back to article Volkswagen enlarges emissions scandal probe: 'Millions' more cars may have cheated

Volkswagen has warned that the figure of 11 million cars that cheated in air-pollution tests may be larger than first thought. The automaker is under fire for using diesel engines that deliberately lowered their output of nitrogen oxides during lab testing to pass strict emissions standards. In real-world use, the cars pumped …

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> or <

"Volkswagen has warned that the figure of 11 million cars that cheated in air-pollution tests may be larger than first thought."

In the context of the story shouldn't that be:

Volkswagen has warned that the figure of 11 million cars that cheated in air-pollution tests may be *smaller* than first thought.

Okay, the 'warned' word might not be right in my version, perhaps 'said' would be better.

But you get the gist...

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Re: > or <

Glad I'm not the only one to have spotted that.

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@Keef Re: > or <

"Volkswagen has warned that the figure of 11 million cars that cheated in air-pollution tests may be larger than first thought."

I also giggled when I read that.

The intention was probably to write something along the lines of "Volkswagen has warned that the figure of cars that cheated in air-pollution tests may be larger than the 11 million first thought."

And we only needed to add one word, and move two. So, not exact, but very, very close.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: > or <

A bunch of EU/university researchers found, published in 2011

"On-road carbon dioxide emissions surpass laboratory emission levels by 21 ± 9%, suggesting that the current laboratory emissions testing fails to accurately capture the on-road emissions of light-duty vehicles. Our findings provide the empirical foundation for the European Commission to establish a complementary emissions test procedure for light-duty vehicles.”

This study was on ALL manufacturers, not just VW

The Barroso-era Commissioner responsible, Janez Potočnik, said this, also in March 2011

"I said I also wanted to talk about urban air quality. The reasons for poor air quality in our cities are well known. There are more of them, than I could cover in one speech. The short version is that the main culprits are industry, transport, energy production, agriculture and households. Particulate Matter, Nitrogen dioxide and ozone are the main causes of concern with regard to health. (...) One problem worth mentioning is certainly also the discrepancy between what we call "real world emissions" and the emissions under the standards. In recent years, there is increasing evidence that diesel cars, vans, buses and lorries have higher emissions under real driving conditions than those prescribed by legislation. This applies to newer EUROV/5 vehicles as well as to EURO III and IV. These differences can be enormous – in some cases up to 500% of the limit value in the type approval.

We anticipate that the same will be the case for EUROVI/6 should we not be able to resolve this gap between the objective in the legislation and the amount emitted in reality. The result would be that a big part of the predicted air quality improvements expected through its introduction would be simply wiped out. (…)

The Commission has recognised these problems and has already taken some action. In the Communication on Clean and Energy Efficient Cars, from April 2010, my colleague Antonio Tajani proposed how we could rectify this situation. This included the development of a new, global, and more realistic test cycle, the introduction of additional off-cycle tests, so-called portable emission measurement systems, and the introduction of anti-tampering provisions. For heavy-duty vehicles, these are now part of the type-approval legislation for EUROVI. For cars, I am working closely with Vice-President Tajani to ensure that the necessary technical developments are completed by 2013.”

allegedly

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Re: > or <

"...and the introduction of anti-tampering provisions..."

This is the key part of that statement, i.e. the regulations don't currently rule VW's alternate map "against the rules".

Legality is a different situation.

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Anonymous Coward

Rewrite the software

Flush senior management, all of them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Rewrite the software

But it was done just by, some rogue software engineers, ya? Senior management did not know what their company was doing, ya? They sill get their golden handshake, ya?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Rewrite the software

"But it was done just by, some rogue software engineers, ya? "

I thought the management of VW was German, not from hipsterland, ja?

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Re: Rewrite the software

Jawohl, Herr Oberhurenjägerführer!

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Anonymous Coward

The 'two low level guys' who are to blame for all of this have a lot to answer for.

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Time to get rich

by buying VW shares, which will surely fall quite a bit.

For about 6 to 9 months.

What does Worstall think about it?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Time to get rich

Nope. Here is your example why:

https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/echarts?s=BP.L#symbol=BP.L;range=5y

Expand beyond 5 years and see where DeepWater Horizon was (it is a couple of months outside the 5y window). Did the share price recover after it? No. Not in 6 months, not in 9 months, not at all.

{Worstall Mode}

We are presently in a state of oversupply and zero-to-negative growth across the world economy. The sole reason Eu and USA is not deflation is dark magic by the central banks. If that dark magic is subtracted, we should be in a deflationary state. In a deflationary environment nearly all stocks related to manufacturing are overvalued because deflationary environment guarantees no short-mid term growth of manufacturing, so a disaster driven downward adjustment is a long term one, not a dip and pop.

{/Worstall Mode}

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Time to get rich

VW shares are a punt at this point.

It's not really the cost of the scandal that's at issue. That has a one-time impact on the share price which, however many $Bn, is easy for investors to plan for in valuing the stock.

The bigger issue for VW here is the question of how far off their fuel efficiency numbers really were and how, if at all, they can fix that. If they can't then their share price is likely to go down rather than up in the same way that Tesco has struggled to recover not from the fact of the scandal itself but from the difficulty in doing business without recourse to the tactics that got them in trouble.

Shares often overcorrect and then rebound when scandals turn out to be easy to fix. When it transpires that the company is uncompetitive without cheating the scandal can precipitate a much deeper long-term decline.

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Re: Not the Time to get rich

I got two tips for ya:

Buy low, sell high, and don't take any wooden nickels...

Wait until the stock prices have fallen, really fallen before you buy. I would say wait until 2016, late 2016... I have a feeling we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg here.

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Re: Time to get rich

Upvoted for 'Worstall Mode'. Mind if I'd borrow that from time to time?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Time to get rich

"dark magic by the central banks"

This dark magic would presumably be like dark energy and dark matter and accounts for 96% of the share price of social media companies?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Time to get rich

Upvoted for 'Worstall Mode'. Mind if I'd borrow that from time to time?

Just use "Blinkered Economist" instead. Same thing. ;)

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Windows

Re: Time to get rich

Sorry Arnaut:

This dark magic would presumably be like dark energy and dark matter and accounts for 9699.99995% of the share price of social media companies?

I have to fix that typo for you.....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Time to get rich

This isn't a flash in the pan scandal where it is all over now. The problem VW face is that potentially this could hurt them to the point of bankruptcy.

Although a very rich manufacturer there are a number of issues. FIrstly there is the cost of recalls worldwide, then there is the cost of fines from various Governments which could be many billions, then there is the cost of lawsuits from individuals and companies and finally and demand for compensation.

After all this you have the general negativity towards the brand that can affect their long term recovery.

I'm in no doubt the brand(s) will survive but whether there is a pre-pak involved which junks all your shares is more of an unknown.

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Re: Time to get rich

I don't know but I'll tell you after I have asked the Arch Chancellor.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Time to get rich

"I have to fix that typo for you."

Even Enron had some share value - all those expensive office chairs were worth something. Social media companies probably have an awful lot of servers and Macs.

Let's say 5 nines rather than 6?

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Re: Not the Time to get rich

"Buy low, sell high, and don't take any wooden nickels..."

Careful now. That's probably covered by a business process patent.

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Holmes

Over-reaction?

I just hope Germany doesn't do something silly like annex the Sudetenlands.

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Re: Over-reaction?

They don't need to do that when they already own the entire EU.

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Anonymous Coward

NHS funding

As we've all inhaled diesel fumes from their cheating cars, can't the government sue them & so provide the NHS with the funds it needs?

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Re: NHS funding

Possibly - but they'd have to prove that the fumes making us all poorl;y came from VW's and Audi's and didn't come from all the other vehicles on the road (including the red Toyota Yaris that blows smoke down half my street each morning).

I've heard a lot of talk on the net about people trying to Lawyer up to get back Diesel money. If it's true that the cars (outside of tests) only get 40 instead of 50 to the gallon (as an example), people want the 10mpg difference with interest in cash for however many thousand miles they've driven.

Kind of understandable - but its PPI all over again in my opinion.

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Re: NHS funding

If it's true that the cars (outside of tests) only get 40 instead of 50 to the gallon (as an example), people want the 10mpg difference with interest in cash for however many thousand miles they've driven.

*****

No, the vehicles will have been doing 50mpg (or what ever the figure is) in real life conditions for the lifetime of the vehicle up to the point where the fix is applied to the engine management system so there are no claims from a consumer on that score.

The issue is that in order to achieve that stated mpg figure they had to emit far more NOx compounds than they are allowed to, so the government has a legitimate grip for the past performance of the vehicles.

The fix to make the vehicles hit the corrent NOx emission requirements is probably going to reduce the mpg figure and the performance of the car, so after the fix is applied the consumers have a pretty legitimate grip that the vehicle isn't performing as advertised and would demand compensation for future increased fuel bills and potentially increased rate of deprecation (whose going to want to pay the same price for a used VW now as they did last quarter?)

It's a pretty nasty little catch-22 for VW, the government are going to come after them for emission in the past. For the future they either do nothing and incur the wrath of the government or do something and incur the wrath of their customers. There's no nice way out of this for them.

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Re: NHS funding

"It's a pretty nasty little catch-22 for VW, the government are going to come after them for emission in the past. For the future they either do nothing and incur the wrath of the government or do something and incur the wrath of their customers."

Well given how it seems that VW doesn't account for all of the smoke from the smoking <del>gun</del> exhaust, it would not surprise me if behind the scenes much effort is being put into expose other manufacturers. Once you have an (EU) industry wide problem, 'punishing' individual manufacturers no longer makes sense, because you are only shooting yourself in the foot - because you are in danger of destroying both an export earning industry and a rather large sector of employment. So I expect that the EU will ultimately come to an agreement whereby limited amounts of money are actually paid out to governments as payments to cover long-term health care costs. But most will be spent on getting new vehicles on the road powered by a new generation of engines and emissions reduction systems.

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Pirate

American car companies are lobbying for the feds to issue a very large fine against Volkswagen,

Which will come back to bite them when the EU report discovers that US built cars are worse

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Re: American car companies are lobbying for the feds to issue a very large fine against Volkswagen,

Will be interesting to see the diesel versions of Jeeps assessed for their emissions? At best the EU market for Yank cars is niche so most of the engines are sourced from European partners or ex-partners so in the case of Jeep they will simply be assessing an older generation of a Merc engine.

I think the way to go is to drive Flexifuel (E85) - no hassles, can be cheaper and if no E85 near you then you always have a fall back to 95 petrol. Only drawback that I can see is the lack of range as Jeep for instance doesn't compensate by giving a Flexifuel car a bigger tank making the Grand Cherokee a 4 seater super bike in terms of autonomy.

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Re: American car companies are lobbying for the feds to issue a very large fine against Volkswagen,

Which will come back to bite them when the EU report discovers that US built cars are worse

Do we in the EU actually buy many US built cars from US car companies?

I can only think of...... Tesla. Chrysler are now Italian owned. I think there are a few Camaros and Corvettes, and Cadi CTS/STS but they are very niche market.

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Re: American car companies are lobbying for the feds to issue a very large fine against Volkswagen,

Not sure it matters where the cars are built - I assume they're built in whatever factory to the designs pushed out from the mothership. Then you're looking at a couple of small companies - Ford, GM...

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Re: American car companies are lobbying for the feds to issue a very large fine against Volkswagen,

But Ford Europe and GM (Opel) are close to autonomous in Europe, doing the engineering, design product planning and manufacturing. Jumping on them just for business advantage would be cutting off the nose to spite the face.

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MrT
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Re: Opel

GM's Opel/Vauxhall Insignia is a world car, sold in US and China as Buick Regal. The old Saturn brand was basically the same thing, with the Astra and Vectra. The crucial difference in the lineup is that in Europe most Insignias are sold with diesel engines, whereas in US they're all petrol/gasoline. They used to be very different in the engine bay, but many are now are based on the same turbo-4cyl units.

IIRC GM looked at shifting the European operation out of the company during the last financial restructuring. If things get sticky for GM's light duty diesels then a divorce may again be on the cards. However, if the action stems from purely US-derived test data, this push would only come about if the Eurozone pursued all manufacturers and Opel were found guilty of VeeDubbing the emissions as well.

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Re: Opel

Yes, Insignia is a GM world car, but it was engineered and developed in Russelsheim Germany, along with the Epsilon II platform on which a lot of GM cars are based including many US only ones and US built GM cars. Germany is GM's engineering powerhouse, so you hurt GM you hurt the EU.

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Computery science

I'd be interested in a view from a grown-up computer scientist. What I have read about engine management system development is so interesting that it helps explain how VW (and its competitors) could be unaware of what code is running on board its cars. Unfortunately we have to discount the interestingness to account for illiteracy and speculation, until we get a grown-up to look at it.

To wit, we have been told that there are millions of lines of code running in an EMS, and that it is not coded by humans. It sounds prima facie like a machine learning approach. I'm not sure I believe it. First, that sounds too hard for Bosch or VW when IBM and MIT have only just managed it. Second, it would be harder to certify for safety than human readable code. Remember, this thing has its virtual foot on your accelerator (all VWs fly by wire) and brakes (all VWs have ESC).

If it's not machine learning, then it sounds like an inefficient mess. I don't know which is worse.

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Terminator

Re: Computery science

"millions of lines of code running in an EMS"

Can that really be the case?

If machine learning did this then I think it must be doing much more than working out fuel and air amounts....

Perhaps it really wants to choke us.

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Re: Computery science

What I have read about engine management system development is so interesting that it helps explain how VW (and its competitors) could be unaware of what code is running on board its cars........ To wit, we have been told that there are millions of lines of code running in an EMS...

In part, that is true. They don't manufacture the ECU and so quite likely have no better knowledge of the code in the firmware than I have of the BIOS code in the PC upon which I write this.

However, it isn't the code that has caused the problem, it is the constant values with which it was supplied. All the EMS does is take readings from things like the TPS (Throttle Position Sensor - how hard are you pushing the gas), the MAF (Mass Air Flow Sensor) etc and look them up on a graph. The pint at which they intersect is the value for how much fuel to put in the cylinders per ignition cycle, and when to fire the spark, to achieve the burn characteristics desired (power / emissions etc).

All good so far, but where VW have a problem is that the EMS has more than one map. Instead of using the road map they used a different one for testing, on which they had set up different fuel and ignition values and so were achieving different outcomes - one which used less fuel, produced less power, and burned more cleanly.

The fix they are applying is remapping the vehicle to use different values. And this is where things get interesting. They can either adjust the road mapping to use the test values, in which case your car will get a lot less power output, or they can use the road values on the test map (which seems unlikley as that wouldn't need a recall ebcause its already using those values). Potentially people have two claims they can make - one for additional fuel cost (10-20% of the fuel bill during their ownership), and one for loss of power output - all those 1.8T VAG engines just got caught in performance terms by, well, everyone else.

Only, given the same ECUs are manufactured for many car producers, what are the odds that no other manufacturer is quietly preparing to be found with their pants down? The whole industry drank the same Kool-Aid, and for the same reasons. Does your non-VAG group car really do 70 MPG or is it really nearer 50? What do you suppose is the reason for that then? This issue will run and run all next year.

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Headmaster

@LucreLout

"and when to fire the spark, to achieve the burn characteristics desired (power / emissions etc)."

Umm - we're talking about diesels here... there is no spark...

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Re: @LucreLout

That's true enough, but from a practical perspective he's not wrong - it's controlling the fuel, air and ignition to control power and emissions, it's just that in a diesel, ignition is achieved through compression rather than a spark.

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Re: @LucreLout

@Joel1

Sorry about that Joel. You are obviously correct, and this is something I pointed out in a later post further down the stack discussing differences between petrol and diesel engines, having realised I should have been clearer here.

The reason I brought up sparks/petrol engines is that I am 100% convinced that an identical gaming of the system happens with petrol engines, and am looking forward to the shennanigans next year when I am shown to be right.

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Re: @LucreLout

>Umm - we're talking about diesels here... there is no spark...

But they do have glow plugs these days which are intended to have a similar effect on determining when the fuel burns.

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Re: Computery science

"Instead of using the road map they used a different one for testing, "

Has this actually been confirmed, or given the special conditions that surround testing ie. the conditions would never be encountered under normal driving conditions, it is possible (and sensible) to integrate the test map into the other maps?

Hence a reason why VW have discovered/realised that they are going to have to examine individual maps to determine if they contain the relevant settings...

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MrT
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Re: @LucreLout

"I am 100% convinced that an identical gaming of the system happens with petrol engines"

Well, the V8 petrol Audi S7 advertises that it will spend most of the time around town as a V4, only opening all 8 taps when needed. Anyone who has looked at the way the Euro emissions test is done can see that it's possible for the S7 to be set to do the entire thing on half an engine. The latest model RS6 dropped down a tax band, and apparently will deliver 29mpg. Just not in the hands of any Audi driver who bought one for the sub-4s 0-60 sprint.

If a car recognises it's on a test rig (and they all do these days) and places different parameters on the engine as a result, it doesn't matter what fuel it runs. It's like having a stop/start system installed as a way of getting down a few tax bands, but allowing customers to permanently disable that IRL - the car immediately does a lower mpg as a result. The upshot of all this could be to make all cars run in the test configuration all of the time, no options, no remaps. Or, real-world testing - setup as well as routes.

Set a target, people do what they can to meet/beat it - look how many cars race to get to 99g/km CO2 but no lower...

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fnj

Re: @LucreLout

@Stephen Raith - the ignition profile is still under precise control. It depends on the injection profile. Nowadays you inject multiple spurts, all precisely timed, per cycle.

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fnj

Re: @LucreLout

@Roland6 - glow plugs have zero effect on ignition timing. They are only there for starting and cold running, to add heat over and above the compression effect. Ignition timing is controlled by injection timing.

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Vic
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Re: @LucreLout

But they do have glow plugs these days which are intended to have a similar effect on determining when the fuel burns.

Nope. The glow plugs pre-heat the air in the cylinders to ensure ignition will happen even when the engine is cold. As it warms up, the glow plugs are switched off (this might happen before the engine even starts).

Ignition is caused by diesel being injected into hot, compressed air. Old-style injectors merely ramped up the diesel pressure until it overcame a calibrated valve, at which point the valve opened and diesel is sprayed into the cylinder. This causes a relatively slow build-up of fuel:air ratio, with quite a bit of attendant knocking.

Modern diesels tend to have a high-pressure rail of diesel, with electrically-operated valves controlling flow into the cylinder. This leads to better combustion timing and reduced knocking.

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @LucreLout - But they do have glow plugs these days

The glow plugs are only used for starting and while the engine is warming up. I think you are confusing Diesels with semi-Diesels which have a hot region of the cylinder head to permit fuel burning at lower pressures than is needed by a true Diesel. And the glow plugs are there to initiate combustion, to to time it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @LucreLout - @MrT

The issue is whether the emissions test is intended to tell the average driver which car will give the lowest fuel bill and emissions if driven sensibly, or whether it is intended to control anti-social behaviour. Currently it is the former, with fuel pricing intended to discourage the latter. But Saudi fuel dumping is working against fuel pricing.

It's hard to imagine that anybody buying an Audi S7 has the slightest interest in fuel costs, which are outweighed by depreciation.

It would be interesting to have two emissions tests; one for "sensible" driving and another one in which the vehicle was repeatedly accelerated hard to 30, 40 or 70mph, kept there a few minutes, and then returned to tickover. This would represent the "antisocial" driving pattern and vehicles could be subjected to limits for these. It would boost the sales of Teslas, certainly.

(The test I described is roughly the one that used to be used for life testing small Diesel engines and was called the "van driver cycle". To make it more fun, every so often the hot coolant was flushed out with cold to enable repeated cold starts. The cycle lasted 7 weeks; some models of engines, including the original GM 1.6 litre Diesel, stood up to it remarkably well, while others protested by throwing their con rods across the test room.)

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