I’m not a car guy. I drive a semi-derelict clunker that carries more weight in dog hair than human cargo. But when I heard about this VW emissions thing, even I’m shocked that they got away with this for so long. And I’m a real cynical guy to begin with.
For the technically uninitiated (me), a modern vehicle is required to be OBD-II compliant. The On-Board-Diagnostic capability provides, among many other functions, the option to test emissions levels via that port thingy usually located near your left shin. So rather than testing the vehicle’s emission via the tailpipe, OBD-II allows the port to tell the tester how much gunk the vehicle is spewing into the atmosphere.
As best as I can gather, VW and it’s Audi subsidiary altered the computer program so that when the car detected a test was going on via the OBD-II port, that the program lied and changed the engine output readings to read in standards when they were not.
Which to me begs the question: Why were governments not also testing vehicle emission compliance via random tailpipe tests to ensure the computer wasn’t lying and/or flawed? Or if they were doing tailpipe tests, why were they not able to detect that these cars were spewing many, many times their specified limits.
Man, government can get really dumb. One of the key (if not the number one) wins of climate change policy has been the supposed reduction of car pollution. Where does that leave the entire political effort if car manufacturers can just lie their asses off for years to the tune of millions of cars?
You think governments would have been a little more diligent in checking the automakers’ work. Yet I have read / heard frequently experts claim that if VW was doing this, other carmakers are too. Wow. So it’s amazing what people can get away with.
It was all there to begin with too. I just Googled “tailpipe testing” and the first thing that comes up is a 2013 brief from some guy named Antonio Multari.
In the brief he says such enlightening things as:
“OBD specially on diesel engines is not covering all emission aspects”
“European studies show that a variety of serious defects of emission systems in diesel engines will not be identified by OBD.”
“Tailpipe emissions may increase by more than 10 times without being detected by OBD !”
That was 2 1/2 years ago. In today’s 14 minute news cycle, why did this take so long? Here’s my guess:
Engineer: “Herr Chairman, our tests show the clean diesel engine isn’t actually clean.”
Herr Chairman: “Too late, we’re marketing it as it; just rewrite the OBD software to lie.”
ENG: “Huh! Herr Chairman that’s illegal, I’ll have no part in such a crime.”
HC: “You’ll do it or I’ll sack you, sue you, and you’ll never work in the car industry again.”
HC: “Get to work.
ENG: “But Herr Chairman, surely governments will notice. For even if we lie on the OBD software test, they can just test via the tailpipe.”
HC: “Fuck ‘em. If they claim that we’ll sue. And then we’ll hire our own experts to discredit their tailpipe tests. Then we’ll hire lobbyists to bribe politicians and bureaucrats worldwide. And we’ll use the finest marketing gurus since Delta City to prove clean diesel is real.”
ENG: “Herr Chairman, I must say the breadth of your evil is unspeakable.”
HC: “Get to work.” [lights cigar]
Is this above scenario too cynical and extreme for your tastes? Consider this, VW debuted the clean diesel cars in 2009. In other words, they’ve been lying for six years and got away with it until last week.