Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

A good potted history of how the VW fraud played out

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What seems to be a quartet of writers (but might be a trio with an extra comma), Danny, Hakim, Aaron Kessler, and Jack Ewing, tell a good account of the origins and discovery of the VW fraud. Well worth reading. From the article:

. . . It is not Volkswagen’s first run-in with regulators over emissions. When the United States began regulating tailpipe pollutants in the 1970s, Volkswagen was one of the first companies caught cheating. It was fined $120,000 in 1973 for installing what became known as a “defeat device,” technology to shut down a vehicle’s pollution control systems. This time, it equipped its vehicles with software that was programmed to fake test results, an action the E.P.A. rebuked in 1998, when it reached a $1 billion settlement with truck-engine manufacturers for doing the same thing.

Over the last year, when confronted with evidence that its system was not performing as promised, Volkswagen aggressively pushed back, saying that regulators were not doing the testing properly. . .

And, later in the article:

. . . In 2013, a nonprofit group, the International Council on Clean Transportation, proposed testing on-road diesel emissions from cars in the United States — something never done before.

California regulators decided to team up with the group. They had an attractive chip to offer: the state’s laboratory, where vehicles were tested for California emissions compliance.

The transportation council, staffed by a number of former E.P.A. officials, did not expect to catch Volkswagen, or anyone else, cheating. In fact, it assumed that American diesel cars would run much cleaner than their European counterparts, thanks to stricter United States emissions rules. The group felt that by promoting a success story for diesel, it could pressure — and perhaps shame — automakers in Europe into improving their own emissions.

“We thought we would be seeing some clean vehicles,” said John German, one of the project leads at the council. “That was the whole point when we started.”

It was only by chance that the group’s testing of three vehicles began with two Volkswagens. The researchers already had a BMW X5 and aVolkswagen Jetta — and then a Passat owner happened to see an ad seeking cars for the project and offered up his.

Researchers hit the road, traveling five routes with varying terrain and traffic. Almost immediately, the two Volkswagens set themselves apart from the BMW.

“If you’re idling in traffic for three hours in L.A. traffic, we know a car is not in its sweet spot for good emissions results,” said Arvind Thiruvengadam, a research professor at West Virginia University, which was hired to conduct the tests. “But when you’re going at highway speed at 70 miles an hour, everything should really work properly. The emissions should come down. But the Volkswagens’ didn’t come down.”

It was difficult to know what was going on: When the two Volkswagens were placed on a “car treadmill” known as a dynamometer, they performed flawlessly.

“It just didn’t make sense,” Mr. German said. “That was the real red flag.”

Coming Clean

By 2014, the California regulators determined what to do next. First, they alerted their federal counterparts at the E.P.A. Then, they opened an investigation. “We brought in Volkswagen and showed them our findings,” said Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board. “We asked them, ‘How do you explain this?’ ”

Volkswagen fired back. “They tried to poke holes in our study and its methods, saying we didn’t know what we were doing,” Mr. Thiruvengadam said. “They were very aggressive.”

The company offered many explanations: Weather conditions. Driving styles. Technicalities that it claimed the researchers and regulators did not understand.

“There was always some story, some reason they’d come up with each time,” Mr. Young said. “Meeting after meeting, they would try to explain it away, and we’d go back to the lab and try again. But we’d get the same results.”

The back-and-forth lasted for months. Finally, in April, Volkswagen made an offer: It would conduct a voluntary recall, or service campaign, to fix the problem in certain model year 2010 to 2014 diesel vehicles.

Regulators got the software update for their test vehicles and returned to the lab. The results were not good. “It didn’t solve the problem,” Mr. Young said.

Confronted again, Volkswagen continued to maintain that there was a problem with the testers, not the vehicles.

California regulators changed tack, examining the company’s software. Modern automobiles operate using millions of lines of computer code. One day last summer, the regulators made a startling discovery: A subroutine, or parallel set of instructions, was secretly being sent by the computer to what seemed to be the emissions controls.

Regulators were floored. Could Volkswagen be trying something similar to what the heavy-truck industry did to manipulate emissions tests in the 1990s?

Regulators set out to cheat the cheat, tweaking lab test parameters to trick the car into thinking it was on the road. The Volkswagens began spewing nitrogen oxide far above the legal limit. . .

Read the whole thing.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

27 September 2015 at 9:55 am

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