Monday, September 21, 2015

Has Volkswagen been cheating in Europe too? And is it the only one?

News that Volkswagen had programmed its diesel cars to give false readings for air quality when exhaust emissions were tested has raised eyebrows throughout the US auto industry.  Some are already asking whether Volkswagen is the only company to have used such methods to improve its ratings.

Now the Telegraph is asking some pointed questions about what this means for Europe.

On hot summer days Paris has to ban half the cars in the city from taking to the roads. Air pollution levels in London are off the scale and more than 7,000 Britons die every year as a direct result of vehicle-derived air pollution. Americans, in contrast, stopped dying of smog a generation ago, when the smog laws swept the filthiest vehicles into the scrapyards.

The reason? Europe’s love affair with filthy diesel cars, buses and trucks. And now, thanks to the Americans, Europe’s dirty little secret is out. This week, the US pollution watchdog, the Environmental Protection Agency, said that it has good evidence, from a study by scientists at West Virginia University, that Volkswagen, one of the world’s largest auto-makers, has been cheating in order to pass America’s tough anti-smog laws.

. . .

It is not clear whether the same cheats have been used on VW diesels sold in Europe, although stories have emerged in the last year that many diesel cars on sale are far, far filthier than their makers claim.

. . .

That it has taken the Americans, lovers of the gas-guzzler, to blow away the charade that is the European take on green driving is deeply ironic. And the reason this has happened is all down, in the end, to a bitter debate among environmentalists about what is more important: “the planet”, or human lives.

Twenty years ago, when it came to road vehicles, Europe’s greens, and then its civil servants and politicians, decided that the future lives of 23rd-Century polar bears were more important than the lungs of children walking our streets today. Laws were passed that determined a vehicle’s green credentials solely on the basis of carbon dioxide emissions. And carbon dioxide, although harmless in the concentrations emitted by any vehicle, is the gas that causes global warming.

Here, diesels do relatively well (although the gap between them and petrol engines has narrowed to a sliver). In America, the decision was made to assess cars according to all the pollutants they emit, not just CO2. And here, diesel engines, which emit a foul cocktail of carcinogens and irritants including benzene, soots, nitrogen oxides and tars, do very badly. Hence the temptation to, er, modify the engines a bit so they pass.

America saw the light when it comes to diesel decades ago. The City of Los Angeles has a bus fleet 2,400-strong; a mere 150 of these are now diesel powered (the rest are driven by natural gas or electricity). Compare this to London, where nearly all 6,800 buses are diesel-powered.

In Europe, our filthy air is a direct result of the game of mutually-assured-deception played by the auto-makers and the taxmen, whereby tax breaks are determined entirely by CO2 emissions. The bureaucrats set emissions and consumption targets, and the car makers, allegedly, cheat their way to meeting them (I have no doubt that, if proven guilty, VW is not the only manufacturer with a case to answer).

There's more at the link.

Wouldn't it be ironic if Europe had to go back to using gas-guzzling 6- and 8-cylinder gasoline engines?



Anonymous said...

I remember some years back ('90's?) that certain heavy truck manufacturers were caught doing something similar, by providing a way to change the engine software to improve mileage at the cost of higher emissions. It didn't make big news and they got the usual slap-on-wrist, pay-a-settlement treatment.


Sam Hall said...

Arte Johnson - Very interesting

Anonymous said...

The article kinda lies....the only pollutant that they were fudging was NOX, which is a result of the high compression inherent in a diesel engine.

Modern diesels, are (if properly tuned and functional)actually cleaner than gas cars for smog producing output. Soot particles are larger, and therefore don't float around as long like gas engine produced soot, and per mile they produce less CO2. The modern catalyzing systems make the output of a diesel (with NOX excepted) cleaner than nearly any gas car (and most hybrids).

Douglas2 said...

Anonymous at 9:05, I thought that the photochemical reaction with NOX was the chief culprit for the sorts of smog that once plagued LA and still affect many cities?

Anonymous said...

Also I thought that the soot produced by diesels was of a much smaller particle size than that produced by gasoline engines, and therefore more harmful to the lungs.


JC said...

Not sure about the Euros, but Mexico has a perverse incentive toward diesel - it's taxed as an agricultural necessity (very low) rather than a consumer fuel (high).

richard mcenroe said...

This is the outcome in ANY socialist state. When it becomes easier to cheat the onerous rules than to obey them, people will cheat the rules...

bmq215 said...

Anonymous, you are, in fact, exactly wrong. NOX is the main component of photochemical smog which plagues many cities, especially outside of the US. Likewise, diesel soot particulates are much smaller than gasoline soot (and more numerous) which leads to them contributing more to smog and causing a range of health problems.

I like diesels, and I wish cleaner burning ones with turbocharging and urea injection were adopted more widely but it's important not to ignore the facts.

m4 said...

Volkswagen's chief executive apologised after the scandal emerged.

"I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public," Martin Winterkorn said.
-source: BBC News

Bitch please, you're sorry you got caught!

Anonymous said...

". . . and carbon dioxide . . . is the gas that causes global warming . . ."

Let me throw this into the discussion:

(found on the 'net)
It so happens that the atmosphere of Mars is 95.32 percent carbon dioxide! Yet Mars has no greenhouse effect whatsoever. The temperature of Mars ranges from plus 20 - 40 F during the day to minus 400 F during the night, or about +0 C during the day to about -140 C at night, depending on the source of information. The atmospheric pressure of Mars is only 0.7 percent of that of the earth. If I understand this correctly, 0.007 X 95.32% = 0.667% carbon dioxide on Mars when equated to earth's atmosphere, compared to 0.038% CO2 on earth. So Mars has 17.55 times the carbon dioxide density of the CO2 on earth.

The almost pure carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars does not hold the heat at night that is produced by the radiation of the sun during the day. To justify the 0.038 percent level of carbon dioxide on earth as greenhouse effect, scientists fraudulently promoting global warming claim that nitrogen and oxygen in the air (approximately 79 percent and 21 percent respectively) are diatomic and therefore cannot store heat energy, while carbon dioxide is triatomic. They conveniently overlook the fact that water vapor is also triatomic and ranges from about 20 percent to 100 percent relative humidity! This gives water vapor thousands of times more heat storage ability than the extremely low level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The sad fact is that carbon dioxide has no greenhouse effect at all!

True or false? Who knows? But we already have incontrovertible evidence that the global warming religionists have been falsifying evidence all along.

So take this, and the report, with large grains of salt. Which, if you remember is also bad for your health. Until it was no longer, then was again, and now is a "non-contributor".

Anonymous said...

And the atmosphere on Mars is so tenuous that it needs every gram of CO2 it has to stay even that warm! If you want to debunk climate science, do everyone a favor and don't use other bogus facts to refute it.

Peter, my first reaction when this broke was that this could win the "Chutzpah of the Year" contest.


David Lang said...

Modern Diesel engines are very clean. The main reason they don't get much buy-in in the US is the stupid air quality regulations that mandate specific solutions rather than just the resulting air quality.

Personally, I'm interested in what VW did that 'detected' that it was being tested and cleaned up it's emissions. I suspect that it was actually more a matter of optimizing constant load conditions than detecting that it was being tested. But I also think that we'll never know because the hype has already overwhelmed whatever facts there are.

Les said...

Seems to me if you burn less fuel per mile (like diesels) you automatically create less pollution. Besides I thought we fixed everything when we dumped freon for another freon variant. Besides if CO2 is the culprit, why hasn't global warming happened? Surely China and rest of the industrial world and their shipping have more than replaced any CO2 that we have cut back on.

Jeff Weimer said...

@David - I assume that the software detected when the OBD-II port was connected and then turned all the emissions equipment up to eleven while the tester was hooked up.

David Lang said...

I can think of several ways to try and detect that you are under test, but just about everything is either a legitimate optimization on the open road (detecting constant throttle/load and optimizing), or something that will also kick in when people are doing performance tests on a dyno (ODB-II connection, wheels spinning but no GPS/acceleration/steering input).

The EPA has been under heavy fire this month since their fiasco in Colorado, so they are looking for something to shift the focus. Then they make the announcement late on a friday, the VW execs promise to cooperate fully with the investigation (which means that the investigation hasn't happened yet)

I really don't think we have the full story.

I'm not saying it's impossible, but I'd put my money on an "interesting" interaction between legitimate tuning optimizations and the test procedure. Remember how the first generation of Hybrid cars tested out to insanely high MPG numbers because the test had them spending almost the entire test on battery power without accounting for it?

Machine learning to optimize various things while under constant load seems a straightforward thing to do, it would have a fairly minor advantage on real driving because the load is never quite constant, but in the artifical test the effect would be much more dramatic.

Also remember that these cars were produced for the California market where they not only need to pass the EPA lab tests when they're manufactured, but they also are going to have to pass smog tests every couple of years for a few decades. And during that time the test procedure IS going to change, so hard-coding something for today's test is not going to work in a few years (for what it's worth, I've been certified by California as a Smog Test Mechanic so I've seen the inside or the process)

Also, about the ODB-II thing, Insurance companies, anti-theft systems, etc are getting connected to the ODB-II connector more and more during normal driving. If the cars behaved significantly differently with something plugged in it would have been widely known among the performance crowd (if only as a "we don't know why, but don't try to drive with it plugged in")

This also isn't a case of a brand new engine/system being introduced, VW has been shipping the 4-cyl TDI system for a couple of decades, continuing to optimize it over time (and having owned a couple over the years, they could get an honest 50 mpg on the freeway)

It's also not a matter of turning up the emissions equipment, it's a matter of tweaking timing and the amount of fuel provided to the engine (air is wide open at all times on a diesel, although you may tweak the turbo speed a bit). Aftermarket computer overrides are available that both improve economy (at the expense of power) and improve power (at the expense of economy and emissions). These engines have been tinkered with a LOT over the years.

David Lang said...

In case anyone is still reading this. I've seen posts elsewhere pointing out why the more advanced cars MUST have a dyno mode. Othewise their traction control systems are going to go haywire over front wheels going 65 and rear wheels stopped.

Apparently the very high-end cars that first had this sort of thing had manual steps the mechanic needed to do to put the car in dyno mode. Lower end cars can't do that sort of thing, so we have the more user and mechanic friendly detection.

I hope we get real info as to what was done. The CEO resigning should draw off a little of the heat, but it could also result in a "we'll blame him for anything" mode of thinking rather than finding what really happened and why.

Anonymous said...

David: Don't worry we will find out more than we ever wanted to know. The class-action sharks lawyers will make sure of it.