Thoughts on the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal
Photo Credit The Environmental Blog
Volkswagen was just caught cheating on emissions tests for some of its diesel-powered cars. As a result, their stock price has plummeted. I no longer have to deal with emissions tests because we own a 2006 Prius and a 2011 Leaf, neither of which require testing because one has a SULE (Super Ultra Low Emissions) rating and the the other doesn’t have a tail pipe.
You can’t fake acceleration or gas mileage, but apparently you can fake out emissions tests by installing software capable of detecting when an emissions test is being conducted (via the diagnostic plug in your dash board) that will lean out the fuel mixture and alter the timing (among other things) so the car will pass the test, returning it to normal when the test ends.
I was fooled. Following is a comment I made last year on this subject:
These are all valid points but controlling pollution is mostly a matter of innovation and engineering. You are not necessarily limited by thermodynamics. For example, compare the mileage of the very dirty 2006 diesel Jetta to the very clean 2014 diesel Jetta.
In general, I try not to participate in media feeding frenzies. Here in the States, many diesel Jetta and Golf purchase decisions are based at least partially on the perception that these cars are more environmentally friendly than most. And truth be told, even with these higher emissions, they still are more environmentally friendly when compared to the vast majority of cars sold in the United States. And unlike some other car manufacturer cover ups, this one didn’t involve fatalities or injuries.
I created the above graphic from the EPA Green Vehicle website. Note that since 2006, the Golf appeared to have improved its gas mileage more than 9% and its smog rating five fold (32 mpg to 35 mpg and 1 to 5 respectively).
Back in 2006 many States did not allow the sale of new Jettas or Golfs because of their emissions. Volkswagen decided not to sell them at all in the U.S. in 2007 and 2008 (those model years for diesel Jettas and Golfs are missing in the EPA Green Vehicle data base). In 2009 they introduced their new and improved versions that ostensibly met EPA standards, however (engineering being the art of compromise), they came with engineering compromises that would have degraded performance and therefore, sales, which eventually led to the emissions software cheat.
So what’s the big deal?
The big deal is trust. They cheated customers to sell cars. Some owners, instead of being proud of their environmentally friendly car, will now be embarrassed by it. Surely Volkswagen knew this deception would eventually be exposed. They may have been anticipating a modest fine of some kind. Instead they have seen a drastic decline in stock value and I would not be surprised if this results in a permanent rejection of the Volkswagen brand by many American consumers. But again, maybe they were planning to rename the company anyway!
Now, having said all that, we might want to brace ourselves. Volkswagen may just be the first one caught. Read Biofuel Makers May Have Known About Volkswagen Emissions Rigging for Years.
There are still a lot of people out there clinging to the idea that diesel engines burning biodiesel made from soy, or canola, or palm, have the potential to curb greenhouse gas emissions but that idea has been pretty thoroughly studied by now. Most news you read today about biodiesel made from food stock is hype from those financially invested in biodiesel. Read Third Person Sentenced in Las Vegas for International Biofuel Fraud Conspiracy.
Coincidentally, our neighbors sold their first generation 2001 Prius and bought a 2015 diesel Golf just a few weeks ago. I test drove it. Great car, especially when compared to the soot belching, engine rattling, 2006 version once so popular with biodiesel enthusiasts. They had a difficult time choosing between a Prius and the Golf. Had this news arrived just a few weeks earlier, they would likely be driving a Prius today and that is an example of why Volkswagen should pay dearly for what they just did.