By now, most everyone has heard the unsavory news about one of the most well know automakers in the world. But, we may not yet fully understand the repercussions of the Volkswagen scandal. Especially the loss of trust that automakers may suffer.
By installing software since 2009 that can control a vehicle’s pollution, Volkswagen made an impressive claim. They sold 482,000 “clean diesel” vehicles in the US alone. By some careful tweaking in the software code, the cars’ pollution controls are only active when the units are undergoing emission test. However during normal road driving, the vehicle is free to spew dangerous and smog-causing compounds such as nitrogen oxide. The fact that people are having a hard time wrapping their mind around is that Volkswagen created this deception will full knowledge and intent.
On September 18, the lies made by Volkswagen became a global headline. The EPA stated that Volkswagen had intentionally and deliberately violated the Clean Air Act. The Agency has already ordered the German automaker to fix the involved vehicles with diesel TDI versions for engines. The models affected are the Beetle, Passat, Jetta, and Golf. The EPA can potentially levy fines up to $18 billion. (with a ‘B’) The Dept. of Justice is also considering filing criminal charges.
Why the Scandal Happened
Automakers compete to provide the most powerful car and contribute the lowest degree of harmful exhaust. A common challenge is that achieving one of the goals has historically, meant sacrificing the other. Since diesel engines offer superior benefits for improving the fuel economy, it has become popular in most European countries. Compare to gasoline, cars with diesel engines can travel 30% farther on one gallon of fuel.
The problem is that the better the car’s mileage and the fewer emissions of carbon monoxide, (thanks to fuel efficiency) the more nitrogen oxides produced. Nitrogen oxides are significant contributors of smog and particulate matter that are damaging to the lungs.
For a long time, car makers have investigated methods for developing “clean diesel” autos that do not need to sacrifice performance for pollution control and vice-versa. Seemingly, this became possible through the development of new emission control technology, advanced engines, and reduced sulfur in the fuel. But, as the facts show, it has not been true as was first believed.
How was It Executed
In response to the increasing demand for environment-friendly and high-performance diesel engines, Volkswagen introduced its line of “clean diesel” automobiles. Sadly, it turned out to be one massive hoax. Through careful programming of software code, the pedal and steering movements were able to be tracked while the vehicle was undergoing emission testing. Consequently, if the car believed that it was on a test, it would automatically activate the pollution controls. However, for the rest of the time while the vehicle is in use, the same controls for pollution were automatically turned off.
The Aftermath of the Scandal
Volkswagen and its scandal are not a first in the car industry. As early as 1998, Caterpillar and Volvo truck producers were also caught red-handed in reprogramming their diesel trucks to emit a lesser amount of pollutants during labs tests. As it has now come to the attention of regulators, stricter policies have now been implemented when testing vehicles. Car makers will be required to perform tests while the car is in motion to prevent future false readings.
What we don’t know yet is what this does to the overall trust of automakers on the part of the public. When we see a slick commercial making claims of not only emissions but other kinds of performance, how likely are we to believe it? There will always be that little voice inside our heads saying “Yea, that’s what Volkswagen said too!”