Week 39: Villain – Volkswagen

by Jackie_South on September 29, 2015

VW_villainThe world’s second-largest car maker is our winner of this week’s award for greatest villain

The villainous cheek of the Volkswagen Group’s subversion of US emissions tests is breath-taking. To get around the tests on its diesel engines, it installed software that ensured that its engines behaved differently when it could tell it was experiencing test conditions.

Breath-taking in a number of ways (including the obvious pun). First, the number of vehicles involved: half a million in the USA alone, an estimated 11 million cars worldwide. Then the time this has been going on: by their admission, since 2009. Then the fact that although the Americans spotted it, that the system was designed to also circumvent European testing methods.

And finally the scale of the deception: this was not shaving a few percent off the level of emissions found in the tests compared to normal running – the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the cars are emitting 35 times the legal level of nitrogen oxides.

The scale of the fraud, and the engineering needed to carry it out, shows that the deception was instigated at a very senior level within the company. The software defeat device used will have been developed by a separate division of the company to that developing the engine and turbocharged direct injection specifications, who in turn are probably a separate division to those working on the solutions to emissions. This is not a few bad apples: this is mass corporate fraud that must have involved collusion by a number of senior executives and potentially hundreds of engineers working for them.

But let us not just point the finger at VW: after all, surely someone must have worked out that the test conditions made it easy for the unscrupulous to identify a test – why were the tests not supplemented by some sampling through test-track conditions? The UK Department of Transport has admitted that it received a report from the International Council on Clean Transportation almost a year ago pointing to a “real world nitrogen oxides compliance issue” with diesel vehicles.

But whilst it is clear that our government and others have been negligent, Volkswagen (and possibly others) have been actively corrupt on an (literally) industrial scale. Not just a bit dodgy, but corrupt in a way that can only damage both the environment and the health of millions. For that, they are truly villainous.

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