Archive for September, 2015

The VW Diesel Saga

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

There is so much hype being published these days about the VW Diesel controversy that it is difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. It shows again that people seem to be ready to voice opinion in the wake of some media reports without really considering the actual data. It is also interesting that some media do not even report the actual issues.

Volkswagen cheated by providing false data. That is a sad reality that needs to be addressed.

Here is what happened: To control emissions and to make small Diesel engines more palatable for the North American market a “Clean Diesel” designation was created which set certain emission standards for fuels and for vehicles. These standards were tested by plugging a reader into the manufacturers’ engine control unit (ECU). There was basically no testing as the testers just read what the manufacturers provided. VW created a special software which could detect testing equipment and provided data that met the standards at that point. Given the fact that there was no proper testing it provided a seduction for manipulation which VW exploited

(This reminds me of the financial crisis of a couple of years ago where mortgages without much value were sold under fancy names until someone asked: what is actually in those financial packages? That little question sent the financial world for a spin.)

Volkswagen cheated by providing manipulated emission data which could save them money with actual emission treatment. This was discovered by producing a real life test scenario with external equipment where a car was driven through various acceleration cycles.

All this does not mean that Diesel engines are bad or that they are an environmental catastrophe. They still remain 30-40% more efficient than comparable gasoline engines.  By the way: They can be even more environmentally friendly and lower emissions further when they run on plant oil.

There is another interesting piece: North American automobile companies have never produced an effective small Diesel engine. They have made big efforts to show that gasoline is the answer, even discredited electrical cars until not too long ago. It would be nice to apply those clean Diesel standards to trucks as well and move to smaller and more efficient engines that use less fuel and create lower emissions in North American vehicles.

If you look at TV commercials you are told about fuel consumption that can often only be reached under optimal test conditions and cannot be repeated in real life applications. Is there any uproar about that?

I do not want to defend VW at all in this matter. They – like everyone else – need to be held accountable. I just want to look at the real question: How can we control greed and a corporate mentality that exploits anything if it adds to profit? If we see VW as the only culprit then we are missing the point and other manufacturers can rub their hands. Remember all the reluctant recalls car manufacturers conducted even after several people died from technical defects they knew about?

Some new thinking and some proper questioning is certainly in order.