Obsessed with VW
So I’m kind of obsessed with the VW story. Specifically, I want to know what happened back in 2009 when they started cheating. What was that conversation like? And how many people were privy to the deception? And how did they think it was going to go undetected?
In case you haven’t read all available articles on this like I have, the VOX article is really informative. Here are the key facts:
- Diesel cars are better at gas mileage, worse at polluting out nitrogen oxide (NOx). We care more about NOx in the US than they do in Europe, which is why there’s so much more diesel in Europe.
- But recently we’ve started caring about gas mileage, so there’s been a spot for diesel cars that can pass the NOx emissions test, which most diesel cars cannot (at least for a given price).
- VW blew everyone away with a diesel car that seemed to have good gas mileage and good emissions test results.
- They were discovered by people hired by an independent group, the International Council on Clean Transportation, who hired people to stick a probe up the tailpipe of some VW cars and drive them from Seattle to San Diego, where it was discovered that the NOx levels were up to 35 times higher than was allowed. And that group wanted to know how VW did it so they could copy them.
- Basically they were discovered because their results were “too good to be true.”
So, back to my question. How did the decision get made, that they’d just cheat? Didn’t they know they’d eventually get discovered? It’s kind of like when teachers and principals change the results on students’ tests so they can get a bonus: short term thinking, and kind of obvious if you track erasure marks.
Or… another way of looking at this was that they really didn’t think they’d get caught. The evidence they’d need for that theory is that they cheated all the time like this and had never gotten caught, or they knew others did.
Another possibility: it was a small group of engineers who did this, looking for a large bonus. This kind of thing happens all the time in finance, where you cook the books in a short term way to get a pay-out. Could this be true? Certainly many of the raw ingredients were already available – surely the software already existed for the engineers to test performance and emissions under all types of conditions, so putting it together with a simple “if” statement wouldn’t be too hard. But that begs the question of how they’d explain it to their boss.
In any case, there’s an internal VW story – or perhaps industry-wide story – here that I’d love to hear.