Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Volkswagen scandal: say goodbye to the internal combustion engine!



By now, I guess that everyone in the world has heard of how Volkswagen cheated consumers by falsifying the results of the emission tests from their diesel engines. It is a true witch hunt unleashed against Volkswagen. Maybe there are good reasons for it, but I think it is also something that should be taken with caution. A lot of it.

I have been a consultant for the automotive industry for some 20 years and I think that I know the way they operate. And I can tell you that they are not equipped for "cheating", intended as willingly ignoring or breaking the law. They just don't do that, they understand very well that the result could be something like what's happening to Volkswagen nowadays; something that could lead to their end as a car manufacturer. On the contrary, carmakers tend to be extremely legalistic and apply to the letter the current laws and regulations.

This said, it is also clear that car makers are there to make a profit and their managers are supposed to "get results". So, if the laws and the regulations are not clear, or do not explicitly say that something is forbidden; then, if that something is supposed to provide some advantage to the company, it may be done.

This is, I think, what happened in this case. It is very well known that the results of the pollution tests made in the lab are always much better than those made on the road. And it is very well known that the performances of cars as measured in standardized tests are always much better than those of real cars. It is all very well known and documented: look for instance here and here. (h/t G.Meneghello).

So, if cheating is so diffuse, why was Volkswagen singled out in this scandal? Maybe they were doing something especially bad, but I would be surprised if they were to turn out to be the only ones using the trick they have been accused to use for hiding nitrogen oxide emissions. Besides, I am sure that, before doing what they did, they checked with their legal department and got some kind of green light: possibly reasoning that if it was not explicitly forbidden it was not illegal. Anyway, I leave to conspiracy theorists the obvious implications that could be derived from this story.

Rather, I would point out something that I learned in my work with the automotive industry. It is that the story of pollution abatement in internal combustion engines is a good example of the diminishing returns of technology. And not just that, it also illustrates very well how good intentions can easily conflict with reality and actually backfire.

It is a long and fascinating story that, here, I can just sketch it in its main lines (*). Anyway, the concept of "pollution" became popular in the 1970s and it quickly became clear that a major culprit were the emissions from car engines. That led to a major debate: some thought that it was necessary to get rid of internal combustion engines and replace them with electric motors, others that it was possible to reduce pollution from engines to acceptable levels. The latter position won (do you remember the "who killed the electric car" movie?)  and that led to a long series of legislative actions, especially in Europe, aimed at the development of less polluting and more efficient engines. On the whole, the results appear to be good (see, e.g. here).

However, what the Volkswagen scandal tells us is that, likely, most of the recent improvements may have been obtained, if not by cheating, at least by a creative interpretation of the rules. An especially telling point, here, has to do with the specific point that led to incriminate Volkswagen: the abatement of nitrous oxides. The problem is especially nasty because it arises from conflicting needs. One is of having low pollution, the other high mileage. To have high mileage, you need to increase the efficiency of the engine, and this can be done using diesel engine instead of the conventional gasoline engines. Diesel engines work at higher temperatures and pressures, and that makes them more efficient. But that makes them also produce more nitrous oxides. It has to do with the thermodynamics of combustion and you should know that if you try to fight thermodynamics, thermodynamics always wins. The problem is basically unsolvable, at least at costs compatible with the price of a normal car. And when you face an unsolvable problem, often the reaction may be to cheat. This is, evidently, what happened with the automotive industry and the results have been exposed by the Volkswagen scandal.

But, if it is true that we cannot win against thermodynamics, it is also true that we don't need to fight against it. A battle against the combustion engine was lost in the 1970s, but the war can still be won: the electric car is making a spectacular return. Electric motors do not produce any gaseous pollution, they are much more efficient than internal combustion engines, and, in addition, they are compatible with renewable energy. What can we ask more? This time, let's try to avoid the mistakes we made in the past.






 (*) this is something that I hope to be able to describe in detail in a new book that I am working at. 

  

35 comments:

  1. The article below claims that Volkswagen deliberately cheated. Whether what the article states is correct or not, would need to be verified, but it certainly sounds correct.

    http://www.vox.com/2015/9/21/9365667/volkswagen-clean-diesel-recall-passenger-cars

    Here is the relevant passage:

    "Since 2009, we now know, Volkswagen had been inserting intricate code in its vehicle software that tracked steering and pedal movements. When those movements suggested that the car was being tested by regulators in the laboratory for nitrogen-oxide emissions, the car automatically turned its pollution controls on. The rest of the time, the pollution controls switched off.

    Regulators didn't notice this ruse for years. The problem was only uncovered by an independent group, the International Council on Clean Transportation, which wanted to investigate why there was such a discrepancy between laboratory tests and real-road performance for several of VW's diesel cars in Europe. So they worked with researchers at West Virginia University, who stuck a probe up the exhaust pipe of VW's clean diesel cars and drove them from San Diego to Seattle.

    What the researchers found was jaw-dropping. On the road, VW's Jetta was emitting 15 to 35 times as much nitrogen oxide as the allowable standard. The VW Passat was emitting 5 to 20 times as much. These cars were emitting much more pollution than they had in the labs.

    Both California's air-pollution regulator and the EPA ordered Volkswagen to investigate and fix the problem in May 2014, and the company said it had worked on a software patch. Once again, the cars performed well in testing. And once again, real-world performance didn't match up. At that point, regulators started grilling Volkswagen's engineers about the discrepancy, and the company eventually cracked, admitting the existence of these defeat devices, which had been carefully hidden in the software code. Hence the scandal.

    Volkswagen hasn't explained exactly why it cheated, but outside analysts have a pretty good guess. The NOx emission controls likely degraded the cars' performance when they were switched on — the engines ran hotter, wore out more quickly, and got worse mileage. Some experts have suggested that the emission controls may have affected the cars' torque and acceleration, making them less fun to drive. (Indeed, some individual car owners have been known to disable their cars' emission controls to boost performance, though this is against the law.)"



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    1. Max, as I say in my post, the industry normally sticks to the letter of the law; even though not necessarily to its spirit What VW did was obviously bad, but it doesn't seem to me qualitatively different than other tricks detailed in the links I've provided. For instance, preventing the alternator from charging the battery during the test, in order to increase the mileage of a car.

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    2. ICE machines are, as you point out in this article, chemical weapons of Mass destruction. What you say about the electric car is true and has been known for decades, but the percentage of electric vehicles of the 17 million ICE machines manufactured just last year, is miniscule. The public could basically care less about nitrous oxide, CO2, or any other pollutant as long as they can sit on their spreading derrieres and fly effortlessly along the freeway. Because as long as it's "fun", they blame even their own children's asthma attacks on their own child's "weakness". Here in the US outside of any elementary school every day, dozens of ICE machines are lined up, all spewing poison gasses into the air so the parents can pick up their offspring, even as they becloud the entire neighborhood with their automobiles' exhaust fumes. They could care less. THAT's why, as you say, what VW did wasn't qualitatively different, because the car manufacturer's know the public will acquiesce to whatever crime they may commit, since, as a driver was quoted as saying as she sat in her idling vintage 50's roadhog, "I wouldn't care if it got just a mile to the gallon". You pretend that mankind is rational and will therefore solve this dilemma, but it is madness, not reason, that drives mankind, and it's driving us, a la Thelma and Louise, right over the edge. We know this, but prefer the thrill of acceleration to the humdrum reality of a non-motored existence. Pretending otherwise is either hypocrisy or wishful thinking.

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    3. For me there is still a major difference between a manufacturer tweaking the results of his own published tests by doing things like stopping the alternator, and changing something in the car (here some added code), so that the car behaves differently than it would without it, when tested by an independent organization.

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    4. But thanks a lot for the info on this pollution being a price to pay for better milage (suspected such a thing). In that sense this story is a perfect example of our current "global state", where the pollution aspect is much more talked about than the depletion aspect (even though they just are two sides of the same coin).

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  2. Yes, indignation in the press seemed disingenuous to me. Calculations of how many people were potentially killed by excess nitrous oxide probably have some validity but they ignore the basic problem which is that the burning of hydrocarbons produces CO2 which is something that has widely been ignored by the public. My guess is that in the end, CO2 will kill a lot more people than nitrous oxides, if indirectly through climate change, and its attendant problems of crop failures, sea level rise, ocean acidification and so on. Nobody so far is clamoring to fine car makers for the damage they are doing to our environment, never mind the thousands of people killed every year in car accidents. We as a society seem to accept all these evils as an acceptable price to pay for the convenience of owning a car. And we seem to have no problem accepting diesel pollution from trucks because the greater efficiency of diesel engines makes it cheaper to deliver the things we like to buy in stores.
    I also want to point out that car manufacturers in the US have circumvented pollution control software ever since computers were first put into cars to control the cars' engines. Cars made for police departments were tuned for performance at the cost of increased emissions. I don't know how the damage from increased emissions from police cars compare quantitatively to VW's tinkering with emissions controls, but once again, we seem to accept the extra pollution by police cars without question.

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  3. This is pretty interesting. In a way it's analogous to drug-testing of athletes. Testing has to stay ahead of cheating techniques.
    Now that engines are controlled by computers rather than the driver's foot, it's no surprise that the computer can be programmed to detect that it is running in an artificial environment, and change its pollution controls from lots of power/lots of pollution to a low power/minimal pollution mode.
    Anyways, I agree: there's no way to make internal fossil fuel combustion engines work while demanding zero pollution. Chemistry does not allow it. So it's basically the end of power cars. There will probably still be low power cars for a while, but marketing will change drastically. Typical cars have 200hp, and a typical driver never comes close to using half of it. And why do all vehicles have to be over 2 tons to carry a 0.1 ton person?

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  4. We seem to be having a string of cases where large corporations get caught cheating -- GM brakes, Barclays libor fixing, and HSBC money launder come to mind without trying very hard. And this is beyond the regular day-to-day corruption of multinationals buying regulators and politicians -- Koch, Shell, Walmart, Wall Street, etc., and the fact that the "markets" do not force businesses to include externalities (CO2 emissions, etc.) in their prices.

    While it can be fun to be "anti-capitalist", I don't think there is a practical alternative to the system that has increased health and life-expectancy so successfully.

    My question is how can society get capitalism under control? I don't see a social movement pushing business to stop destroying the planet.

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    1. We supposedly live in democratic countries, in which the State is supposed to *represent* _us_.
      I feel that there's a fundamental issue with allowing corporations to get so big that they have significant power compared to the States. One solution would be to break up / nationalize corporations that get too big.
      A related issue - that might make the whole mess unsolvable - is globalization, transnational corporations (and their propensity to avoid the rules of the countries they operate in and cheat on their taxes), and the fact that countries vary a lot in size.

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    2. My question is how can society get capitalism under control?

      Put a cap on how much one individual can own.

      Delete
  5. Hi:

    Certainly, all car manufacturers have their own way to improve the results of the tests according to the lay, and they know perfectly well how to do it.

    In fact, BMW states the emissions of the i3 in France, because electric vehicles (EV) only switch the exhaust pipe from the car to the utility plant. And France is mostly nuclear. Of course, it wouldn’t make sense to do this calculation in Norway, with 99% hidro, neiteher in China, with >80% coal, and emissions higly above for EV’s than for their ICE counterparts.

    So, now, EVs are not this good. And their efficiency plug to wheel is arround 65 – 72%, while high efficency diesels are in the 50% (those used in cargo ships, or mining industry, not cars, though).

    Besides that, electric motors generate a lot of waste. Rare earth used in them (Nd, Dy) is heavily polluting, about one tonne of radiactive waste for each tonne of REE, plus few tonnes of chemical waste, also highly toxic. Bayun Obo mine is a clear example of that.

    And those polluting thingies are also used in wind turbines.

    Cd is a forbidden element in almost all electronic devices, except for ‘green’ CdTe thin film solar panels, where also Te is toxic, and the production of this very scarce material is also heavily pollutant, like many other materials extracted from copper waste, with cianide and other chemical issues.

    Li is obtained from high value dry salt lakes, like Atacama. Besides the fact that there is only about 65TWh of lithium capacity according to USGS, Atacama reserves (currently stated at 7.5MMT) are clearly overstated by Chilean government, according to the very same USGS studies (that rate Atacama to 3MMT). This is a really small amount of Li for uses.

    And Li is also used to lower the cost of solar panels glass by around 15% (by using less natural gas, since the melting point drops), and currently this use is about the same amunt that for Li batteries.

    Li batteries, this september 2015, use about 100 to 110$ per KWh, just in raw materials, according to stoichiometry, London Metal Exchange, and other suppliers.

    Down from 140 – 150$/KWh jan 2014 due the drop in prices of the metal commodities (and in labour hours).

    So, Li batteries wouldn’t drop in price if commodity metals rise as economy rise (their index is used as a thermometer for demand).

    (will continue)

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    1. (continuation)

      Arrhenius applies also to the battery electrochemical reactions, so battery life is smaller with increasing temperatures. Italy and Spain have roughly 5 years of battery life span. Dubai about 2 years only. And that happens with all sunny places where your beloved photovoltaic does apply, just where Li batteires didn’t last long.

      Personally, I’ve checked all those values personally, including the battery life issue.

      And this is the reason why VW (yes, that VW that has an issue in US, that VW that funded Limits to Growth) decided not to sell any electric Seat, since they are one of the best sellers here, in Spain, where battery issues will be a concern, while keeping hybrid VW (usually more expensive, and not fully EV), but tyring to sell them more to northern countries.

      Definitively, BEV are not the way to go, they will be too expensive, and they only have one target: rich toys for rich guys.

      I know that because I used to work for EV car development in Deustchland.

      After some research, I found that those philia for electricity hides a reality that is quite, ehm, obscure. The aboslute control of the energy you use. The meter thingie can shut you down if some computer, Software, Firmware, or certain people decide to shut your energy down, from far away and by any excurse (like you don’t have enough funds).

      That’s besides the highly resouce demanding issues, the highly complex parallel network required for distributed generation, the instabillity issues it causes in the network, the intermitency, the seasonallity of the issue and the fact that one can’t ride only on wind and sun: they are not controllable, neither reliable.

      After all ¿why should be use exactly renewables for?¿to keep plundering the planet?

      ¿Why electricity (roughly 20% our energy consumption) if 50% of the energy use is heat, and sun is much more efficient (>70%) at heating than generating electricity (rougly 15%)?¿Why keeping using resource intensive technologies while there are other less demanding direct energy uses that are less technological and more ecological?

      And now, allow me analyze the VW question from another point of view.

      Light Tight Oil doesn’t produce Diesel fuel (well, it does, but an small fraction, that requires some more refining, thus it is even more expensive that the already expensive LTO). WTI also has a very low content of Diesel fuel.

      Diesel fuel is used by heavy machinery, like the one required for fracking.

      Cars in US mostly use benzin, not Diesel. Highs amounts of benzin. Gallons per mile, with those hughe Hammers and similar.

      Fraking industry is on the brink of bankrupcy, there are many news about this topic.

      VW appeared in the USA car market with low consumption of low price fuel. IMPORTED fuel, the competes with the heavy industry of fraking.

      This is a direct threat to USA economy: diesel fuel will be more expensive, that will cause even more stress to the fracking industry, while lowering their (non diesel) sales. And increase the imports of fuel, increasing dependency on foreign countries, just with one of the keys in world economy, that is, Diesel fuel, that recently is made sintetically because production of high quality Diesel seems to have peak in the last decade.

      Best regards from Spain,

      Delete
    2. Anonymous, I am passing this rant of yours; but, please, step back a little and think of what an incredible mess you are writing. What you say goes from the simply inexact to belonging to an another planet. I am not criticizing you point by point: the comments to a blog post are not the right place to enter in a long discussion on technical issues. If you think you have a point, make a serious attempt to describe it in scientific terms, with references and quantitative assessments. Then you'll surely find ways to diffuse it on the web

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    3. As I promised earlier, there are some links supporting my affirmations.

      First, one of the MIT, that is as important for what it says (about mineral production, resources required for distributed production) than for what it doesn't say (about mineral proven reserves, Hubbert curve and such, mining).

      https://mitei.mit.edu/futureofsolar

      Another one, by the Valero family, about resource depletion, focused on electronics, whithout which our technology simply vanishes, including PV's.

      https://gailtheactuary.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/alicia-valero_gaia_thanatia_barbastro_2014.pdf

      Regarding pullution induced by rare earth (a reason why, if properly disposed price will be prohibitive):

      http://www.iags.org/rareearth0310hurst.pdf

      Some points regarding Lithium:

      http://www.meridian-int-res.com/Projects/Lithium_Microscope.pdf
      http://www.meridian-int-res.com/Projects/How_Much_Lithium_Per_Battery.pdf
      http://www.opsur.org.ar/blog/2015/09/28/geopolitica-del-litio/

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_%28medication%29

      Regards,

      Beamspot.

      Delete
  6. (continuation)

    Arrhenius applies also to the battery electrochemical reactions, so battery life is smaller with increasing temperatures. Italy and Spain have roughly 5 years of battery life span. Dubai about 2 years only. And that happens with all sunny places where your beloved photovoltaic does apply, just where Li batteires didn’t last long.

    Personally, I’ve checked all those values personally, including the battery life issue.

    And this is the reason why VW (yes, that VW that has an issue in US, that VW that funded Limits to Growth) decided not to sell any electric Seat, since they are one of the best sellers here, in Spain, where battery issues will be a concern, while keeping hybrid VW (usually more expensive, and not fully EV), but tyring to sell them more to northern countries.

    Definitively, BEV are not the way to go, they will be too expensive, and they only have one target: rich toys for rich guys.

    I know that because I used to work for EV car development in Deustchland.

    After some research, I found that those philia for electricity hides a reality that is quite, ehm, obscure. The aboslute control of the energy you use. The meter thingie can shut you down if some computer, Software, Firmware, or certain people decide to shut your energy down, from far away and by any excurse (like you don’t have enough funds).

    That’s besides the highly resouce demanding issues, the highly complex parallel network required for distributed generation, the instabillity issues it causes in the network, the intermitency, the seasonallity of the issue and the fact that one can’t ride only on wind and sun: they are not controllable, neither reliable.

    With all this, I can’t understand how you write a book about plundering the planent and you are a member of the Club of Rome, and you still advocate for electric renewables.

    After all ¿why should be use exactly renewables for?¿to keep plundering the planet?

    ¿Why electricity if 50% of the energy use is heat, and sun is much more efficient (>70%) at heating thatn generating electricity (rougly 15%)?¿Why keeping using resource intensive technologies while there are other less demanding direct energy uses that are less technological and more ecological?

    And now, allow me analise the VW question from another point of view.

    Light Tight Oil doesn’t produce Diesel fuel. WTI also has a very low contente of Diesel fuel.

    Diesel fuel is used by heavy machinery, like the one required for fracking.

    Cars in US mostly use benzin, not Diesel. Highs amounts of benzin. Gallons per mile, with those hughe Hammers and similar.

    Fraking industry is on the brink of bankrupcy, there are many news about this topic.

    VW appeared in the USA car market with low consumption of low price fuel. IMPORTED fuel, the competes with the heavy industry of fraking.

    This is a direct threat to USA economy: diesel fuel will be more expensive, that will cause even more stress to the fracking industry, while lowering their (non diesel) sales. And increase the imports of fuel, increasing dependency on foreign countries, just with one of the keys in world economy, that is, Diesel fuel, that recently is made sintetically because production of high quality Diesel seems to have peak in the last decade.

    Best regards from Spain,

    Beamspot

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have not worked in the automobile industry but I have worked in the process industries (chemicals, oil refining, offshore oil and gas) for all of my career. I agree that these companies are generally law-abiding; I have known individual managers break the law (and go to jail) but I have not seen systemic cheating. Companies will interpret the regulations in their favor — which is perfectly acceptable, it’s what we all do with our taxes. But that’s different from cheating.

    Therefore this scandal seems strange. Some thoughts that come to mind are:

    • How did they hope to keep it secret? The truth is bound to get out. Either an employee will inadvertently spill the beans or someone will inform the EPA on a whistle-blower line. Or, as happened, a third party will spot something amiss.
    • Their competition will wonder why VW is able to achieve both good performance and good environmental results. They are bound to investigate. All they have to do is buy a car and take it apart. (Now I hear that the U.S. authorities are going to “widen their probe to other manufacturers”.)
    • Does this problem include Europe, or are the standards there less strict? Either way, VW is putting their whole business model in jeopardy — it seems like an extraordinary risk to take.

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    1. This is a good point that you are making. I think we still don't know enough of this story to understand it completely. One thing that I would say is that it is clear that the VW people didn't think that they were committing a crime; have you noticed how easily they admitted what they had done with the EPA and CARB people? I can understand that. To commit a crime, you must have broken the law. But which law, exactly, says that you can't run your cars using a software that adapts to specific circumstances? Things must be much more complicated than this, but I think that's the gist of the story.

      Alternatively, they felt safe behind the "Digital Millennium" regulations, preventing anyone from looking at copyrighted software.

      https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/09/researchers-could-have-uncovered-volkswagens-emissions-cheat-if-not-hindered-dmca

      But, if so, why did they so freely admit what they had done?

      Delete
    2. It does seem strange that they are so freely admitting what they did. I have investigated and reviewed many serious incidents in the process industries (such as Deepwater Horizon/Macondo). It generally appears that the following actions help the companies involved.

      • Drag things out; don’t admit to anything. Time is your friend.
      • Involve contractors and sub-contractors. In this case, who wrote the software? Whose instructions were they following? Who supplied the computer? Were they following industry standards? And so on, and so on.
      • Challenge the regulator’s technical acumen. For example, were their instruments properly calibrated?
      • Look for inconsistencies in the interpretation of the pertinent rules. They are not hard to find.

      There are exceptions to the above strategy; occasionally a company will admit everything so that they can “get it behind them”. But this VW issue is too big for that.

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    3. Indeed, Macondo is an interesting example: they made a mess of it, but they weren't cheating (or, at least,) they were not consciously breaking the law. Or so it seems to me

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    4. Deepwater drilling is an extraordinarily complex technology.(I cannot think of any technology more complex.) DWH could drill in water 2.5 km deep and then through 9 km of rock. In that depth of water there are no anchors — she has to be kept on station within a meter in all kinds of weather using just thrusters and GPS.

      The DWH/Macondo event has been thoroughly researched. Due to the complexity of the events and the sophistication of the technology the causes are hard to grasp. But BP was always very open with all their documentation. Yes, mistakes were made but there was never a hint of cheating or cover-up (apart from one junior engineer who foolishly tried to destroy some documents). And they did not break any laws — although they did stray from accepted industry standards.

      For a brief overview of this event and two other seminal offshore events go to ‘Safety Moment: The true meaning of offshore safety’ at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEn8-SgZWbw.

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  8. So, will VW recall all the cars they produced which are not meeting the NO emissions standards?

    RE

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    1. That will be interesting.

      As I understand it, the software detected the 'rolling road' test conditions, and put the engine into a low-NOx mode (but with less power and fuel economy).

      So the obvious fix is to have it in low-NOx mode all the time. But then their published MPG and acceleration figures are obviously fabricated. And for a motorist - would you want to participate in this recall knowing it will worsen the performance of your car?

      Delete
  9. We have not seen the end of this story yet and whether or not a crime was commit and knowingly or NOT will be determined in due course. There of course may have been (there undoubedtly are ) other tricks played either by Volkswagen or by other automobile manufacturers. . This one seems particularly serious. The issue of the negative impacts of internal combustion engines on societies and the environment is a separate one. it is more serious but does not reduce the significance of the VW issue.

    Most large corporations try to stay within the letter of the law though often NOT within its spirit. And in particular in those countries where the law is at least sometimes enforced. It still remains more dangerous to break the law in the U.S. than -say- in Indonesia where the law also is likely to be more lax to begin with. It doesn't seems to be intuitively obvious to me why the automotive industry should be more -or for that matter less- observant of the law or of its spirit than say big pharma or big food, or big medical. if anything, less so. Typically organizzations, industries and institutions are more responsible and careful the more rapid and dramatic are any consequences of their failings and the more easily traceable to them they are. For instance an aircraft engine repair business will be far more careful than a Ministry responsible for rural education. If an engine fails and the aircraft crashes the consequences are immediate, dramatic and easily traceable back to poor engine maintenance. If rural children fail in obtaining employment later on in life, the consequences occur much later , may be less dramatic and could well be due to many other possible factors other than poor rural elementary education and the poor ministry of education policies that led to it. So I would think that pharmaceutical companies might be fairly careful about selling drugs that could kill the patient immediately but less careful with those that might cause cancer thirty or forty years later. Similarly I would think that car companies would be more careful with passenger safety issues than with environmental issues.

    So I think there are two aspects which strengthen accountability and performance: One is the law and the perceived likelihood of its enforcement. The other is consequences and whether they are immediate, dramatic and traceable or not. Industries probably vary in their responsibility and performance standards basically in response to these two sets of factors. Reputation in the marketplace and hopes to improve it and/or not destroy it is a third factor though also partially derived from the previous two.

    Another thing which occurred to me (but I don't want to sound or be too conspiratorial in its ubiquitous negative sense) is how come this was discovered by the Americans only now? I know it's different but it has a potential similarity with suddenly discovering something fairly obvious such as rampant corruption within FIFA. Naturally not a single major bank CEO has ever gone to jail for fixing the LIBOR rate or any of the other many frauds. Instead they have received large bonuses. Perhaps a large bonus also is in order for the CEO of VW?

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  10. just out of interest, what is the total percentage of carbon emissions that the car is responsible for, factoring in everything including mining of materials, manufacture, shipping and end use disposal. i read somewhere that their use alone accounts for just 12% of total carbon emissions. but this seems staggeringly low considering there are about half a billion of the things spewing out c02 24/7. intuitively id expect the figure to be far higher than 12%, maybe something like 30%. but what about the total? considering the vast majority of manufacturing activity now revolves around making stuff for cars or related activities to the car, and a big percentage of people are involved with cars directly in their work, can't see it being responsible for less than 40% of the total, maybe 50%. considering it is taboo to criticize car use at all, let alone banning these foul creations (google 'banning cars' and see what you find... nothing), im sure their total contribution to climate change has been downplayed.

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  11. We haven't mentioned the possibility that a fleet of self-driving, battery power cars will make today's business model of people owning cars obsolete. Imagine a world where a self-driving car shows up in less than 5 minutes and drives you where you need to go -- faster, and for a fraction of the cost of owning a car. Everybody gets a chauffeur.

    Think about how much of the planet has been set aside for cars -- roads, parking lots, driveways/garages, gas stations. It turns out that a significant percentage of urban traffic is drivers looking for a parking place. Because self driving cars are better drivers, they can drive slower, closer to each other, use fewer roads, do better in traffic, and get there faster. And they don't need gas stations or parking lots, and the cars are smaller and lighter, reducing the manufacturing footprint. The car as a status symbol? Gone. VW? Gone. Internal combustion? Gone.

    The CO2 pollution and resource requirements are slashed.

    What % of CO2 are cars responsible for -- particularly when you take into account manufacturing and disposal?

    I don't like Google or Uber, but what if they can actually pull this off? Would you move to the city that is first to offer on-demand, driverless battery cars?

    Techno-optimism!

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    1. That would be the subject of my next book, it I manage to get an agreement with the editor!

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    2. That will mean less cars sold (by 90%), thus less jobs in the car industry. Less money for people, while some big companies handle everything, at the cost that other big companies (like VW, BMW, Bosch, Siemens, Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, Honda, etc) file for bankrupcy.

      The infrastructure required may add up costs, but money flows to City Councils will diminish, since there were less taxes, less parking benefits and such (at least, here in Spain, Town Halls will get a big slash in their income if this becames true).

      So, less jobs, less money for towns, and more money flowing to big corporations. No more taxis and taxi drivers.

      And bigger electricity infrastructure (paid by whom?), and probably the same pollution, but only some distance ago, at the coal plant, because renewables can't power our society WHEN WE NEED.

      Not enough resources for all this stuff. Technology replaces human labour (wages), and uses many tech resources (about 69 of the 92 elements in the periodic table), most of them are not recycled (like lithium), scarce (like tellurium, and helium, required for IC manufacturing), and probably will pose some problems in the not so far future if we follow this path.

      That if economy doesn't turn down before, as Gail says (and as I believe, check for a Minsky moment soon, probably in german).

      I guess no, not a good idea, and, probably economic issues would prevent us from doing so.

      Regards from Spain (with about 10% of the population working in the car industry).

      Beamspot.

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    3. This is the logic that says we should protect the coal jobs in West Virginia. Some things are just plain bad, and coal and cars both count. Yes, they provide utility (dirty electricity, dirty transportation and jobs), but if there are alternatives that provide the utility without the huge externality, then they are worth getting rid of -- despite the cost borne by coal miners and Ford factory workers (which society should pay to be re-trained).

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    4. Yes indeed. It is the same logic.

      The same that has many deeper implications, as explained by Gail:
      http://ourfiniteworld.com/2015/09/29/low-oil-prices-why-worry/
      http://ourfiniteworld.com/2015/08/26/deflationary-collapse-ahead/

      Beamspot.

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  12. Ugo,

    I find it extremely difficult to believe that they would have run this past their legal team. The lawyers hair would have fallen out. Perhaps instead they calculated the odds of being discovered, the cost of discovery and the benefits of cheating in this way, and figured it was a good bet? It would hardly be the first time something like this would've happened.

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    Replies
    1. In my experience, whatever is done in a company, must be approved by someone in charge. And that someone is usually careful - very careful. It seems impossible that whoever approved the use of this software did that without a thorough review of the consequences, also legal ones. Of course we don't know, but I would bet that their layers told them that the "trick" could be defended in court if there was need to do so; and that the expenses of even a negative ruling would be less than the advantage gained. They didn't expect to be singled out as the next great bad guy of the planet.

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  13. The science behind the Volkswagen emissions scandal
    Debacle has wide-ranging implications, but many already knew that diesel emissions tests were problematic.


    http://www.businessinsider.com/banks-are-going-to-pull-the-plug-on-energy-companies-2015-9

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  14. You are stating that electric car would come as a option for those run by gasoline, but the amouth of energy used globally to move the rubber wheels is so huge that there exist no renewable source to cover it all and there exist serious bottle necks in rare element like lithium to be any suitable global solution to fossile fuels. No, it is better to lay the private cars to the place they belong and that is the museum of one century madness, what nearly(?) cost us the planet we held so dear. Better to move on and settle on idea that the mass transit is the better way to move huge masses from place to place.

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  15. Hi, a excellent article. One caution about electric cars would be "Where do they get their electricity from". I live in Victoria Australia were most of the electricity comes from burning coal, even worse than that it is brown coal (a very poor fuel). I wonder which is worse petrol/diesel or brown coal?.

    Steve

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  16. 4 years back I visited the VW showroom in India in Delhi NCR. A part of the showroom was under renovation. One of the sales person who was attending to me, requested me to wait till two cars had to be repositioned within the showroom due to ongoing renovation.
    As soon as he started the engine and moved the car, I could smell the pungent emission which normally does not get emitted by other cars while I take out my car from the basement, which has similar environs as that showroom had at that time.
    The pungency of the emission was distinctively of pollute nature. I told the sales person that the car has either not been serviced properly or the car does not have the pollution certification. The charges were vehemently denied by the sales person stating that the car was entirely new and had not even completed the running in period.
    Thank God that my family did not settle for VW.

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)