NO2 than a car per mile. They also drive much more a year than a car. And they also idle a lot. The point is – I don’t know either how much 1M tons of NO2 is, but the _percentage_ realistically added by VW TDI cars in US would probably be in single digits (if not less, since 1M tons was calculated based on the worst measured case).

            And can we please avoid this “value of lives” cliche until there is ANY data of people actually dying because of this.

      2. They did not ‘let this happen’, they did this deliberately, and the ignition switch was not deliberate, although ignoring the issue too much was deliberate of course.
        So it’s hard to compare, but yeah having people die in such a stupid and horrible way does seem worse on the face of it.

        1. The worst parts about the GM ignition switches with the too weak detent to hold them in the Run position is that people at GM knew about the problem for some years, yet nothing was done to correct the problem. The other bad thing was when they did fix the problem, they didn’t change the part number so it could easily be seen which switches have the fix. The only way to tell is to take the switches apart and measure the length of the detent pin and spring.

          At Ford, that’s been “baked into” their part numbering system since the 1940’s. Any engineering changes made to a part, it gets a change made to the section of the part number for engineering changes.

          1. I think someone at GM tried to hide the defect by not changing the part number. They track parts by the VIN the parts are put into to handle slight incompatibilities. It’s more likely than not that the part number change was over-ridden specifically to hide the defect.

          2. Alternatively, they could have told people not to hang so much crap off their keychains. Which is basically what VW did — their ignitions had the same issue for years, they would cut out if your key ring was too heavy, because VW electrical parts in the 80s were crap.

          1. >deaths -vs no deaths

            Estimates are that VW’s decision is responsible for an additional million tons of NO2 released every year for the last six years. While you can’t point to an accident report for each of them, there are unquestionably a quantifiable number of deaths related to this.

          2. Per EPA, only 5% of all NOx emissions are due to transportation ( Per World Bank, 20 Trillion metric tons (+) of NOx were emitted just in 2010 ( The extra ~1 million tons (which assumes worst case of 40x the emissions standard ALL the time for ALL the VW TDI vehicles, as the Guardian article points out; it could also be only 250,000 tons or even less since the WVU test only covered 2 VW models) is still a tiny droplet in the bucket, and it’s unlikely that there is a “quantifiable number of deaths” that can be related to this given how small the overall number is in comparison to the “normal” rate of NOx emissions.

          3. >there are unquestionably a quantifiable number of deaths related to this.

            No, there is a number of deaths that can be statistically inferred from this. We can quantify the number of deaths from car accidents, because we can *count* them. We cannot divide up the deaths of non-smokers to emphysema and assign them specifically to a particular group of smokestacks.

            Words have meanings, people.

    2. I think one of the reasons is that the human mind attributes far more blame to errors of commission than the errors of omission. The dangerous cars weren’t made dangerous on purpose. They didn’t have enough effort put into them to make them safe, but GM didn’t go out of its way to make them dangerous in order to fullfill some other requirement. In people’s minds it just sort of, happened. In this case however, someone spent time (and testing cycles) coding up whatever was necessary to detect the test and then included it. It is necessarily took active effort to do the wrong thing. I am not saying that the other case didn’t, but it didn’t appear to as significantly to someone who is glancing past the story.

      While this tendency in moral judgement (to ascribe more culpability to perceived active wrongs than perceived passive wrongs) may produce odd results at times, it makes sense in what the brain has to deal with (A person can only commit so many active wrongs (There are only 24 hours in most days), but the number of potential passive wrongs are infinite (way more than a brain can be expected to handle).).

      I won’t claim that killing people is not worse, and I won’t even claim that the design of the cars that caused direct deaths was not an active wrong (I am not familiar enough with the case to say), but it looks that way (like an error of omission) to a casual observer, which is why people had much less of a reaction to it.

      tl;dr: That other case could be made to look like an honest mistake at zeroth glance(not saying it was, or wasn’t just that it could be made to look that way), this can’t.

      1. Without proof, don’t attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity, ignorance or accident. ‘Course once a problem is found to be a result of stupidity, ignorance or accident and people actively act to cover that up and claim there’s no problem…

        1. The law should only concern itself with action->reaction patterns, and not with intention->reaction patterns.
          As long as we do not fully understand the operation of the brain, and as long as we do not have the devices (and undesirable duties to always wear them) to constantly monitor our intentions, we should not treat intentions as measurables. I do not claim intention’s don’t exist, indeed I know they exist for I experience my own intentions that prompt me to do whatever I do, I just claim they are unimportant as long as they are immeasurable.

          The cult of believers in the importance of intention is so large exactly because so many other people follow this cult of intention, giving arguments of intention power of arguments that do not refer to intention:

          Consider any case of conflict where two sides try to convince a “neutral” arbitration mechanism (a parent, a teacher, a judge, a jury), then apart from argumentation from measurables, each side of the conflict will consider how intention is considered important to the arbitrator. Hence each party will make claims of intention of good or bad will. Hence each party will claim that intention is very important, but that the intention was however they describe it. It’s up to the arbitrator to “judge” (immeasurable) intention. Hence we have void for vagueness. Even admission of intention should be ignored, I’m sure many a “witch” admitted their crime irrespective if it was out of torture, derangedness, or just to ‘punish’ the populace with fear once they realized they were going to be burnt anyway…

        2. this is a reply to
          “Without proof, don’t attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity, ignorance or accident. ‘Course once a problem is found to be a result of stupidity, ignorance or accident and people actively act to cover that up and claim there’s no problem…”

          because my argument results in the prescription to not differentiate between {malice} and {stupidity,ignorance,accident}, while your argument maintains the differentiation, but cautions the differentiator to one side of interpretation…

        3. The only place where intention may affect decisions should be:
          1) group decisions on how to prevent situations (for example, the design of a cryptocurrency should take into account malicious actors, and build attack models which the group seeks a prevention for, or rules describing how self-driving cars can drive safely without succumbing to actors trying to cause deadly traffic accidents, etc) prevention always refers to immeasurable future variables anyway..
          2) personal decisions over which the individual has sovereign power (for example, this girl doesn’t kiss me as often as before, I think I’ll break up because I don’t believe she loves me anymore)

        4. to demonstrate the equality of {malice} and {stupidity, ignorance, accident} with an example:
          every time a driver starts to drive his car, he _intentionally_ takes the low probability risk of causing an accident, he _intentionally_ equates this low non-zero probability to zero, which is stupid, and he _intentionally_ ignores the risk.

  5. I don’t know for emissions testing but, from what I’ve heard from people working in the automotive industry, that’s no secret that ECM’s are programed to cheat when the car is put on a test bench. It’s at least known to be the case for fuel consumption tests.
    Has anybody’s actual MPG ever matched the claims of the car manufacturer? Those claims were checked on a test bench too you know…

    So my guess at to why VW has been doing this is that everybody’s been doing it.
    Had they not cheated, they’d have lost to competition, because customers just want MOAR PAWAA.
    It’s about time administrations took notice, but VW employees are certainly not the only ones to be worried right now.

    1. The prius can beat the estimates if you drive like an idiot. They use a standard driving model under ideal conditions… You can get the economy advertised, you just need to never use breaks and accelerate slowly.

          1. if i’m not mistaken, most regen systems in cars use the heat generated by braking to convert to electricity. supposedly downshifting and compression braking is far more efficient, but this is just what i’ve heard, no sources.

          2. In electric cars, I’m pretty certain they just switch the motor into being a generator. Electric motors and generators are usually around 95% efficient, but of course that isn’t taking into account the road, tyres, charging system, etc.

            I’d be surprised if other cars really do convert heat to electricity, thermocouples are inefficient, peltier-effect devices are limited in power, fragile, and expensive.

        1. Understood… my response was to Shadocko, who asked: “Has anybody’s actual MPG ever matched the claims of the car manufacturer?” I know it’s hard to follow the thread sometimes…

  6. I am very interested in seeing how this plays out, and potentially how many other car makers are employing the same tactics. Now that the various regulatory bodies are aware of this, I think the crap will hit the fan for a lot of people in a lot of different companies. I know that VW is one of the few companies offering diesel cars in the US, but I seriously doubt that the regulatory bodies in other regions (particularly Europe) are going to ignore this. I get the feeling that VW won’t be the only company caught up in this scandal.

  7. The entire test structure in the U.S. is flawed. Case in point.

    My catalytic converter was stolen. I had it replaced and a few months later it failed smog despite getting better numbers than with the OEM converter. The company installed a converter for two stage system rather than a one. The muffler shop replaced it (no charge of course) with extensive grumbling and disputing. It finally passed smog.

    The following year, it failed smog again. Again, with better numbers than with OEM parts. The state had passed a law that year (and is now updated each year) explicitly listing the specific converters from aftermarket converters for each model car since about 1975 or so. I had an “unauthorized” converter now listed for an entirely different make and model. Back to the muffler shop with LOTS of grumbling and disputes. Because it was now out of warranty, I had to pay out of pocket.

    This coming year, I have to cross my fingers and show proof of installation that shows install date, and by extension which year law it’s in compliance with, when attempting to pass smog.

    I’ve been told more than once, the vehicle never fails smog because of emissions. It fails smog because the wrong damn hardware was installed. It fails because some dip sitting at a desk looks at a list and decides which part should go on which vehicle.

    1. ^THIS^ The whole emissions system is flawed in a big way. Some bureaucrat, who doesn’t have any engineering background, at a desk made some fundamental design decision about a lot of systems on your car, because somebody told him it would ‘reduce emissions’ or save the environment. You can have your car running better and cleaner than it did with ‘STOCK’ OEM stuff, and you wont pass muster with the local trained monkey who thinks he is saving the environment plugs the computer into the car because something is ‘unauthorized’. Like all bureaucracies, it is all a big game about who can grease the right palms and make the Gov’ t rep happy so they get their cert. I am all for saving the environment, but there comes a point where the government should really bow out. Somebody at the bureaucracy didn’t like Volkswagen, or to get the conspiracy fire burning, somebody at GM or some other company didn’t like VW, because they got a smaller bonus this year from lower sales, and pulled some strings with their rep. Maybe it was even one of the unions! I am pretty certain that VW is not the only company doing this, and that the truth about what companies do will probably surprise a lot of people. For the record, it is not hard to ‘fool’ the terminal the DMV uses to perform the so called test. Anyone with some programming skills, google-fu, and a little time and determination can do it if they felt so inclined, thought it does carry some hefty penalties for ‘Tampering’ with the almighty bureaucrats’ mandated cripples!

      1. I assumed the story was about EPA testing for approval to sell these cars in the US, not routine emissions testing, which is done at the State level, not Federal. For instance, in Wisconsin, there is no routine emissions testing.

        1. Lucky you! You are correct that the story is about EPA emissions testing, but I believe it points a finger at a larger overall problem with the system. At a certain point, the Gov’t should really bow out and stop regulating every little thing. There is a very good argument to be made for some sort of emissions standards, and I will be happy to sit down and start debating the merits of having something like it, but at a certain point it gets to be more of a burden rather than helpful. I am unhappy about VW’s behavior, but by the same token, I will echo what has been said by many others in here: They are NOT by any stretch the only ones doing it, and it has not resulted in people dying like GM’s or Toyota’s recent lapses of engineering ethics! Lets not forget Takata Airbags, and the whole scandal surrounding that either!

          The balance has yet to be found between Environmentalist bureaucrats wanting to push their agenda, and real attainable engineering goals and standards that will result in better outcomes for everyone. I think open source Car Firmware of some sort would be a great place to make some inroads, but at the same time, I understand what an engineering challenge it is to build an effective motor control system. Again, some balance has to be found. I think the community at large, if given an opportunity to get some kind of exemptions from the various regulatory bodies around the world for testing and development of something open source, would yield some incredible, and beneficial results.

          1. >the Gov’t should really bow out and stop regulating every little thing

            The quality of the air you breathe, and it’s impact on your health and mortality is probably more “big thing” than “little thing.”

            You might want to read up a bit on the health effects of short term exposure to increased levels of NO2.

          2. Bill, For the record, i understand that there needs to be some standard. I am expressing the idea that the GOV’t seems to have a tendency to overstep sometimes, and make regulations that have little ground in reality. I am all for some kind of emission control standard, but such things as the particular model number of catalytic convertor you can install, when something better, which gives better numbers (as mentioned by SavannahLion) can be installed and make the overall results better is ‘unauthorized’, there is a problem.

        2. Wisconsin does have Emissions testing, but only in some parts of the state such as Milwaukee and Dane counties. It is not done by a government agency anymore. It is taken to an approved shop, they hook the computer up to their terminal, do the test, and send the results off.

      2. There is some reason to the madness. I had a relative that dug deeper into the reasons when his non-stock carburetor was flagged (way back in the days of carburetors). The state (CA) said that the smog checks you do at the stations are not as comprehensive as the ones they do to approve part/model combinations. At the time, the state said getting the non-standard part approved would cost thousands of dollars.

        1. This reminds me of an old account from the 70’s or 80’s where CA passed a law requiring an add-on to your engine to reduce emmissions. IIRC, the add-on required drilling a hole, in the carb or engine block or something, in order to be installed. Unfortunately, the required part destroyed any sort of power performance because no one bothered to actually test the component on more than one engine. A lawsuit reared its head in an attempt to nullify the law, pay car owners for the out of pocket expenses for compliance, and pay for the necessary repairs to the damaged engine. The law was rescinded but I don’t know what came of the lawsuit.

          Something similar happened in the 90’s where a required change in diesel fuel formulation destroyed part of the diesel engine for some designs (I’m not one with engine tech but I think it was the fuel injector). The lawmakers forgot to have the new formulation tested before forcing it to market I guess. A class action made an appearance.

          1. @Ren. Think that’s doable without destroying existing engines in the process? The point was that the new fuel was introduced without adequate testing and California, and by extension, taxpayers had to pay for those damages.

            I’m all for improving things, but the blind bumbling, nonsensical arguing, outright lies, and money grabbing (from both sides) is not the way it should be done.

          2. @SavannahLion
            Not sure what “90’s change in diesel fuel formulation” you’re talking about. ULSD was made standard in CA in September 2006; nationwide in October 2006. The lubricity lost by removing the sulfur was replaced with an additive starting in January 2005 (so obviously there was overlap between non-ULSD and ULSD.

            Do you have some reference supporting the “change in diesel formulation” that was “CA Only” and was introduced “in the 90’s, without adequate testing”?

      3. OK you are probably against gun control, too. You are talking pure Republican crap. Leave it to capitalist corporations, and they will choose the best for us. Just like in VW’s case. 11M cars with NOx emissions more than many mid-sized countries. Congratulations to the organisations for unearthing these crooks. I hope there will be more coming and people will open their eyes and stop bowing to the ever-increasing-profit hungry share-holding vultures and their stinking cultures.

        Capitalism as we know it is dead, suck it.


    2. That is the *stupidest* thing about California emissions laws. Your vehicle “fails” if it *pollutes less* than when it was manufactured.

      When the federal government and EPA passed laws and regulations no longer requiring emissions inspections on vehicles 25 years old and older, CARB said Nope! All vehicles ever sold in the US with emissions control devices must retain their original systems to be used in California. The Feds recognized that after 25 years, the number of vehicles made in that year still on the road will be drastically reduced, and availability of parts to keep them running will also be much reduced.

      Sometime in the early 90’s, CARB hatched a plan to get rid of carburetors on new vehicles. they created the SHED test. Sealed Housing Evaporative Determination. The basics of it were to place a vehicle into a sealed ‘shed’ then pump down the air pressure inside by a couple of PSI then measure the amount of fuel fumes in the shed. The test was specifically designed to fail every vehicle model with a carburetor on evaporative emissions. Thus by the mid 1990’s all cars had fuel injection because even if a manufacturer came up with a way to pass CARB’s SHED with a carb, CARB would simply have altered the test to make it fail again.

      This polluting less = fail idiocy is also what has kept many old oil and coal fired power plants polluting just as much as when they were built. President Bush Jr. tried to get laws passed to allow those old plants to ass as much pollution control systems as would be *practical* to reduce their emissions as much as would be possible – short of razing the plant and building a new one. Nope, never could get it passed because the numpties in California and their fellow travelers insisted that only reducing emissions levels to *current standards* would be allowed – or no change at all. So the plants kept polluting, because if they did tear them down they’d never get permission to build new ones.

      This was going on even in the 80’s. My father made some refractory cement burner grates for a company to replace some that had burned out over the years. Even back then, in Idaho, they were Not Allowed to simply upgrade to newer, cleaner, more efficient burners without replacing the entire system. So dad measured one of the originals, made some sheet metal forms and packed them with refractory cement to make the new grates.

      1. About CARB….

        In California, a whole shitload of diesel trucks failed in 2014ish or so. The law basically read to rebuilt the old engines to meet new regulations or “get rid of them”…..

        The owners “got rid of them”. Not by scrapping them as the law intended but shipping them off to Nevada and further, such as Texas, where emission requirements were much lower or virtually non-existant.

        I’m not an expert on pollutants, but apparently smog doesn’t cross state borders..

        1. What most people don’t understand about CA is that they have unique weather conditions that create massive amounts of smog….. These weather conditions don’t really exist anywhere else in the continental U.S.

  8. The VW behavior is disgraceful. These are not sniff tests. The emissions kill people. VW have over 250,000 employees in DE. Their subcontractors in DE & all over Europe (especially CZ, SK) employ hundreds of thousands more people. It will be these normal line workers who lose out, not the people who had this bright idea to start with. VW have thousands in their compliance dept. They must have known about this & I can see no possibility that the very top management did not know about it. Fines are one thing but I suspect the very long arms of US law enforcement will reach out & grab some of the top executives. If they knew about this, is has to be a criminal offense. If they claim they did not know, they should resign for not having a clue about what goes on in their organization. It is important to note that VW received over USD50M in US Govt grants for low emissions. Cheating to get US grants will be punished with imprisonment (look at what happened to the FIFA officials in Switzerland). German industry has a great reputation. This puts everything we all believe about the German Mfg system in doubt.
    Apart from the moral side of this, the executives must be entirely dumb. Everyone knows it is OK to bend the rules. But, you simply can not break the rules, lie about it & cover it up. That lands you in prison. VW are totally insulated in Europe because they are absolutely ”too big no fail” & even too big to regulate. Anything in Europe needs to be swept under the carpet to protect millions of EU jobs. But the rest of the world will have a field day with this..
    I suppose VW just have to hope that everyone else has been doing the same thing. In the airline fuel surcharge scandal a few years ago, Lufthansa were one of the first to get caught. However, by turning ‘states evidence” on all the other airlines who they colluded with, they got away with a slap on the wrist.
    I think the German people must be horrified by this. It does not just effect VW, it casts a shadow over all German manufacturing. Can Audi now change their slogan Vorsprung durch Technik (advancement through technology) to Vorsprung durch Betrug (advancement through cheating).

          1. In fact it changes. One: you may produce electricity in a way that does not pollute environment (let’s assume “does not pollute” means anything less than 5% of the cars’ emission). Two: even if you use coal power plant you can fit it with proper filters and make it much more efficient than a car engine.

          2. If a million EVs are charging from a single power plant, and that single power plant reduces its emissions by 50%, you’ve instantly improved the emissions of a million EVs. You simply can’t do the same with a million ICE vehicles. It changes the dynamics A LOT!

          3. EVs are also far more energy efficient than gasoline vehicles. That figures into emissions as well.

            I drive a Honda Fit EV. Over its service life so far, it’s gotten around 4 miles per kW-hr. A gallon of gasoline is the energy equivalent of around 33 kW-hr. Ergo, I am getting somewhere around 133 MPGe. You can quibble about the exact numbers, but even if I’m “only” getting 100 MPGe, that’s more than triple the ICE vehicle it replaced.

            It also doesn’t hurt that where I live (Silicon Valley Power) electricity is (using the same math) around $2.64 per “gallon”…

    1. On top of an open source EV, add Nuclear, Thorium, and other alternative and renewable sources of energy. All those electric cars are going to have to get their charge from somewhere, and making millions of acres of solar panels and installing them in some out of site out of mind ecosystem somewhere probably wont have a net environmental benefit… People forget that Solar panels are made in a semiconductor fab, and the chemicals used in the process are some of the most dangerous when released into the environment, and that adding something like thousand acre solar farm to an ecosystem could have disastrous consequences.

      1. The solar farms in the Mojave Desert are killing birds, blinding airline pilots, and causing issues in a nearby town (affecting their golf game, but I’m not a huge fan of golf). Oops…

        A bad contractor used low grade bolts and incorrect sealant in Europe for some windmills which causes them to topple. Bird watchers have witnessed extremely rare birds in the U.S. and EU get slaughtered through the blades.

        The list of drawbacks for environmentally “safe” technologies are as long as the “unsafe” ones and are just as sinister. Everyone ( I mean *everyone*) glosses over those drawbacks on their particular favorite technology. Does anyone seriously think those Carbon Credits actually did anything worthwhile other line the pockets of already rich assholes?

        1. “A bad contractor used low grade bolts … for some windmills… ”
          Completely irrelevant when talking about renewable energy… Just as many (or more!) stories about “a bad contractor used on causing “. That’s a contractor problem, not a renewable energy problem.

      2. A commercially viable Thorium reactor would require billions of $$$ of investments and several years of intensive research, nobody is going to pay that kind of money when uranium and MOX fuel PWRs and BWR are available…

        Also, nuclear superpowers don’t like to share, so opensource nuclear-anything is very utopistic…

        1. I guess that means we shouldn’t bother investigating it then. Never mind that during the early years of the Nuclear age, one of the National Labs in the US had a working, functional thorium cycle reactor, and that corporations like GE and Westinghouse who invested billions in support infrastructure for fueling Uranium cycle devices that are inherently unsafe, were the ones who lobbied the government and the DOE to throw the money at the Uranium cycle technology, and stop any research into thorium technology, right?

          Nobody wants to spend the money on it, but they are happy to spend the money on multi-billion dollar tokamak reactors that have not been proven, and ‘might’ give us some insight into theoretical fusion power, or spend billions of dollars subsidizing an industry that wouldn’t exist except for the subsidy, or funnel billions of dollars to scientists that fudge numbers to try and bring some credibility to what still remains, more than anything, a political talking point.

          I think some will agree that the billions spent on the above could be better spent on other projects that could yield more immediate benefits for humanity and the environment.

          Still, irregardless of the above, Nuclear energy of any sort is the greenest source of energy we have right now. Because of some powerful environmental groups, and people who are uneducated, and scream ‘I don’t want that in my back yard’ at the first whisper of something similar, it hasen’t been able to be more widely applied. Not to mention all the regulatory red tape (a lot of it environmental, ironically) and bureaucracy that comes with it.

          1. I think, from what I’ve seen and read, that Tokamaks are getting a lot more efficient, they’re getting close. And of course generating plenty of data that might be useful in a future fusion system.

            If we crack fusion, that’s basically free power forever, with no pollution. There’s almost no amount of money not worth investing in it.

    2. “The VW behavior is disgraceful. These are not sniff tests. The emissions kill people.”

      Yes except for the bit where the cars pass the EU regulations just fine. I mean VW is not killing millions of Europeans are they? In fact the NOx emissions on their European models are definitely not the worst in the industry. That’s not to mention that in terms of CO2 they are still much better than most American cars.

      So I’m pretty detached to the statement that emissions kill people. If we were comparing the western world to SE Asia then I would completely agree with you as there is a huge gap in standards there.

        1. True, NOx is not desirable. Interesting to see from that site that the European NOx emissions have been dropping by about 430,000 metric tonnes per year over the years that the “non-compliant” TDIs were available in Europe… 2008 and 2009 had the biggest drop since 1990! Probably the VWs did not help the reduction, but they don’t seem to have made it worse… so it’s unlikely they were contributing “nearly 1million metric tonnes of extra pollution” as some headlines are indicating.

  9. I think this is an interesting dilemma. We live in a world where consumers want everything, and yet want to pay next to nothing for it. They want free software, free music, cheap hardware, low cost nonpolluting energy. The begrudge the people who make a profit. They celebrate when the big government bullies forcibly steal the wealth of those who have produced the products that we all enjoy.

    Everyday governments sit above us and continually make up new rules for us to obey. Each rule doesn’t create a new freedom, it simply defines how we now have to do something. In reality it becomes a freedom lost. The people who make the rules are not the 5% who create, rather they are the 95% who take. They contribute ZERO value, yet they control 100% of our lives.

    Think about this for a minute, “All of the rules are made up”

    VW makes cars. To do so they must buy talent and raw materials to produce a product that people will buy. Every rule the legislators create makes it more difficult to complete the task at a reasonable price. At best, legislators are social scientists, not engineers. They know how to create rules that take money away from people, not design cars that people love. No one wants to drive a car that performs like a plastic peddle car, yet that is what the legislators demand. The rule makes don’t drive VW’s. They drive BMW’s, Mercedes, Porsches, Lear, and Boeing.

    Why do you people go along with this and sympathize with the rule makers who control your lives?

    You yourself want to be paid a reasonable income, or greater. Why do you begrudge those who do?

    How many of your creations will be used against humanity while you profit?

    Look in the mirror before you start pointing fingers.

  10. It’s not ‘cheating’, it’s not ‘defeating’, it’s just simple and sensible optimisation. Who _really_ cares about pollution compared to performance and mpg? Sure as hell not a country that prefers everyone to be driving gas-guzzling behemoths that ‘just happen’ to be built in that country…

    1. I’d argue that a lot of folks care about pollution. VW’s vehicles, per the tests, emit 10-40x the rated NOx emissions when not on the test stand. NOx causes a lot of problems and it’s important to regulate it:

      My issue is that VW argues that they’re on the right side of history–while their 2L diesel vehicle does produce emissions, it was supposedly cleaner and more efficient per mile than most other options. Which we now know to be false.

      I’ve got a few friends with TDIs. Assuming they perform the recall, I’ll be curious to see how the new firmware affects their mileage. I guess 50+ mpg was always a bit too good to be true.

        1. Not an emmisions issue directly, but my Dodge truck engine had a design flaw that would eventually break the seal between the intake and its plenum pan causing oil to get sucked into the intake. This leads to reduced mileage, oil consumption, a clogged cat, fouled O2 sensors, and predetonation/pinging. My gasket wasn’t totally blown out but was bad enough that oil was getting in there. OEM pan was stamped steel and intake was cast aluminum; the concensus is that over time the steel warps at a different rate than the intake, causing the gasket to blow out. Replacing with a billet aluminum piece and a good gasket negates the issue, haven’t had a drop of oil in the intake since I’ve done the fix.

          My point is, is that instead of fixing the issue directly, they issued a factory software update for the PCM to retard the engine timing to eliminate pinging. It is commonly known as the “Death Flash” as it basically cuts the balls off of the vehicle it powers.

      1. The irony is that gasoline cars pollute more. Diesels produce emissions when you put your foot down, whereas gasoline engines pollute when they’re idling, which is most of the time in city traffic.

        When you put the car on a dyno to do the emissions test, you’ll get good tailpipe emissions for the gasoline engine, and bad for the diesel engine – unless of course they cheat- and in real world traffic jam the situation is reversed.

    1. This would be great, except that the current regulatory structure precludes anybody from being able to do this unless they have very deep pockets ans some friends in high places.

      It would be great of the GOV’t would loosen up its strangle-hold and allow for some exemptions to be had for people or groups wanting to pursue something like this. If I have seen anything about the hacking and making community in general, it is that they will solve any problem thrown at them in miraculous and astounding ways!

      The ability of people or groups to obtain some kind of exemption would probably yield some incredible and very beneficial results for everyone…

  11. I am impressed and I an rooting for Volkswagon on this.
    Let’s face it, tree hugging is a religion. They even have an end times scenario, just like any bible-belt bible thumper, and they wield that prophecy like a weapon.
    Only because separation between church and state does not recognize the watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside) as a religion, they get to make government policy out of their policy.
    So for that, we end up with a lot of blockheaded zealotry telling industry what they can and cannot do to the point where it’s next to impossible to meet their demands. Imagine what the worst religionists would do if they had control of government.
    Technologically, the tree huggers have given us a kind of “techno Sharia law” where companies that build cars are expected to atone for their sins in every unit and meet standards designed to kill the industry.
    Don’t think so? The ecos have also wormed their way into city-planning all over the country and NONE of their plans include cars. You see they are also collectivists and collectivists hate individuals having control over their conveyance. They worship “mass transit”.
    So what Volkswagon has done, I say: “EPIC!” I’m glad to see this happen. In America we saw the tree huggers nearly kill our industry.
    Oh and by the way, your leftoid “social contract type” and your righty “rule of law” types need to know this: hacking our way around emissions laws has been going on longer than I have had a license. I have worked in the industry myself. There are tons of tricks out there to beat emissions testing.
    AND EVERY DAMNED TIME SOMEONE HAD TO HACK A LITTLE TO BEAT THE TEST, IT WAS SOMEONE WHO COULD NOT JUST AFFORD TO GO BOUNDING OFF TO A DEALERSHIP TO BUY A NEW CAR. So hacking past emissions is something poor people have to do more often. It’s easy for someone to just slurp their fair trade gluten free no hippies were upset in the production latte and say “well, it’s for the environment” while there are people out there where no vehicle means they are screwed.
    This is just another chapter in a war with people who use environmentalism to destroy industry and life.
    Good for Volkswagon. I hope this happens more and more, and I hope that more people learn to hack the hell out of their cars.

    1. and this is not just about environment. We are talking about CHEATING. Someone is not playing fair. Can you say that SAT tests are so meaningless and therefore there is nothing wrong for a few individuals to cheat?

    1. Why would they be worth more? If a region has no emissions testing that implies that they don’t care… so why would they care? If anything these cars will probably be more available in areas without testing, making them worth less on the resale market.

  12. Financial types and bankers do this kind of manipulation all the time. They are rewarded with millions of dollars in pay and bonuses. No different. Why do bankers get rewarded for “business acumen” and why are VW engineers being villified? Because bankers have better lawyers and political lobbyists to protect their interests. It’s easier to picture the individual evil engineer with a baby seal club in hand than the banker who operates the factory fishing trawlers mining the oceans for fish.

    1. It’s because we have tools, and a system of rules, that can detect Emissions Cheating.

      Where bankers and fund managers can get away with their crimes – it’s because the FTC is much smaller than the EPA. They don’t monitor financial transactions as closely, and it may not even be technically feasible to do so; and the government may not even have the power (constitutionally) to scrutinize the economy at that level. It’s intrusive enough, and there’s enough potential of abuse, that the Supreme Court would probably shoot it down handily on the basis of the 4th Amendment. (or even the 5th, in a lot of these cases). I’m not saying that I wouldn’t like to see it happen. I would. I just don’t think it’s feasible.

        1. Engineers were able to detect the specific parameters when the test was running and pass the test, and then detect when the test was not running and give drivers the performance and fuel economy they wanted / hoped for. And they were able to hide it for 6 years. Not legal, but still an impressive feat.

        2. The hack is the entire subject of the article. Detecting when the car’s being emissions-tested through monitoring the controls and power use, then switching to a low-power mode to fool detection. That’s a hell of a hack. It’s an evil hack, of course, but it still is one.

          That aside, we’re geeks, we’re opinionated, we know a lot about technology and like to talk about it. There’s still plenty of people knocking up gadgets in the other articles, no need to worry yet.

          1. I scrolled all the way down until I found you guys! This was a awesome Hack! This would have taken a few engineers to figure this out, or it was Friday afternoon and they realized there awesome little motor stunk up the place. O buy the way it goes out for smog testing Monday!!! CRAP ! looks like we are working late!

            I bet if they had done it with a Arduino or a raspberry Pi every one would be singing!

  13. The emission tests for Diesel powered vehicles have only began in the year 2000 here is CA. Before this there was no bi-year testing for Diesel cars only for gas cars. Emission testing is also a bit bogus. The temperature affects the testing so wildly – I was able to pass a car by just retesting it 2 times without making any changes to the car. The unit of measurement for a emission standard test is also measured in part per million. What kind of accuracy do you think a smog machine has at parts per million. Yes the machines get a certification every year – but there is still a level of inaccuracy.

    1. I figured it out – VW did not admit guilt. They showed over a period of 5 yeas that the EPA isn’t very good at regulating car emission standards. If they didn’t prove the EPA as a group of number counting office geeks with this move – then nothing else will. If I were in charge at the EPA – I would be looking for a new job – ASAP.

      1. Oh, I like that approach! Maybe I can use it with my state’s highway patrol. “Hey, I’ve been speeding every single day for the past 5 years and you didn’t catch me… it’s YOUR fault for not regulating the drivers, not mine!”

          1. As you say, a “plurality of motorists”; and that’s only after the regional DOT has done the survey and determined that a higher speed is, in fact, reasonable based on the conditions of the road. It’s still not an argument that can be used by an individual motorist when at the time he or she is caught speeding.

  14. I’ll be honest; I’m suspicious of the possibility that only VW is currently guilty of this.

    As another point of query; are the laws regarding NOx ppm exhaust/emissions genuinely sensible? Just because a law exists doesn’t mean it makes sense; especially considering the longer given life and greater efficiency said vehicles exhibit. It may be possible that the reduced volume of fuel consumed by said vehicles results in a lower stress on the infrastructure (transport of diesel/gasoline/crude, cost of refining, road replacement due to truck weight stress, etc) which may theoretically offset the NOx emission.

    I’m unsure, as that’s not my area of expertise. I have to do some serious research on NOx emissions, and the effect that any changes a recall may cause on my fuel efficiency before making a decision. Frankly, I’ll be asking for a full refund of my vehicle if it’s mandated by law for the fuel economy to be crippled; or, if the effect of NOx is deemed minor compared to the situations and costs noted above, I’ll just re-flash my ECM.

    1. It’s worth following the chain of regulatory reasoning back to the scientific research to see how important regulations actually are; I’d assume that stuff like NOx has to be filtered through the lens of political and technological reality. That’s why regulations evolve.

      Having said that, I’m no expert either. If you do look into the research that produced our current NOx laws, I’d love to read more.

      1. I suspect that at the end of the day, they’re going to say; “regulating diesels is too hard. . . therefore, we should tax the fuel more”. (. . . but only for car drivers, we’ll except coal-rolling pickup trucks. Because: Cowboys).

          1. Irony; from what I’ve seen, most diesel owners (including large trucks) scorn on it because it guzzles fuel without improving torque significantly.

            I’d be worried about “in-the-wild” testing leading to further monitoring systems on personal vehicles; to be frank, I’d like to have as few gadgets and bobs and whistels not integral to improving my vehicles fuel efficiency; hell, I don’t even use my AC, but I’m a weirdo.

          2. As a first cut, issuing tickets to vehicles emitting visible smoke plumes would help with some of it. But it’s a fad and will mostly die out on its own, IMHO.

            I drive an older diesel car, and I tune for at most a light haze from the exhaust at full throttle. Smoke is really fuel that I paid for going out the tailpipe without moving the vehicle forward! Plus don’t forget anything going out the tailpipe is also blowing past the rings and getting into the oil. Somehow I don’t think my bearings need more carbon grit in them.

      2. From what I’m reading; it’s the result of concerns of acid rain effecting ecosystems; and possibly causing respiratory distress to those predisposed, but I’m seeing paywalls everywhere in regards to scholarly articles or studies related to the effect of such and at what ppm they become a significant factor, especially since all fo them seem to be studying the combined effect of SOx and NOx; not NOx individually. Since I use exclusively low-sulfur diesel; I’m concerned that they are lumping two separate categories together.

        If I find any useable/parseable studies, I’ll link them here.

      3. Yes, probably politics has come into those laws, as ever. But since politics these days is full of corruption, any influence is likely to be in making targets slacker, to suit the car manufacturers, who’ve surely used political connections and money to buy influence like any other industry does.

        It’s depressing when corruption is normal. If you lived in some banana republic, you’d expect it. But not in countries that sincerely claim to pride themselves on being homes of democracy.

    1. It would also be the cheapest and most effective way to do it.
      If a car manufacturer deleted all the labels before submitting the code to the regulators they simply would not have the time or expertise to pick up something like this.

  15. This reminds me of the CARB certified GMs in the 90s. Some of them had air pumps that added air into the exhaust. This made the parts per million less by dilution. PPM under threshold? PASS
    Same thing of faking it. That was just a constant duty as opposed to an enable disable.

    1. The purpose of the pump was to add air (and hence oxygen) upstream of the catalyst. That way, the catalyst could do more. The actual amount of airflow off of those pumps was actually tiny compared to the volume of exhaust flowing through the pipe, especially at low RPMs – that’s why they had to have a check valve.

      On the other hand, the exhaust tips on some diesel pickup trucks do have Venturi slots formed in them to draw in air and dilute the final exhaust product. This is done to reduce cosmetic emissions, but has no effect on total spewage.

    1. Perhaps if the diesel is run at constant load and RPM and the EV is running off a fossil-fired generator. If you run the EV on nukes or solar the balance changes. Run the diesel under real-world non-hybrid conditions so that it sucks more fuel and gets worse. The CO2 emission is at best 2.640 kg CO2 / l diesel

    2. NO2 emissions from a high performance diesel engineer, however, are a very different matter.

      And they’re directly tied to health outcomes and mortality rates in a way that’s very difficult to quantify for CO2.

  16. Ethics in engineering is indeed a huge issue, no matter what field or where in the world. Management tend to be MBAs that have no idea of what is actually done, and their only concerns are metrics and spreadsheets. Engineers with ethics and the ability to say “No.” tend to get chased off, and the ones willing to do whatever they are told (usually excusing unethical work with “It’s just a job.”) are kept on. There’s certain aircraft I won’t fly on because I know the engineers that designed and approved certain aspects of the a/c, and safety would find itself behind the 8-ball if metrics had to be met.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ll see the trend change anytime soon. Many engineers get war-weary and give up, or just sell their integrity for paycheck. And smaller companies isn’t a perfect solution, either, as I’ve known too many engineers with an artist’s attitude, where the numbers change to support their “vision.”

    1. Yup, there’s a plane I wouldn’t fly, either. I said no, and am being chased off. The MBAs who dress nice, and make “decisions” have said it’s not a problem. All of this in a company that ostensibly supports ethics.

  17. I have to wonder who else is doing this. I know Honda cheated a few years ago to overstate its mileage (also shows the car is driving faster than it actually is). I bet some auto company employees are busy shredding documents right now.

  18. The VW Exec’s agreed to cooperate with the investigation, which means that the investigation hasn’t happened yet.

    If what’s happening is that the car is detecting that it’s on a dyno and behaving differently, that would also affect performance measurements, not just emissions measurements.

    David Lang

  19. Blunder Fuck,
    Thank you for your time.
    If you realy wanna get deep, look @ the previous werld warz..
    But thats the past, we dont wanna go there,, I am not trying to be intentionally argumentative..
    Bottom line is, Back then it was the minorities, (jews, gypsys, black people, etc.. the list goes on.)
    Is it now everyone else’s turn??

  20. Those emission limits are too strict to make driveable car, so i will never buy any new vehicle. They are too complicated to not fail constantly. I will buy old junk, because their engines is serviceable and doesnt fail or dictates me how to drive (PM filters…). Dark age of downsizing and emission control must end.

  21. Will be interesting to see how many people take their cars in for a firmware update. People are been asked to deliberately cripple their cars. As it stands they already have a firmware that will pass a standard test and every test station is not able to do mobile testing.
    With all the good will in the world a lot of people will still choose performance over emissions. The small percentage of people who have had custom maps put on their vehicles are even less likely to want to change.

  22. Not like the behaviour is new. Chevrolet did something similar in the Corvette to manipulate the CAFE numbers and avoid gas guzzler taxes. Only difference is that they admitted it right up front. And were quite proud of it.

    1. The Corvette skip-shift feature was always active, though, not just during tests. Unlike with VW, if you drove the car gently you could actually get the same results that they got when it was tested.

  23. They sold efficient, clean running cars that reduced CO2 emissions at the cost of more NOX. CO2 causes global warning. NOX causes smog, assuming the air is already filthy. No one at WV went against the intent of the clean air act, in fact they went above and beyond…they just didn’t comply with a rule left over decades after it was needed.

    The only problem I have with this is implementation…put an economy/race switch on the dash and give the CUSTOMER the choice, don’t hide economy mode, and especially don’t make it so it can only be used when the car isn’t moving.

    1. GM hid a “highway mode” in many of their ECMs in the 90’s. Enabling it using 3rd party programming will increase efficiency under part throttle cruising conditions.

      But running slightly leaner also slightly increased NOx emissions so GM made highway mode disabled by default. I have a 1982 one ton GMC truck I’m transplanting a drivetrain from a 1991 Chevy pickup into. It’s going to get the highway mode enabled to squeeze out a bit more MPG. The throttle body injection and the 700R4 overdrive transmission will also help. It’s a dually flatbed which will be used to carry heavy machine tools. I’m focusing on the unloaded legs of trips. With a load on it’ll get whatever MPG it gets and I’ll live with it and fill up more often. Loaded up it should emit less NOx because the speed/throttle conditions that will engage highway mode will happen less often, if at all.

      One ton (and ones built for heavier payloads) trucks were completely exempt from emissions standards for a long time, even in California. No emissions controls of any sort on the 1982, it was like looking into a 1960’s engine bay under the hood. Even in 1991 one ton and up trucks weren’t required to have exhaust gas recirculation or most other emissions controls. Why the rules were that way is because many such trucks were sold as ‘cab and chassis’ without beds or the beds were removed to install flatbeds, toolbox beds, big truck boxes, chassis mount camper bodies, cranes and more. It was impossible to test *every* possibility.

      So this 1982 truck is going to end up with much better efficiency and lower emissions than when it rolled out the factory door, but if some idiots in California had their way it would be illegal.

      Would be nice if Congress could pass a law telling all the States that they *cannot* make it illegal or against any rule or regulation to make a vehicle *pollute less* than when it was manufactured. Whatever language was in the rules about heavy trucks which kept California from having their own way on that should be used.

  24. The US cant even agree on emissions regulations laws from state to state. Kansas has absolutely 0 emissions testing laws, and thats where you’ll find a lot of “Rolling Coal” trucks. Not to mention all of the machinery that runs “Farm Diesel” and the people who put that “Farm Diesel” in their highway vehicles. I guarantee you that these VW cars emit significantly less NOx than your standard tractor, or sprayer, or truck carrying things. And yes, there are different types of diesel sold..

    The Dyed diesel generally has more sulphur in it, which acts as a lubricant for the engine.. Newer engines are designed to run on ULSD (Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel)

    The EPA makes “standards” but in all honesty, if the “standards” aren’t enforced uniformly, they’re rather ineffective.

    There are a LOT of vehicles that burn diesel besides VW cars.

    In all honesty, this whole issue really isnt that significant.

    1. As an aside, adding a few percent biodiesel to ULSD will give it the same lubricity properties as the old stuff. Very handy if you’re running an old vehicle that relies on the fuel to lubricate its injector pump.

  25. Parts per million in exhaust is in my opinion a silly way to measure emissions, it ignores the total volume and amount of energy produced.
    IF I could make a engine that will travel 200 miles on a gallon of gas and emits less half the NOx of any current engine in that distance, but it is 10% of the exhaust gasses it would fail to pass a ppm test, And an engine that get 10 miles per gallon and emits large amounts of exhaust, can pass.

      1. If tbjr6’s comment above is true then they have to be measuring the ratio of pollutants, and that is what it looks like they are measuring when I get my car checked.
        I am willing to believe I could be wrong.

      2. Yes – here in CA – every emission level is measured in a Part per Million. When we do a smog test in the older program it would split out the report with your failed number (in part per million) and the passing target. Really maked you feel like you were close when you fail by 5 Parts per million. Don’t get me started on how inaccurate the testing or the measurement is.

        1. Yes, smog checks for registration may be measured in ppm… but the EPA certification is measured as grams per mile. So (at least in theory), the ppm measure gives a fuel efficient car an advantage (though it still has to meet the EPA grams per mile standard). I don’t know if CA has different ppm values for different models, but they must allow some buffer for varying test conditions and age of (and/or miles on) the car

  26. really. does anyone really believe that EPA does not have the knowledge and means to road test cars for emissions, and does anyone really think that EPA did not know what was going on? i knew, and i am only an hobbist, and they didnt know?
    who do you think wrote the specs for emission tests? VW? EPA did, and they ran the tests! manufacturers merely conform to what EPA and the likes ask them to do. this whole “cheating” thing is totally bogus and based on total ignorance of how a compression ignition internal combustion engine works.
    and to those who claim that VW is killing people, you cant be serious? modern diesel cars are extremely clean, your lawnmower pollutes like hundreds of them running flat out on the motorway,
    read the ICCT report. all cars failed the tests, except one that was tested on a single road trip with no gradients and with low power requirements. and guess what? NOx is a direct result of high loads/high compression. and if you ask me, the whole ICCT test methodology is questionable to say the least. cars were tested sparsely, under different conditions, some tests were “purchased” and the report does not say which cars failed (results are anonymized) and then out of the blue a test is conducted with a car that miracolously pass the emission tests (an X5 no less, i guess you will all buy X5’s now) and two VW fail? come on.
    the whole thing is bogus, based on nothing, and the stuff coming from the MSM is the usual ignorant tripe.
    emission requirements are ridicolous. no car has a snowball chance in hell to comply in everyday use and remain usable. and btw, read how hybrids are tested, and tell me if the fraud is VW or those who decide those specs.

  27. A diesel car that runs on bio-diesel, which is vegetable or animal oil processed in such way that have less viscosity, produce less CO2 than gasoline engines and less NOx than diesel engines running with regular diesel fuel.

    There are plants such Jatropha which are ideal for the production of biodiesel.
    Also, you can use all the oil used on restaurants that are wasted on regular basis.
    Soy is not a very good plant for the production of bio-diesel.

    Finally, biodiesel is easier to make than ethanol or any other alternative.
    If you know how to cook a meal, you can make biodiesel at your home.

    1. Biodiesel currently can’t be used reliably in colder climates; it gels at cooler temps.

      If bio diesel can beat this problem, and be produced in a quantity and quality that makes it safer to use in vehicles, it might have a future.

      1. This may be wrong (second hand knowledge), but I believe only straight vegetable oil and lower quality bio-diesel gels at warmer tempuratures. Part of the processing of bio-diesel is to remove the thicker paraffin waxes that cause this. Although, regular diesel will also gel at low enough tempuratures, which is why there are additives on the market to prevent this. Not sure how well these additives work with bio-diesel.
        Of course this reputation is why it hasn’t caught on. I know some people who run equipment, and most wouldn’t want to risk downtime just to try something new, when the old stuff works just fine.

        1. Commercial biodiesel currently has a gel point around 15F, a bit higher than diesel #2. The usual solution (for both fuels) is to blend them with diesel #1.

          The biggest problem in switching is that biodiesel has solvent properties, and will dissolve all the accumulated crud (scientific term) in the tanks and deposit it in the fuel filters. The problem goes away once the tanks are clean. The Washington State Ferries had exactly this problem when they switched, and I also experienced it on an old Mercedes.

  28. Between 1991 and 1994 the California Air Resc. Board successfully demanded that all automakers selling cars in the US equip new vehicles with emissions sensors. 1996 was the first year when all new cars were equipped with computers, sensors, and a standard port.

    That’s when everything changed.

    You probably remember emissions testing when you were a kid. It was cool! Your Responsible Adult let you come along and watch a government person spin the wheels around and put tubes in the tailpipe. After 1996, however, your car just does that to itself all of the time. The main function of most ECU’s isn’t to run the engine. Most of what it actually spends it’s time doing is monitoring and recording the emissions, and then reporting the results of those tests, both historic, and in real time whenever a serial connection is established via the ODBII port. (There was/is no security whatsoever, which is why we’re also still having problems with malicious car hacks). Now, no one puts anything in the tailpipe or dyno’s the car, they just verify that the check engine light is off, then connect to your obdII port to verify that the most recent drive cycles (the full set of emissions tests that are required by law) were passed successfully, and then send you on your way,

    So, I guess that’s the fascinating part. CARB’s original implementation of this system was essentially a standard black box in every car that was supposed to report your emissions to government. They made it illegal to tamper with the parts (CAT converter, ECU, etc…) If you attempt to erase the codes stored in your car’s computer to hide issues with car, they won’t lock you up, but the system will report that it was recently reset and its tests are not complete. For a typical car owner, attempting to fool the system is generally as much trouble as simply fixing the problem


    Then they let the car companies build the black box! And then the car companies claimed that the black boxes were trade secrets that no one was allowed to look at!

    We all knew that the Big Bad Evil Corporation was a Big Bad Evil Corporation. Allowing Big bad Evil Corporations to police themselves, and to do so in complete secrecy was a pretty bad idea.

    So, what should we do instead?

  29. If emission test facilities(in the states that have them) actually tested EMISSIONS instead of reading a computer that has no real certifications for it’s sensors(there are devices commercially available to simulate sensors), or itself(HAD has published articles on OBD-II emulators), this would not even be an issue. It’s too easy for the end user to skirt these standards, more so the manufacturer, which actually defines for the emissions testing procedures or OBD parameters that the contractors in each state utilize(ask them why they don’t test emissions and they will tell you it is based upon manufacturer recommended procedures).

    1. I don’t know how it is in your State, but in Idaho the test machines are supposedly tested and certified by the emissions board. We still do tail-pipe tests but only for pre-ODB cars. Of course, fewer testers have the equipment to do the the older type tests. That said, I agree that testing should include what actually comes out of the tail-pipe, regardless of make or model.

  30. Well…several things here…

    Michigan used to make everyone submit to a 10 dollar test every year. Okie dokie, no problem. But…back in the day the first “pass slips” were on thermal paper. Get a fax machine, get one good slip, and pass off a bunch of cars. People got busted for it. So, put a watermark on the paper. Slip an automotive tech a few bucks and get a roll of paper.

    Then it was decided it was an unfair tax on the poor, so instead Michigan decided they need specially blended gasolines for the state, which led to an increased gas price, which was an even bigger tax on the poor.

    Secondly, I have a 2014 magic minivan from Fix It Again Tony, a.k.a. Chrysler that has all the bells and whistles, including an adjustable lower lumbar back support, two dvd players, remote start, heated steering wheel and seats that based on the temperature turn themselves on. I have a 120V outlet, stow and go, so no need to remove the seats, and the third row seats put themselves down electrically. Anti lock brakes, backup camera, collision avoidance, an ECO mode so it actually makes the 17 mpg that is claimed. It is an E85 vehicle, but then it makes 20% less than gasoline mpg and it won’t start remotely during the cold weather. When you run E85 during the cold weather, the car rumbles like my motorcycle.

    Long and short of it? I ride a 2001 Buell blast motorcycle for commuting. I have a round trip of about 12 miles a day to get to work. It costs about $4.00 every ten working days, and since I took a motorcycle safety class, and I don’t go over 45MPH to get to work, and insurance is about 75 bucks fully loaded and the plate is about 75 bucks versus a dollar a day and close to 700 a year for a plate, I ride a bike. Every day that there is no ice on the road, or it is going to ice or snow.

    Dude…what do you do when it gets cold? I plug in. I have electrically heated everything and ATTGAT. So I am not worried.

    Lastly, what is the deal with NOX this and NOX that? Typical politician speak. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) act as indirect greenhouse gases by producing the tropospheric greenhouse gas ‘ozone’ via photochemical reactions in the atmosphere.

    Aren’t we under a UN mandate that the Ozone is in danger?


    The breakdown of NOx gases gives rise to increased OH abundance and so helps to reduce the lifetimes of greenhouse gases like methane. Sources of NOx include fossil fuel burning, biomass burning and emission from soils.

    1. NOx gases also tend to be poisonous, and with hundreds of thousands of people driving cars, it builds up to over 1 million tons being released in the atmosphere. NOx gases are also heavier than air, so unless we have a giant pump that sends it up for ozone restoration and greenhouse gas reduction, most of it is going to be relatively close to the ground and pose a health risk.

    2. Here in Germany “normal” cars have to be tested every two years. When it passes, you get a sticker that has to be placed on the license plate. They change the color of the sticker each year.

      I don’t have a car, but according to the net the test costs about 90 Euros.

    3. Ozone is all about where you put it.

      Ozone in the upper atmosphere is good — blocks UV from the sun, among other things.

      Ozone down at ground level, though, doesn’t do anything useful, and it’s an irritant when you breathe it in. It also decreases crop yields, causes rubber parts to degrade, and other fun stuff like that.

  31. The fundamental emissions problems for both diesel and gasoline were solved over 30 years ago: Operate the engine at a single RPM, with everything optimized to extract both performance and emissions compliance, then hook that engine to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). A technological solution enabling vastly clearer engines to be produced.

    But CVTs have one tiny problem: Consumers hate to drive them.

    First, they tend to have lousy acceleration (only recently have car CVTs evolved to handle high peak power levels). Second, they typically have very noticeable throttle lag (delay between pressing the gas pedal and the vehicle accelerating, due to mechanical transmission changes). Either problem is tolerable (e.g., small engines with turbos), but both together is a market killer.

    The problem is SOLVED. But nobody wants to buy the solution.

    An alternative means to the same end can be found in some hybrids. But only those where the engine is not mechanically coupled to the drivetrain (which excludes many popular hybrids, such as the Prius). I believe the only mass-produced hybrid that runs the “auxiliary generator” at a constant RPM is the Chevy Volt.

    The battery pack provides the no-lag “oomph” consumers desire, while the engine-driven generator does its thing largely independent of driving conditions.

    I think we’ll see pretty much all future diesels will either be mated to CVTs or be in hybrids.

    1. I’d like to see open sourcing the code, which will be safer, not less so as the big auto lobbyists will insist. PGP encrytion is open source and the one “possible” flaw was found and patched in it before it was cracked, and lilely before it was ever exploited maliciously. Opensourcing the code will also stop companies like John Deere from continuing the path they are headed down. But I’m not holding my breath, I’ll just continue to drive something older.

      CVTs are not the answer, CVTs have largely failed because they cannot be made to perform reliably in the larger cars Americans want to buy and don’t perform in the way Americans are used to.

      GM couldn’t even get them to perform reliably in a small SUV, therefore the future for CVTs is the same as it was nearly 10 years ago, which is quite bleak.

      I do agree about diesels and hybrids though. Let the diesel engine run the generator at a fixed speed. The engine will not be mechanically connected to the wheels at all. The much greater efficiency of a diesel combined with the fixed speed of operation would be great. No “alternate” fuel maps needed for emissions testing, you’d only need one for warm up, one for regular operation and one for “limp mode” – Google “limp mode”. This would be a good start, follow this with putting solar panels on the roof of the car and you’d have quite a vehicle.

      Detroit Diesel put a v6 diesel in a Dodge Durango in 1998, it got over 30mpg and was almost as fast as the standard Durango Dodge made at the time (the 318cu in. gasoline model). It was not even a hybrid.
      relevant info on page 10

      Toyota has offered the option of a “Solar Roof” on the Pruis for a while now. Google it.

      When I lived in the US, both my truck and my wife’s Excursion ran on Waste veggie oil (WVO). The engines ran smoother, due to the increased lubricity of the fuel and my fuel mileage only went down by about 1 mpg. WVO fuel cost, after collecting it from restaurants for free was barely less than $0.10USD (10 cents) per gallon, after all the processing and filter costs to clean and de-water the oil.

      Yes, it was an Excursion, but my passenger miles per gallon was better than a Prius most of the time. I only recall seeing a Prius with more than two people in it twice in the past 15 years.

      Excursion passenger miles per gallon (
      my wife driving = 17mpg x 5 people = 85
      me driving = 17.5mpg x 6 people = 105 (I drive with less of a leadfoot)

      Prius passenger miles per gallon
      1 person in the vehicle = 42mpg x 1 person = 42
      2 people in the vehicle = 42mpg x 2 people = 84
      (being generous here, most Priuses only got around 40mpg max when I was doing all the maths 8 years ago)

      Haters gonna hate, especially when my Excursion was more efficient and environmentally friendly (running on WVO), if they don’t hate by then, then they’ll probably hate when they find out that I only switched to WVO to save money. I saved about $8,000 USD over 5 years by filtering and running WVO. My state legally allowed WVO as a diesel motor fuel (sorry haters), and because I made it at home and never sold it to anyone, I didn’t not have to pay road tax on a single gallon. The conversion to running on WVO paid for itself in 8 months.

      Volkswagen TDIs always had issues running WVO though, and while getting 50+mpg does sound cool, the Excursion was better. Running all the way across Kansas, several hundred miles in Colorado and all the way back across Kansas for a total of $60 USD (when diesel was $2.80 USD per gallon there) was pretty sweet. All this with the vehicle loaded with 6 people and enough stuff that the WVO and pump were hanging off the back on a hitch mounted cargo carrier.

      If you want to run WVO, get an old mercedes, a 6.9L or any 7.3L Ford / International, or an older 5.9 Cummins. It’s possible on a GM/DD 6.2/6.5 but those engines are crap because you have to pull the head to replace the glow plugs due to bad design (among other points of bad design).

      I now drive something much older than the Excursion, it is diesel and I do have everything to convert it to run on WVO. I like to say “Once you drive a diesel, you never go back. Once you drive a turbo, you never go back. Once you drive a turbo diesel, you’re spoiled for life.” I don’t know how to express in words how spoiled it is to drive a turbo diesel fuelled by 10 cents per gallon fuel, but it is sweet. And it smells like french fries or Chinese food.

      While they did cheat, and they will pay for it, to VW I say: kudos for the creativity, and enjoy your fines & jailtime, I hope the profiteers are penalized the worst.

  32. So if we use the Pinto as the standard, in a few years, the US gov’t is going to had the president of VW a billion dollar bailout when he heads up Chrysler, sing his praises and call him a genius ? What a load of crap.

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