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Friday, September 25, 2015

Thoughts on the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal


 Cross Posted from Energy Trends Insider

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 collapse 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.


  1. I recently read an article about the VW scandal in a Flemish car magazine, after shopping for groceries.

    Your neighbor might still own an EPA compliant diesel golf, if I can believe what is written in that article, and if he bought his car recently, which is the case with your neighbor:

    . The EPA fudge tests on the VW diesel engine where done in 2014, 1.5 year ago
    . VW's diesel engine in 2014 was the model EA189, which was not compliant with EUR5 emission rules
    . EUR5 emission rules are a bit less stringent than current 2015 EPA rules.
    . VW decided to install the fudge software on the EA189 engines types only, to pass EUR5 and EPA testing, allowing it to sell stuff in stringent EU, USA, Japan and China without detection issues.
    . VW issued in the second quarter of 2015 new diesel engines models that are EUR6 rules compliant
    . EUR6 is more stringent than current EPA rules and much more stringent than EUR5.
    . EUR6 rules are not yet applicable in the EU but will be in 2018.
    . The VW diesel engines that are EUR6 compliant are proven not to be equipped with any fudge software, since they achieve compliance through simple mechanical systems.
    . the conclusion of the article: VW could replace all EA189 diesel engines with this new diesel model, to make all cars compliant with 2015 EPA rules, unless VW decided to simply make the cars EPA compliant by deleting the fudge software and therefore compromising a bit the fuel efficiency or longevity of the diesel engine.

    If your neighbor bought recently his car, it may not have the EA189 diesel engine in it, but the more recent version that is EUR6 and EPA rules compliant, without using any fudge software to achieve asked emission levels at the tailpipe.

    He should check his service manual in the car (model EA189), or consult his dealership to find out if he is in that case. And he might buy himself some VW stock shares down the road, given that they crashed and still are crashing in value, and probably will go backup in a few years, once the bleeding is done, in a similar BP gulf of mexico macondo well blow up fashion.

    Now excuse me, but I have to go shopping in a local Flemish dealership, to see if they are selling some 8 cilinder Dodge Ram behemoth that are EPA compliant...


  2. The issue with those emission testing rules, is that they do not reflect daily use at all.

    I own an old 2003 made VW golf diesel (1.9L engine).

    I drove recently 750km (466 miles) in one day, 95% on highways, at 120km/h (75mph), I achieved an average of 4.8 L/100km (49mpg), indicated by my on board car computer.

    When using it on a daily basis in mixed city/highway use, I achieve an average of 6L/100km or 39mpg.

    This indication is given by my on board computer display on the dashboard. I verified it's accuracy long ago, by writing down driven kilometers and refill quantities when refueling at the gas dealership over one year, and dividing it to achieve mpg figures.

    This on board computer is giving me accurate indications.

    Both consumption figures are way lower than the given testing figures in your article.

    This means that my old 2003 diesel engine car model using a regular 90% diesel and 10% biodiesel mixture delivered at a normal fuel dealership, is already much more efficient than what the testing figures shows for a 2015 VW diesel car, that should be even more efficient than my old 2003 engine.

    As such I have to laugh with those global govmint testing figures, when comparing them with real life figures...


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