VW Engineer Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy

[James Liang], an engineer at Volkswagen for 33 years, plead guilty today to conspiracy. He was an engineer involved in delivering Diesel vehicles to market which could detect an emissions test scenario and perform differently from normal operation in order to pass US emission standards.

A year ago we talked about the Ethics in Engineering surrounding this issue. At the time we wondered why any engineer would go along with a plan to defraud customers. We may get an answer to this after all. [Mr. Liang] will cooperate with authorities as the VW probe continues.

According to information in the indictment, none of this happened by mistake (as we suspected). There was a team responsible for developing a mode that would detect a test and pass inspection after the company discovered the engine could not otherwise pass. It’s not hard to see the motivation behind this — think of the sunk cost in developing an engine design. The team responsible for cheating the tests went so far as to push software updates in 2014 which made the cheat better, and lying about the existence of these software “features” when questioned by authorities (again, according to the indictment).

173 thoughts on “VW Engineer Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy

  1. I think they have found their fall guy, I find it hard to believe that this fraud doesn’t go straight to the top. you can’t install a cheat device on a car that will be tested and worked on by hundreds of other engineers and get away with it. Government should go after the company as a whole. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the German government knew what was going on considering so many people in power have VW connections.

          1. The engineer who routinely does stuff that is unauthorized generally does generally not have a long-lasting career in any company. Managers decide the engineer’s fate, and an engineer who doesn’t listen, never has a long career.

    1. Don’t you see this like how a case is built against organized crime? They establish a plea agreement with someone who knows something and get them to help do the same to others until they get to the big fish. I hope he’s not the fall guy. I also don’t have any illusions that they’ll find a smoking gun held by the board of directors on any of this.

      1. I really hope you are right but I would not be surprised if there were back room discussions held between US/Germany/VW to sweep this away. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy nut but VW are probably the most connected company in Germany, pay a lot of tax and keep a small army employed in Germany.

        This article explains how cozy their relationship is with the German government. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-volkswagen-emissions-germany-politics-idUSKCN0RQ0BU20150926

      2. The claim is that he “conspired” with others which is a lot deeper than being an employee who was instructed. I wonder if he is in deeper than he should be and has just accepted that to save his own ass.

        1. “Conspiracy” is a legal term. It means a plan to do something illegal with at least two people involved. That’s all it means. It doesn’t mean “conspiracy” as in “conspiracy theory”. If the engineer were instructed to carry out something illegal by another person, then by definition it is a conspiracy.

          1. Quote: “If the engineer were instructed to carry out something illegal by another person, then by definition it is a conspiracy.”

            That is true by the common definition of “conspiracy” but to satisfy the legal definition of “conspiracy” you need the element of a criminal act and that becomes a little less obvious.

            At what point is the act criminal. I can design and engine that is a “smog generator” and that is perfectly legal unless it goes into a car that is to be approved.

            Is the engineer responsible for the approval process application and who signed the forms to have the vehicle tested for approval?

            It’s perfectly legal to make a bullet. It’s the person that puts it in a gun and shoots someone that has committed the crime.

        2. For all we know he proposed the whole idea to management as a solution. Or maybe he put it in vague terms like ‘software solution that will enable the car to pass the test’ meaning some management might think it’s just an optimization of timings. Although that is perhaps unlikely I’ll leave it to the court to find out.

    2. Per TFA: “…his lawyer said he would cooperate with federal authorities in their criminal probe.” The indictment was under wraps for three months, so it is likely Mr. Liang’s lawyers have worked out something to minimize/eliminate his time in Federal prison… by trying to put bigger fish in prison.

  2. I would argue that the intent was not to defraud customers, but to circumvent government regulation. The fact that laws were broken cost customers nothing directly. If anything, the customers got a free pass at emissions inspections, more power output for those with lead feet, and quite likely a more reliable, longer lived engine. VW couldn’t create an engine that could be all things to all people, all the time – so they made a great engine for the customer, and screwed the government.

      1. The main reason the customers needed a “clean diesel” is to get through the government regulations. Few diesel passenger cars are available in the US anyhow because of the strict emission regulations.

        The political push for high fuel economy and low emissions are in contradiction with one another because the manufacturers can’t deliver both at the same time. Even with gasoline powered engines, increasing the compression ratio with lean combustion and direct injection produces a similiar emissions profile as diesel engines with NOx and particulates.

        The regulations are equally strict in the EU as well – the US simply enforces them more effectively because diesel cars aren’t that popular. In the EU, the authorities would be shooting themselves in the foot to expose all the cheating going on and actually punish someone for it, because half the population is driving diesel cars because of the extreme fuel taxes and extremely tight economy standards set by the very same authorities.

        In other words, the governments have set the bar too high to gain brownie points from the public, in disregard of technological and practical economic realities, the automakers did the only thing they could which was to cheat, and the public thinks that the false promises and faked results were actually achievable, and now everyone’s pointing fingers at each other trying to find a scapegoat.

        1. A contradiction? It’s hard, not impossible. Everyone knew it would be hard. It’s not reducing emissions while increasing mileage, it’s reducing overall pollution. Its not supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to reduce global warming. The government is asking for better technology and VW failed to deliver and then lied about it. They shouldn’t make cars that aren’t up to standard, just like any other product.

          1. There are thermodynamic limits in piston engines that dictate the production of nitrous oxides as the efficiency goes up. For a heat engine to work more efficiently, the pressure and temperature above the piston must increase, and in those conditions – unless the fuel mixture is very even and over to the rich side – nitrogen oxides will form.

            That means you can push only so much energy out of a gallon of fuel in a small economy engine, and the engines they have are right on that limit. Demanding any more fuel economy out of them will result in the increase of emissions, and demanding any better emissions from them will result in increase in fuel consumption.

            Now, as the vehicles are taxed in the EU over CO2 per km, and simultaneously the regulators are demanding low emissions, and both standards are getting tighter and tighter every year – the situation is impossible.

            The only “better technology” that VW or anyone really could deliver is something entirely different, and those technologies aren’t mature enough for the market. The only way to keep adhering to the government standards without cheating would be to make the cars even smaller, or pay the penalties that the governments have set, which means the consumers would pay more or get less.

          2. If you want to reduce global warming, drive diesel. Diesel engines, esp. turbo-diesels, have higher thermodynamic efficiencies. The trade-off is that NOx goes up as you decrease CO2 per mile. The alternative is that you add special cats or decrease maximum combustion temperature, decreasing the efficiency and increasing CO2 per mile. It sucks; there is no free lunch.

        2. “The main reason the customers needed a “clean diesel” is to get through the government regulations. ”

          That’s certainly not the case. Right or wrong, people are trying to buy low emissions cars to feel good about themselves, that they are “doing something” to offset the impact of their transit on the world. Passing Federal standards was an expected part of the deal.

          If your statement were true, Volkswagen would have sold zero diesel cars in states that have no emissions testing or laws, because there would have been no need.

          1. The problem is the regulations are “rigged”. Look around on the road, see that giant pickup truck that makes all the racket? That’s a diesel truck. Watch them at a stoplight. Notice how many of them belch black smoke when the owner stomps the go pedal? Those trucks are all held against a vastly lower regulatory burden. It’s all designed to protect domestic manufacturers from foreign car companies with vastly more experience in producing diesel cars.

            Its pure idiocy that I can’t buy a diesel passenger car that meets the same pollution standards as a pickup truck that gets 1/4th the fuel economy. Instead the diesel cars are forced to meet a much much higher standard than the diesel trucks are required to meet. Those regulations are designed that way not for the environments benefit but for the benefit of some politician so he can line his pockets.

    1. Nope. Customers were lied to and sold a false bill of goods. And they may have to face higher taxes because their VW suddenly isn’t as eco-friendly as was claimed (green cars get a tax rebate in many EU countries).

    2. Yip, in europe (and the uk lol) where people are used to modern diesels having bucketloads of torque and consuming 50mpg while towing customers wont stand for weaker engines due to tougher emissions..

        1. The main point of the high economy diesels in Europe is that they achieve the same practical mileage as gasoline hybrid cars without the complex and costly hybrid drivetrain, so they cost less to buy and maintain, and diesel fuel is commonly cheaper than gasoline.

          1. Diesel is also commonly more expensive than gasoline. It all depends on location and market. Most of your comments so far make you sound like an astro-turfer. All I’ve heard so far is justification for why government is bad and why business should be able to destroy the earth for the sake of profits. The product was fraudulent. It claimed one thing and did another. That’s all there is to it. Why it is fraudulent is a moot point. If you can’t do the job, don’t accept the task.

    3. The whole ‘cheat’ basically reduced the amount of exhaust gas additive added during normal day-to-day driving, returning to the ‘normal’ levels during emissions testing. VW cars can meet the emissions requirements, but to keep this up at all times would be detrimental to the running costs of the vehicles which would upset end users. Yes I understand that some people have bought these cars to be ‘clean’ and that the emissions wouldn’t be as stated, but that chances are this is a very very small percentage of users, and far more are concerned with these three factors: Running costs, power and fuel consumption. Also, even in its worse case emissions the VW is still vastly less polluting than the majority of gasoline powered cars in the US (the emissions regulations are in favour of gasoline rather than diesel in the US due to vested interests from American manufacturers).

      1. The amount of ad-blue injected in the engine is not a simple receipe but something that depends on a whole lot of different variables. Injecting too much, or if the load conditions suddenly change causes the exhaust treatment system to emit ammonia and other nasty stuff, so part of the reason is to be conservative with the additive when the engine is operating under varying conditions.

        When the car is on the test bench, they know exactly how much to add.

    4. “I would argue that the intent was not to defraud customers…. cost customers nothing directly…. and quite likely a more reliable, longer lived engine… so they made a great engine for the customer…”

      I agree with this for the most part. but it depends on where you live. It’s possible that some folks have to pass an emissions test to license their cars so this could be bad for them when trying to renew their tags or at least buy or sell the car maybe. Otherwise, I can’t see why any non-“soccer mom” tree hugger would mind having a car with a great performing engine in terms of what matters to customers, i.e. high output per MPG and longevity. Makes me wish I had bought one right before the scandal surfaced.

      If you have to pick any two from economy, performance and emissions, I’d certainly pick the first two and I’m also certain that the government will shove the latter down customers throats at the expense of the first two if they possibly can, even if you already bought and own the car pre-“scandal’ days. I’m sure they already are.

      Volkswagen didn’t hurt customers whatsoever unless the government throws new obstacles in front of those customers in the effort to punish Volkswagen. Since the government will bend over, spread wide and swallow for the EPA, I’m guessing it will turn out bad for everybody eventually. But be clear in your head that the INTENTION was not to defraud customers but rather government regulation. Sure, not fantastic, but the intention does matter, at least to me.

      1. I cry a little inside every time I see a de-tuned diesel bellowing black smoke, because ‘rolling coal is cool’. However, VW’s problems largely lie with increased NOx emisions.

  3. who gives a toss. emissions devices are sending diesels by the bucketload to the scrapyards early, and reducing there fuel economy. there is a whole aftermarket industry around dpf and egr deletion, current emissions standard for diesels are killing the whole reason for running a diesel in the first place, longevity and economy. Good on vw, I would be stunned if every manufacturer wasnt doing the same, just VW got caught.

        1. Perhaps you’re trying to bait me, but it appears you are still fixated on the wrong issue. Debating emissions restrictions is a different discussion. This revolves around an organized effort within a company to lie about their product to everyone. That is the concern. As I referenced before, it’s baffling that a team of engineers would be complicit in this fraud.

          1. guilty as charged :) thing is over here I have never seen any advertisement for any VAG cars pushing them as amasing for the enviroment, only good on fuel, like I say anyone I ever chat too about buying a diesel (I own a garge for my sins) is concerned with torque and economy, most folks will happily do a DPF delete for example, which drastically increases emissions output under acceleration but gains you realibility and fuel economy.

          2. I should add theres a 2015 golf diesel on my driveway, (along with a bmw diesel and mercedes diesel) If VW took liberties with an emissions test to give me a more reliable, powerfull, and more fuel efficient car i’m all for it.

          3. The argument is that the company actually lied in favor of the customer against over-strict and misguided government regulations, essentially delivering a better product than they would have if they had adhered to the letter of the law.

          1. The smog got cleared already with improvements that wouldn’t pass today’s emissions standards.

            The problem now is that the regulations are running into diminishing returns and exponentially increasing costs through complexity. Compared to the cars of the 70’s we’re talking about single percentage point improvements as the technology is nearly as good as it can be.

            In the big picture, if 100% is what the optimal diesel engine could do, the cars in the 70’s were at 50% and cars today are at 90% and the government wants them to do 95%. That last 5 points won’t improve the situation as much as the jump from 50% to 90% and it will cost everyone more than it saves.

      1. I will add that before this fiasco, I thought honesty, integrity, and excellent engineering were descriptive of VW. Not so much anymore.

        I hope that this investigation doesn’t stop at VW though. Certainly they’re not the only manufacturer that has figured out it’s easier to cheat tests than to meet the specifications. If anything they’re a proof of concept.

        1. Watch the Adam Curtis documentary Pandora’s Box – The Engineer’s plot

          In the documentary Curtis describes how in the Soviet Union the production engineers started cheating against the increasingly unfeasible five year plans of the central government, adding things like lead weights to chandeliers because production was measured in kilograms. It also describes how the same happened in the west under Thatcher’s UK with increasingly oblivious demands from the neoliberals who first privatized everything and then tried to control the market by quotas.

          The documentary mentions a case story of NHS hospitals that got a demand to reduce patient waiting times without hiring more doctors, so the hospitals hired special “hello nurses” whose only job was to lead the patients into a room, greet them, and leave them waiting again for the real doctor – and so the patient was offically recieved and the demand fullfilled.

          The same thing has happened with the fuel economy and environmental regulations on cars. The governments are simply asking the infeasible, making contradictory demands, so the market responds by pretending.

    1. Denis, I’ve heard about folks optimizing their emission testing experience with diesels, and have an academic interest in how such things would work. Interested in personal anecdotes. I think I can inquire like this with clean hands and heart, as in reality (and all records will show) I have *never* owned a diesel vehicle in my life, do not have any in my household, and would have to think if I still have any associates that own a diesel, as a school mate that comes to mind sold his ’77 Dasher Diesel some years ago. I would also certainly welcome an article with web (re)sources on the variety of homebrew, (not corporation), “fuzzing” or “glitching” (or is it a user improvement of the emission systems, like a huge urea canister?) from Hackaday, — if the editorial decision makers of Hackaday would permit it and do not decide that presentation of that grouping of information is an untenable liability.

  4. Mercedes Bluetec diesels are also getting some heat. At cool ambient temps the emission controls are inactive. Not a cheat but they were designed to pass the testing and they do but they are not tested at the cooler temps. MB is getting heat in a few EU countries because they were sold as clean diesels and under certain normal operating conditions they are decidedly not.

    1. The regulations specifically allow higher emissions at cooler temperatures because the emissions treatment systems don’t work well at low temperatures, leading to secondary emissions of ammonia and other byproducts that are far more harmful than the diesel exhaust itself.

    1. Code is free (after it is written), anything else they could do would most likely add to the part cost of the vehicle.
      I own a diesel VW and don’t care about this so-called “scandal”. They were smart enough to find a loophole in the testing regime commonly used, and they exploited it.
      I would do the same.

      1. Huh? The tests are not in place just for the sake of passing the test. It’s intended to prove proper vehicle operation the other 99.9999% of the time. As in most things in life, don’t pat yourself on the back for cheating the test – you’re only harming yourself (or others) in the long run.

        1. I’m with you Joan except for the “moron” part lol. I am now progressing through COPD so perhaps I have a different opinion about power “vs” health. Yeah, I am mostly on your side.

    2. Yes, they could. Real ‘clean diesels’ are using Selective Catalytic Reduction (multiple cats with different catalysts) and exhaust urea injection. Adds a lot of cost and design penalties. That would be one of the motives for the investigation – finding out what kind of secret sauce VW was baking in, that allowed it to meet emissions without incurring those penalties. Now we know…

    3. The emissions come down easy with less fuel injected, the problem is the customers expect a diesel to be nippy and have a good shove of torque, the old addage of “no smoke no poke” applies. the particulate filters do a good job of catching and slowly burning off the bulk of it but they can only do so much.. and they only work when up to temperature (4-700deg C depending on type of filter) short journeys and cold climates render these filters useless.

      1. I didn’t expect my Datsun diesel (CD-22) to be “nippy”, I did expect it to be economical! I learned to patiently wait for traffic to clear before pulling away from a Stop sign. Sometimes that meant making sure no one was approaching for a least a block and half away from both directions.

    4. A bigger tank for AdBlue or just a more frequent refilling of AdBlue. The emssions are ok as long enough urea is used to clean the exhaust gases. Or to use NOx absorbing catalytic converters like BMW does.

      1. Injecting too much urea relative to the exhaust flow breaks the urea down into ammonia, which is more hazardous than the exhaust it’s trying to clean. In a situation where the engine load is changing rapidly, such as under accelerations, using the right amount is tricky. In the EPA/NEDC tests, the acceleration profiles are well known, so the amount of urea injected can be programmed exactly.

        To completely eliminate the NOx emissions with urea injection in the real world would simply exchange the problem for another: how to catalyze the ammonia out of the exhaust.

  5. And in the process did what everyone at school try’s to do – pass the test :)

    I have numerous VW and quiet frankly my main concern is that the vehicles are reliable and economical.

    Environmental considerations don’t really come into it

      1. Politicians in any country, without fail, will always put their own interests first. Anyone with a shred of concerned intelligence would promote less personal traffic, more mass transit but the fact that all those car owners are voters, none would ever commit political hari-kari by upsetting that voting pool. All I ever hear/read from the UK is “more roads” not “less traffic”.

        As an ex-car owner I, like millions of others, would make journeys that could easily have been undertaken on public transport. Some journeys, I admit, were far easier and cheaper to do in the car than any other means. I also admit that some journeys in the car were wholly un-necessary and could have been taken on foot, on a bus, or on a bike but, your average car-owner has to justify their ownership with all the extra financial burdens that having a personal vehicle entails.

        Every teenager sees having a car as ‘freedom’, or ‘independence’ when, in the cold reality of the modern world, there is little or none of it during the course of a regular day. I fail to see the freedom using one’s car to commute to work when one lives and works in the same general location. The number of people I see here who live in this city and drive to their place of work which is in the same city is sad to behold. The public transport here runs frequently, (usually) on time and is cheap, cheap , cheap but any of the bus/tram/trolleybus journeys could be shortened if the number of superfluous vehicles were removed form the streets.

        Most European cities are evolved spaces and were never intended to carry the amount of traffic that they do. Your average London car-driver probably spends several hours per day getting to and from their place of work. Even back around 1981-1983 it would take me anywhere between 60-90 minutes to cross London in the morning – with a truck-full of scaffolding bits and bobs.

        This planet has so much natural space, concreted, or paved over, devoted to roads and parking. Eg., I lived in a small New Zealand town (population ~16,000) for a while and plans were afoot to build a new sports centre for the locals to use. 2/3 of the ground space would be for car-parking…in a town where one could literally cycle from one side to the other in 20 minutes or so.

        I, for one, do not miss the legislative fleecing by governments against personal vehicles. Insurance premiums in the UK have gone through the roof. I have had a license for 34 years yet I would be treated as a new driver by insurance companies in the UK as I have not had any vehicle policy for some time. It would cost me more than the value of any 2nd-hand car to insure it. At this point in time I cannot justify owning a car. If I want to make a road trip I can easily hire one for the purpose.

        The only solution to a clean environment is NOT cleaner use fossil fuels. Obviously, it is less use of those fuels, which means fewer personal vehicles. And to point to a previous poster who claims to have 3 diesel vehicles: is there any real need to have so many when one would suffice? I wholeheartedly support going after misleading manufacturers. Who really enjoys being lied to, or misled?

  6. Defrauding the costumer: Did anyone buy their car because the amount of NO parts per million it claimed exaust? Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t. Also, do you know that MPG on the sticker is probably not accurate as well? Should every carmaker be ostracized for that practice as well? Or is it just some stated standards that are more heinous as well? What’s the criteria for a measure of performance be off enough to launch criminal investigations?

    Cheating the test: I’m sorry, the test was flawed if it was cheated so easy, and emissions testing has been flawed for a long time. The reporter who discovered this in the first place was intending to write a piece on how flawed the practice of emissions testing was in this country. And yes, other cars (BMX) were found to be over the “legal limit” 2 to 3 times what they claim to do during emissions testing, VW was just the most off, which launched an investigation into why.

    The company design a car to meet the emissions testing. Engineers design system to meet requirements. Passing emission testing was a requirement. Yes, It was immoral, but in my opinion so is inflated MPG ratings.

    From what I understand, it isn’t a clear cut cheating design. The engine has a “filter clean mode” where it runs hotter and leaner to “burn off” the soot from the NO collection sponge/device. You lose engine power when this happens, so the ECM has to guess when would be the best time to activate this degraded performance clean mode and not impact the driver’s expectation of performance. The programmed sensor criteria to activate the cleaning happens to be identical to the static emission test. So whenever it gets tested, it thinks it’s a good time to clean it’s NO collector and runs lean.

    Yeah, VW admitted it was a cheat, and I think that was the better PR move. But it isn’t clear cut in my opinion, neither is assuming the evil engineer theory Mike has.

    FYI, i own a 2004 diesel VW that expels WAY more NO than the new VWs, even when they are cheating above the test. But since as a country we went from the most lax diesel emissions requirements in the world to the most strict in about the span of a year, no one seems to care and everyone seems rather surprised the extra pressure put on companies trying to stay profitable resulted in this. Really? C’mon.

    VW was immoral, but the emissions regulation / testing system needs an overhaul. Let’s put some focus there, instead of this clickbait anti-fan boy media circus.

    1. Lol.. I bet you just abandoned half your ideals because the issue effects an asset you own, while acting as unpaid shill for a craven modern executive class operating their multinational criminal enterprises.

      Was it worth it?

      Love the haunted apartment, by the way!

      1. Did you miss the part where I said 2004 VW diesel and the part about the drastic change in regulation? Mine is unaffected, as it’s grandfathered as an exception to the new regulation. I have no NO emissions reducing devices on my car at all, as with every diesel car before 2007. I pollute was worse than the current model, even when it cheats. But who cares right? It’s not about protecting the actual environment, or everyone would be calling for me and thousands of others to trash our cars. IT’s about getting everyone spun up to bash a company and make news articles, all while avoiding the real problem.

        This has actually increased the value of my car, so by your logic I’m on the wrong side right?

        1. actually there are plenty of people calling for old cars to be taxed out of use, in denmark a car has to be registered as a veteran vehicle or it will be taxed according to modern emission standards, meaning that for some it is more expensive to keep an old car in taxes alone than it is to have a new car financed including insurance.

          1. In the US during the recession we had a “cash for clunkers” government stimulus. The idea was to prop up the auto industry by encouraging new car purchases – but as it went in the same time as tougher MPG standards for new autos, it also benefitted the environment to get the more polluting old vehicles off the road.

          2. “as it went in the same time as tougher MPG standards for new autos, it also benefitted the environment to get the more polluting old vehicles off the road.”

            If only the MPG standards had actually improved the mileage. In reality the manufacturers haven’t been able to deliver any significant real improvements in mileage.


            The so called MPG gap grows at a rate of 2% points per year, and the smaller economy engines are affected most – for obvious reasons: the manufacturers can’t follow the regulations over fleet fuel economy so they simply cheat.

          3. Dax that’s a European based site, they would not only have a different “gallon” but also a different government testing methodology for fuel efficiency.

            The EPA began using an improved model in 2008 which better reflects real-world efficiency (in short, it’s more accurate, and showed that a lot of cars were not as efficient as previously thought!) Combined with more stringent anti-pollutant requirements, requiring cars to meet a minimum of 34.1 MPG by model year 2016 and 54.5 by model year 2025 – we are indeed seeing real progress in fuel economy and pollution reduction

          4. “that’s a European based site”

            The MPG gap exists in the US as well, and it’s growing just the same. The gap in the US is about 20% whereas in Europe it reaches 40% in the worst cases, mostly because in Europe the CO2 per km rating of you car influences the tax you pay on purchase, so the manufacturers have to hit a certain ever-tightening limit or get bumped up to a higher price class.

            The mileage gap is in direct proportion to the strictness of the fuel economy standards in each region because the engines are at their technological limits and the technology is not improving as fast as what the regulators believe is possible.

          5. The whole idea behind the fuel economy standards is a bit of a conspiracy theory, because the public and therefore the government believes that the automakers are deliberately making cars that waste fuel.

            They’re not. They’re making the sort of cars that people buy. The only real way to get the fuel consumption down is to make smaller, slower, lighter cars with less accessories and safety features – basically going back to the 70’s with vehicle design – but people these days won’t buy a car built like a Fiat 127 with a wheezy little 1.1 liter turbo engine. Those cars were crap, and their modern equivalents are crap.

            Yet the government demands less fuel consumption so the only remaining option aside from dropping out of business is to cheat.

          6. Dax says on September 10, 2016 at 2:56 pm

            “They’re not. They’re making the sort of cars that people buy.”

            That’s not exactly true. SUVs were foisted on the public as fuel efficiency dodge, They built a car on a truck from because it was thusly classified as a truck and subject to weaker CAFE requirements, Many business, and especially car companies, are quite adept at manufacturing demand/perceived need for what they’ve decided to produce.

          7. The case of the SUV is just a point that the public doesn’t mind bad fuel economy for as long as fuel is relatively cheap, as much as they mind everything else. The CAFE standards are essentially pointless, because the industry does produce fuel efficient cars for those willing to pay for them, and they’re trying their best to cater to the entire market – they’re not just making SUVs.

            Where in Europe the governments started taxing fuel more to change public behaviour, in the US they’re whipping the car manufacturers because the public doesn’t want to spend less fuel. It simply doesn’t work.

    2. Agreed, for the most part. I don’t think it was an accident, but I don’t consider it a problem. It doesn’t harm the environment in any meaningful way and it allows them to sell a better car.

    3. The change from LSD to USLD was grasping at a straws and the amount of pollution prevented probably is not worth the cost as the heavy processing need to make USLD fuel is energy intensive and requires higher quality crude that may have to be transported long distances via cargo ships burning dirty bunker oil.
      So the over all pollution of USLD may actually be increased over LSD fuel.

      1. ULSD is not really due to emissions, but rather to prevent damage to aftertreatment devices like diesel particulate filters/diesel oxidation catalysts, which can be “poisoned” by sulfur.

    1. **Raises hand**

      I’ve never driven a diesel in my life and have no loyalty to VW, but after reading about this issue I kind of want one…

      My opinion is that VW was doing their customers a service. Faced with impossible regulations they found a way to continue selling good cars in spite of bureaucrats who hate internal combustion. It’s a shame they got caught.

      They marketed a clean diesel and sold a clean diesel. Just not quite as perfectly clean as the law demanded. I think there are much more effective ways to reduce pollution than squeezing the last few parts per million out of an already clean car.

        1. I didn’t say it is impossible to make a diesel engine run with the required emissions. They do that whenever they are run through an emissions test…

          I’m talking about the practical situation it puts VW in. They couldn’t legitimately pass the tests without making their cars either significantly worse or significantly more complex. I think the word “impossible” works just fine for describing a situation that leaves engineers with no good solution.

          1. “The solution is not to build the car, then.”

            That’s the nirvana fallacy. The perfect is the worst enemy of the best.

            The reality of the situation is that none of the cars on the market pass the test if you apply the emissions limits consistently, because the emissions limits are just too strict with the simultaneous demand of high fuel economy and performance.

      1. VW cheated a regulation other manufacturers are able to meet. They were not doing anybody a service by breaking laws that other manufacturers met. VW could not offer an Efficient, Reliable, AND Good-Performing diesel and meet the standards. Instead, they chose to bypass the regulations with a [cheat-mode]. Since the 90s, VW has gone downhill- as an overpriced ever-more-expensive-to-operate-and-repair marque for drivers concerned more with image than substance. Also, claiming the bureaucrats hate internal combustion is talking without thinking, given just how many legislators are kept in office by the various lobbies and unions associated with auto manufacture.

    2. I don’t own one and I also would follow the above thoughts – to the average UK user the emissions pass is unimportant. People, largely, only buy cars for their performance, reliability and economy. It’s not really defrauding the customer, though the media and authorities have spun it that way to invoke anger and back up their position. One area that all car manufacturers DO borderline defraud customers is on the economy tests – it’s widely known that they tune their fuel usage to match the standard driving cycle that is tested and which does not match reality. But no one is complaining about that.
      To the average users, this emissions fiasco is a non event on its own. By blowing it out of proportion the government and regulation authorities have just tried to push the picture of fraud to turn it into a vehicle value issue which upsets customers. In the UK their value was not affected at all, but shrewd customers tried to claim it might be because they sniffed a refund.

      1. Incorrect: EU consumer protection laws prevented the ability for customers to get as large a settlement as those in the US did. Part of the reason is that the EU consumer protection laws are a patchwork of the countries within, and lack the bite to go after a international megacorp like VW. There is something of a movement underway in the EU now to get stronger consumer protection laws, spurred on as a direct result of VW’s lack of accountability in this instance.

    3. I dont own one my good lady does, on my advice, i make a living diagnosing and fixing modern diesels and vw make one of the most relaible and refined small diesels going. The car was purchased a while after the “scandal” broke and frankly just wasnt a consideration. Mpg/reliability/build quality being the main criteria.

    4. I don’t own one, but I have been in the market for a nice used TDI since the scandal unfolded. I have found exactly zero killer deals… so much for the resale dive. Just a bunch of 200-250K mi cars being sold by satisfied owners for exactly what you would expect.. The environmental concerns here are meaningless and ultimately stem from a lack of understanding of environmental priorities and/or a misplaced trust in silly government policy.

  7. I’m afraid this is only the tail of the story. All (or most) Diesel car manufacturers do the same trick because they can’t meet the test and perform reliably. They just haven’t been caught yet, and the authorities are deliberately not looking. This story is much bigger than VW and the cover up involves more than the car manufacturers.

    1. Testing other manufacturers was one of the first things the investigators did because they thought it might have been a problem with their sampling equipment or methodology. Only VW showed order-of-magnitude increases in emissions during non-testing-regime driving.

      Remember that VW did this in the first place because they claimed to have “Clean Diesel” technology that didn’t require expensive performance-robbing exhaust treatment systems like urea injection (AdBlue.) Other manufacturers wondered how they managed to do it. In reality they had failed after spending many years and millions of dollars and decided to cheat instead.

      1. I don’t know about that. But I do know that there are more ways to cheat the system than the VW defeat device, Liang admits to using test profile identification and steering angle. An alternative is to look at the pre-conditioning test cycle rather than the actual test cycle. If you know that the vehicle has gone through a preconditioning cycle you can ready the vehicle for the real test. This is sort of mentioned in the deposition. This has a long way to run if the investigation is followed through

  8. There probably enough history of this form of corporate greed and questionable ethics to do an article on it –

    1) Some US tractor company doing stuff with the software ????
    2) Prolific updating there USB bridge driver so that fake chips don’t work (probably an OK thing to do)
    3) FTDI using the windows driver update as a vector to completely BRICK fake devices – did microsoft then take control of VID/PIDs ??
    4) This VW event
    5) Sandisk Eye-Fi intending to switch off server services to render devices useless then doing a back flip.

    The ironic thing as that these companies are loosing from this questionable behavior and yet still more companies try to do similar.

    Some companies have had their corporate head buried in sand for so long that they don’t reseal that they can no longer get away with this sort of thing now that social media has connected people in so many new ways.

    1. Well the book is open on that issue. It’s claimed that the engineer has accepted ‘guilt’ for conspiracy.

      While I can understand that most of what an engineer does is in ‘collaboration’ with others, ‘collaboration’ does not meet the definition of ‘conspiracy’ unless there was also criminal *intent* on behalf of the collaborator (the engineer).

      If he was following instruction then it is simply ‘collaboration’ and I would expect that he is NOT found *criminally* liable.

      For him to be found criminally liable than it must be demonstrated that he had criminal intent. That raises the question “what could he personally gain”? There is obvious gain for the company itself but unless he was paid a lot of money (given the companies profits for this deception) then he is simply a person who themselves has been abused and deceived.

      There is a language barrier here and it may also be the case that he being a non-American citizen, has some shielding from the full consequences of entering a guilty plea to save the companies ass.

  9. Other manufactures try to play by the rules. They have lower ratings on their engines for power and fuel economy. They have DISADVANTAGES FOR DECACADES because the customer decides for the “better” product according to paper. Or they to not offer their engines to some markets because they cannot risk to, or even to not want to break those rules. Rules being made to quite some degree by VW themselves.
    Where does this end, if we as the people accept or even promote that those who play by the rules, have the greatest disadvantages?
    The testing methods are far from perfect but in reality, everybody is fine with those restrictive emission thresholds. Or is anyone here voting for easing emissions laws for your neighbors car?

  10. If you want a real conspiracy, I’ll give you one.

    There was an extraordinary car in 60s. Chrysler Turbine. It uses gas turbine engine and looks very promising. Chrysler made 50 cars and give it out for tests, to different peoples. Users like the car, it was reliable and nice to drive (maximum torque at zero rpm on the output shaft). Guess why all cars was taken back and destroyed? NOx emissions problem.

    Gas turbine potentially could use anything that burn as a fuel. Say, organic oil or alcohol. Diesel also could use organic fuel. And both have “problems” with NOx emissions from the state point of view.

    Don’t you want to take a closer look from that side of problem? Or that facts is not so interesting like the ways manufacturers use to pass tests?

    1. Yeah, I remember someone else who had “problems” with NOx emissions, me. It might be instructive to know the age distribution of the comment authors who appear to discount the effects of photochemical smog. I was around for air to wheeze by, southern California c. 1970s. Perhaps a number of the authors were not, who thus might not fully appreciate what they now have.

      1. That has nothing to do with cars at all. The so named “fox tails” from the chimneys of factories are known very well, and a lot of towns over the world had that problems, but this have no connection with cars at all. NOx is harmful for lungs, but, say, ordinary sand could lead to silicosis. Does that mean that playing with sand should be prohibited at all? Moreover, NOx often is a huge part of natural volcano activity. All cars made by humans throw much less NOx into the atmosphere, than one small volcano eruption. There is the difference, when something really harmful is prohibited and controlled for the peoples good, or used as a tool for some other goal.

        1. I am not a fan of your volcano theory. Volcano eruptions on a noticable scale are NOT a daily occurrence. Whereas 10s, if not 100s of millions of vehicles are pushing out crap each and every day of every year all around the world, from small towns to big cities. There are vehicles in Antarctica polluting the air there in the name of “science”.

      2. Even though the diesels failed the PPM test it’s grams per km rating the one that really matters is probably lower than most of hybrids.
        If you really want to worry about air quality than complain about how dirty shipping is.
        A single container ship burning bunker fuel pollutes more than all the cars in a good sized city.

        1. ” Governing bodies (i.e., California, European Union) around the world have established Emission Control Areas (ECA) which limit the maximum sulfur of fuels burned in their ports to limit pollution, reducing the percentage of sulfur and other particulates from 4.5% m/m to as little as .10% as of 2015 inside an ECA.”

          That’s effectively a bunker fuel ban.

          1. Is it effectively a bunker fuel ban? Or is it an incentive for tankers to weld in a partition in their fuel tanks for a few hundred gallons of what they think of as “clean port fuel” or similar to burn within the limits of the California Air Authority, switching back to bunker C when they hit the outer marker?

          2. The pollution limits apply to the smokestack emissions as well as the sulfur content of the fuel, so yes, they can’t use bunker fuel because switching over would destroy the emissions treatment equipment installed to meet the regulations.

            Of course you could technically build a dual exhaust system with straight pipes for the bunker fuel and scrubbers for running within the ECA waters, but when you’re doing shipping you’re going to be going from port to port and spending most of the time inside an ECA rather than crossing the atlantic/pacific where the limits don’t apply.

    2. While Chrysler’s work with turbine engines never paid off in the automobile sector, the experiments proved fruitful with the incorporation one into a slightly different product, the M1 Abrams Tank, developed in the late 1970s by Chrysler Defense.

    3. You got the story completely wrong. The turbine car didn’t bounce from NOx emissions – gas turbines are inherently low in NOx emissions.

      The car was a failure because of the turbine itself. The efficiency was low because it was a single radial turbine instead of a staged axial design, and they tried to improve the economy by adding an exhaust heat recovery system, a “recuperator” that put the lost heat back into the intake to raise efficiency. It worked and the car got up to regular MPGs of the time but the heat exchanger proved to be too complex to manufacture cheaply.

      The other problem was the poor throttle response and long warmup. The engine had to warm up for minutes from a cold start before it could be driven normally, and the turbine lag was several seconds from putting your foot down to the car actually accelerating even when it was already warmed up. It must have been like driving a rubber band.

      The third problem was that the turbine made a ton of hot air, and getting stuck in a traffic jam it would just cook everything around in a cloud of heat.

      1. > gas turbines are inherently low in NOx emissions.

        That’s not true. High combustion temperature leads to low CO, but increase level of NOx


        > The car was a failure because of the turbine itself.

        That’s not true. Turbine was very reliable and had only 60 parts instead of hundreds in piston engines. Recuperator was much simplier thing than, say, diesel high-pressure fuel pump.

        > The other problem was the poor throttle response

        IIRC, there was no problem with throttle response at all. There was two turbines, one was “master” and rotate freely, without any connection with transmission. Second turbine was connected to gearbox. Throttle does not directly force the “master” to run faster, it moved blinds that direct first turbine exhaust to second turbine blades in first place. So, there was no significant throttle delay. And there was maximum torque at zero RPM. That thing will cost delay even if it would be.

        > and long warmup. The engine had to warm up for minutes from a cold start before it could be driven normally

        Any carburetor car of 60s had to warm up the same minutes. So, that can’t be a problem at that time. Also, there was no problem with torque just after the start, like with carburetor, there was just a recomendation not to warm up engine holding full throttle.

        > The third problem was that the turbine made a ton of hot air, and getting stuck in a traffic jam it would just cook everything around in a cloud of heat.

        Air was not so hot. And if Turbine had same MPG as carburetor car, it could not produce more heat than carburetor car. Just because you need to burn more fuel to produce more heat.

        1. You are so very incorrect, but I don’t feel like arguing today.

          I sense that you are trolling, [Stanson]. I’d imagine a turbine powerhouse nowadays would be far more efficient and with fewer NOx emissions.

  11. The key word in Liang’s testimony is “team.” Teams of engineers don’t just form by spontaneous generation within an organization. Somebody with authority had to form this team, select the engineers (no doubt checking their willingness to do something so unethical as a prerequisite), and arrange for their code to be put in production. As mentioned above a typical strategy for taking down a criminal organization is to flip one of the little guys who knows enough to point fingers at the real bosses. I seriously doubt Liang himself is a fall guy.

  12. From the linked-to article:


    A Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) engineer pleaded guilty on Friday to helping the German automaker evade U.S. emission standards, and his lawyer said he would cooperate with federal authorities in their criminal probe.

    The 62-year-old German citizen, who lives in Newbury Park, California, appeared in U.S. District Court in Detroit on Friday and entered into a plea agreement that includes his cooperation with the government in its investigation.

    Liang was one of the engineers in Wolfsburg, Germany, directly involved in developing the defeat device for the Volkswagen Jetta in 2006, according to the indictment.

    The engineers had quickly realized the diesel engines they were designing for vehicles targeted at the U.S. market could not meet government clean air standards while appealing to customers, the indictment stated.

    So Liang and others, including employees of an entity referred to as “Company A,” designed software that would activate the emission controls of an engine undergoing a government test and deactivate them afterward, according to the indictment.


    So, he’s cooperating in the probe to hopefully nail those who ordered him to do this and the only reason he has ended up being prosecuted is because he made the mistake of doing this and then moving to the US. Anyone have a guess at who “Company A” is?

  13. The device he created is not illegal to exist, using it is and VW used it he did not fit and install it into every vehicle and should be only held liable for vehicles he directly installed it into.

    VW as a Whole are responsible this scape goatary is typical.

      1. +1

        I expect much better from a community that claims to be able to think for themselves. It is amazing how many mindless liberals I see making uneducated comments here. Several mindless others from a variety of political backgrounds as well, but as is generally the case, the liberals whine the loudest.

    1. What do NOx emission have to do with climate change? Nothing! Oxides of nitrogen are not greenhouses gases. Increasing combustion temp increases efficiency of an engine and will thus actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, it will also increase NOx emissions, which is what this whole issue is about.

      What this discussion is really about is politicians. Politicians are not experts in engineering, chemistry, or physics. They are experts at playing the minds of voters by saying things they want to hear and offering “easy” solutions to complex problems. They are also experts a creating “boogey men” to blame these complex problems on. The truth is that we are all to blame because we want so desperately to believe we can fix complicated problems with “no pain” solutions rather than face the often much more complex and painful truths in life. We want to have our modern lifestyle and somehow believe that it’s magically possible to do so without having an impact on the environment. It’s easier to believe there’s some bad guys somewhere who are the cause of all this rather than accept the truth.

  14. Let this be a lesson to all the young engineers out there. In the course of your career, you WILL be asked (pushed, commanded) to do something that is illegal, immoral, or just not right in order to meet deadlines, increase profits, etc. As an engineer, you have an obligation to make sure your actions do not contribute to or cause harm or risk to anyone. Beyond the obvious safety-types issues, this includes meeting legal obligations and regulations with the products you design. For all of you that say no one was harmed by this, consider the dealerships that have lost revenue, and all the workers that may have lost their jobs due to the impact this has had on the company. The law is the law – you cannot pick and choose which ones to comply with out of convenience or for profit. Would you be as wiling to accept non-compliance with respect to the brake system, or prescription drugs or pacemakers? Hell no you wouldn’t.
    This does not stop at one engineer – engineers do not have the authority to make something like this happen. This type of effort go all the way to the top. Senior management either led the effort or at least approved of it. Some of the leaders of VW deserve to be punished for this. They knew about it, but still told the government and the stockholders that the vehicles were compliant. That is fraud. Clear and simple – FRAUD. They cheated and lied to prop up their stock price.
    All that being said, there is nothing that would have stopped this guy from refusing to support this effort or even leaving his job rather than being part of a project that broke the law. There are other jobs out there, and no single job is worth sacrificing your principles or reputation. Some things are black and white.
    As an engineer, I have faced several instances where I was forced to stand on principle and push back to leadership on decisions. You need to make sure the issue is clear and the battle is one that is worth fighting – but I have never regretted doing so. I also never have to worry about ever being forced to plead guilty to anything.
    This guy deserved what he gets and so do all the leadership that knew about this. In another company and on another product, this same type of morality and mindset could cost people their lives!

  15. VW did nothing wrong here. These asinine edicts by the EPA are little more than costly to the consumer for very little protection from any alleged protection.


    But unlike say the exploding Pinto fiasco this is not a story about defective cars. It is a story about defective public policy.

    None of the VW cars now in the crosshairs are unreliable, dangerous or shoddily built. They were simply programmed to give their owners best-case fuel economy and performance. Software embedded within each vehicle’s computer – which monitors and controls the operation of the engine – would furtively adjust those parameters slightly to sneak by emissions tests when the vehicle was plugged in for testing. But once out on the road, the calibrations would revert to optimal – for mileage and performance.

      1. If you bothered to read the article, the emissions were at for the most part an irrelevant level. Sad that you just another statist who is allowed to vote. A company is destroyed for what amounts to nothing. And consumers are cheated as well. The EPA is a politicized agency that needs to be abolished.

        1. Well I read the article and supporting information and this part stands out to me –

          “According to an April 2016 statistic by the European Environmental Agency, about 72,000 people in the EU die prematurely as a result of high nitric oxide levels every year.”

          And that isn’t even addressing the much more toxic nitrogen dioxide.

        2. The EPA may in fact be just that, but the EPA is what effectively prevents business and government from running amok over the populace. It is also evident you are a grandstanding troll with a flair for the dramatic. Bottom line: VW got caught cheating a regulation. Sure, others may get caught. Another thing: consumers get cheated? How so? I don’t feel cheated. And I sincerely doubt VW is “destroyed”. Sad that you are making claims with no validation; another troll who is allowed to vote. IE: you need to be abolished for your flippant remarks.

  16. This hole thing is just ridiculous. Americans complaining about emissions. 2015 the average car on US roads swallowed whopping 13.4 liters per 100km (Americans please translate that to your awkward units, my brain confuses). That’s an improvement of 20% compared to the 1920s! In Germany we have like 7,5l/100km.
    We tricked you with false claims so what? What about that garbage you guys sell here in Germany at Starbucks, Burger King, you name it…. I never got anything that looked even closely like what I saw on the pictures above the counter. Eating as much of it as you want me to will propably kill me within a few years. And it always tasted like shit. Do I sue anyone? No.

    1. I love the fact that you claim the 7.5l/100km. Your vehicle is putting out 2-5x the pollution my 13-15l/100km vehicle over here. In fact most European metropolitan areas still have a smog cloud and heavy air. I have traveled through most of Europe and will continue to do so. I always come back with sinus issues caused by your clean burning vehicles that all seem to put out rat poison. Yet I live in a fairly polluted US city. New York. I find the air quality is better here. Also as a German. You should look upon with suspicion on anyone breaking the law. Isn’t a German saying ” there is no use in running fast when you are on the wrong road. Choose the correct road first” or something to that degree.

      1. “Your vehicle is putting out 2-5x the pollution my 13-15l/100km vehicle over here.”

        It isn’t. 7-8 liters per 100km is a typical figure of a gasoline powered car of the mid 90’s. That’s a perfectly normal car he’s talking about, and not one of these hypercompressed miracle diesels. Your 13-15 l/100km car would be putting out twice the pollution simply by virtue of burning twice the fuel.

        The reason why cities like Paris are full of smog and pollution is because the governments put such a high tax on fuel that half the people have to drive on diesel just to afford to drive, and because the governments also tax the purchase of cars heavily, many of the poor people drive old diesels with poor emissions controls.

  17. Don’t feel bad for this Engineer. I was taught in University very early on, you as the Engineer are responsible – and lives may be at risk! This was hammered into me over the years in school. I have left good paying jobs because a company was asking me to do things that would compromise safety. And another thing – CORRUPTION – don’t do it. It’s like the Mafia. Once they get their hooks into you, the money you got is Less than Worthless – Walk-Away (if you still can)!

    1. I agree. Unfortunately I’m afraid that ethical standards have been dropping in many professions over recent years, and the politicians seem to encourage or cover it up. I’ve read 2 government reports on dieselgate (1 German and 1 British). Both are appalling. Neither draw the logical conclusions that should be drawn from the data presented. This problem is much bigger than dieselgate and nobody in authority seems to care. It’s a major disaster waiting to happen.

      1. Am not a fan of the current trend of tacking ‘gate’ onto the tail of any situation just to make a soundbite. What would all of you be calling it if the original scandal happened at the ‘Hilton’, or “Sheraton’ instead of the ‘Watergate’ hotel?

  18. I have it from an insider that all diesel engine manufacturers do these kinds of tricks. It’s the only way to meet environmental regulations and provide a product with acceptable performance and consumption characteristics to the customer. Not only small engine vehicles but transport trucks and heavier. To improve performance even more, the insider regularly install bypasses so that the engine thinks it’s running clean, but instead is running “dirty”. The owners know to play dumb if ever asked.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.