back to article Volkswagen blames emissions cheating on 'chain of errors'

Volkswagen has released the initial findings of an ongoing internal review in the emissions scandal that has engulfed it in recent months and concluded that it was a few bad apples and a "chain of errors." At a press conference at the car manufacturer's headquarters in Wolfsburg, its chairman, Hans Dieter Potsch, tried to put …

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  1. oldtaku
    Devil

    Uh huh.

    Even if you buy this without skepticism, it conveniently leaves out that it's all due to Potsch's demands.

    He's infamous for being a crazy tyrant who will threaten to sack entire departments if they can't deliver some feature in some crazy timeframe. And often they do crunch and get it done, which just encourages him. If not, Auf Wiedersehen.

    In this case, if you believe his version of events, apparently they realized they could not reach the mileage / power / emissions specs he was demanding, so it was their jobs or a cheat and they went with the cheat.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Uh huh.

      Demands a bit like this then? http://www.vgcats.com/comics/?strip_id=325

      "I'd like a beard please"

      "But sir, it does not work like that..."

      "You're a hairdresser, make it happen!"

    2. circusmole
      FAIL

      Re: Uh huh.

      I agree.

      This proclamation is the output of an "Internal Investigation" carried by VW expressly for VW's benefit. Tell me what springs to mind when you hear about "Internal Investigations" - that's right, bullshit, bullshit and more bullshit. This is all about management CYA, nothing more.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      DEATH SPEAKS IN CAPITALS

      (according to Dr Pratchett)

      CALCULATIONS IN USA SHOW THAT THE FAKE NOx RESULTS HAVE RESULTED IN AROUND 500 EXCESS DEATHS, JUST IN THE USA, FROM THEIR HALF-MILLION FAKERS.

      FOR ME, THE WORRY IS MORE THE EXCESS DEATHS IN EUROPEAN CITIES, WHERE THE PM10 (actually mostly sub-micrometre particulates) ARE BIOAVAILABILE AND CONTAMINATED WITH POLYAROMATICS, SUCH AS BENZENE. THE LIFE-FACTOR REDUCTION OF URBAN LIVING IN CENTRAL LONDON, MILAN ETC IS A five year penalty, EARLY CHECK-OUT.

      THATS THE CONTEXT OF FAKE CAR EMISSIONS. DEATH. EXCESS.

      1. Roq D. Kasba

        PR balls-up

        Much like our Microsoft friends bollocksing up their One Drive storage quota issue, the fuck up is only compounded by the PR.

        A good response would have been 'wow, we fucked up so bad, let's use this as a chance to get our house in order and unearth other problems and be publicly contrite and engage the public about anything else we should investigate etc'. Cost is a lot more in the short term, but you can be seen to DO THE RIGHT THING, and get redemption story cred from it. Instead it's just weasel words, wriggling, passive tenses 'mistakes were made' vs 'we fucked up'. It's like a passive aggressive 'we're sorry our customers don't like PM2.5 emissions from our great value cleanest ever engine across our full range in store now'.

        Punters aren't dumb. They assume car companies are a bunch of wide boys who will try to cheat, much as they know tobacco companies will do everything possible to build a market. Weasel words just look like you hold the public in contempt, throwing away a chance to take the high ground and have a very public redemption.

        1. Robert Grant

          Re: PR balls-up

          Agree 100% - just wanted to say you can keep your OneDrive storage if you opt in: http://www.windowscentral.com/onedrive-users-can-keep-their-free-15gb-storage.

          1. Roq D. Kasba

            Re: PR balls-up @Robert

            Indeed - that's the worst of it. Taking away something they'd offered, then backpedaling, but not doing so publicly. Balls-up, then throwing away the opportunity to make good, so everyone still thinks of you as the company that took something away, even though you gave it in the first place, then have it back again. Terrible PR management.

      2. dotdavid

        Re: DEATH SPEAKS IN CAPITALS

        > CALCULATIONS IN USA SHOW THAT THE FAKE NOx RESULTS HAVE RESULTED IN AROUND 500 EXCESS DEATHS

        Calculations in UK show that the fake NOx results have resulted in several broken keyboards caused by EXCESSIVE CAPS-LOCK SHOUTING

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: DEATH SPEAKS IN CAPITALS (if you're American)

        For a country that kills more than that a year under the guise of "friendly fire"

        Hypocrite

  2. elDog Silver badge

    There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

    When I first saw the "chain of errors" comment I knew that de deutchers weren't going to be honest and fall on their swards.

    Sometimes the best that can be made from a pile of turds is a new garden. Eventually flowers will grow again. Stop shoveling manure!

    1. Mpeler
      FAIL

      Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

      WWII ended 70 years ago.

      Apparently it's still going on inside your head.

      Ahhh, how about all those great British cars, eh?

      1. Captain Queeg

        Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

        @Mpeler

        The reasons for the British Motor Industry failing are manifold, but it's worth making the point that any lying they did was pretty much subjective (words like "stylish" or "fun" can't be objectively disputed) - I'm not aware of any, say Rootes or Austin outright objective lies deliberately told to deceive potential buyers.

        That said the vehicles were pretty grim.

        http://youtu.be/lO_6lve0kt4

        Vroom? /me shakes head

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

          @Captain Queeg

          I beg to differ. Calling a Morris Marina a "modern vehicle" was complete and utter lie!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

            From the down vote, I guess we have a member of the Morris Marina Owners Club on The Register...

            1. TeeCee Gold badge
              Headmaster

              Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

              I think you'll find that's the member of the Morris Marina Owners' Club.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

          "I'm not aware of any, say Rootes or Austin outright objective lies deliberately told to deceive potential buyers"

          "the Chrysler 180 will take the Rep market from the Ford Cortina"

          "Rover SD1, our best and most reliable Rover yet"

          Just 2 examples for you

      2. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

        "WWII ended 70 years ago.

        Apparently it's still going on inside your head.

        Ahhh, how about all those great British cars, eh?"

        I have two words for you: "non" and "sequitur". Now, you might not know what they mean, so here's a question: what on Earth connects your comment about World War Two and his comment about VW's defence being to fire up the Bullshit Express?

        1. Mpeler
          Mushroom

          Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

          Actually I do. I'm an American, so you can thank us for winning that war for you while you're at it.

          POM.

          1. LucreLout Silver badge

            Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

            Actually I do. I'm an American, so you can thank us for winning that war for you while you're at it.

            Yawn - turning up in time for the victory dance is winning like Charlie Sheen. And you only did that because the Japs had just handed you your ass on a plate, and you needed our help with them.

            In the history of your nation, is there a war you've won without us being there to hold your hand? I can't think of one just now.... Pretty well everyone America has ever fought without our help has whooped it's ass, from the Canadians through to the Vietnamese.

      3. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

        @Mpeler

        Ahhh, how about all those great British cars, eh?

        Ok, nobody (sane) would dispute that for the past 50 years, Audi/BMW/Mercedes have made significantly better cars than Rover managed.

        That, however, doesn't absolve VW for behaving like Deutschebags over this self inflicted problem. As an organisation, they knew what the rules were, and decided to cheat in order to gain market share over their less dishonest rivals. Now is the time for humility, not nationalistic willy waving.

        The idea of announcing a press conference titled "Problem resolved" or words to that effect, is to try to move the terms of the debate, restrict the scope and depth of any impartial investigation, and to try to arrest the PR death-spiral they've brought about. This will not work, and they're being badly advised by whomever told them it might.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

      Fall on their swards? A sward is, of course, the "surface or upper layer of ground usually covered with herbage". Interestingly, elDog goes on to write about gardens and flowers, so perhaps that really is what was meant.

      1. Roo
        Windows

        Re: There's a river in Africa - de Nile. Along with de Flect it makes up VW's de Fence.

        "Fall on their swards?"

        Well you wouldn't want some poor Exec to fall face first into a pile of shit just because he lied, coerced staff into making bad design decisions and fired anyone who disagreed with them so they could get a bigger bonus at the expense of the health of some folks they don't know would you ?

        It would be a more constructive use of everyone's time & attention if these VW execs were flown out to Kabul for interrogation^Winvestigation. This is the best possible option because the US & UK governments assure us that the methods used are humane and the most effective way to ensure that criminals don't injure/maim/kill thousands of innocent people.

  3. Andy france
    Facepalm

    These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

    I hate people talking about a "defeat device". It almost sounds like some hardware gadget that has been fitted to the car to cheat the tests. In reality what we have is engine management software that rather sensibly manages the engine performance and emissions in a manner most befitting the task at hand. One inevitable side effect is that in situations resembling an emission test the emissions and performance are both very low, but when the driver puts his foot down on the open road the engine management software delivers at the expense of pushing out lots and lots of nasty emissions.

    Now imagine that one software team was tasked with developing the high performance section of the code and another team with reducing emissions in the low performance aka. "testing" sections of the code where the engine was seen to be lacking. Has either team done anything "wrong" by not taking into account the big picture? It's so easy to attribute malevolence to what could be incompetence.

    1. Graham Marsden

      Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

      Do you work for VW, perchance...?

      1. david 12 Bronze badge

        Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

        No, I don't work for VW, and I don't drive a diesel. But I do write embedded software, and I do work in the altermative-technology energy sector. It is clear that there is no "defeat device", and repeated use of that term just makes the editors seem cheap and stupid.

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

          "It is clear that there is no "defeat device","

          A "device" does not have to be a physical object; it is an alternative word to "design", like Kubhla Khan's "miracle of rare device". So stop trying to use semantics to avoid admitting the obvious truth.

          1. david 12 Bronze badge

            Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

            If, by chance, your are refering to my posting, let me point out that I have never tried to avoid the obvious truth, and never claimed any excuse for the moral or criminal failure of VW (management or engineering).

            I'm interested in both the technical and systemic origins of crimes, and simplistic, misleading, or just plain false explanations may be entertaining, but they don't help me.

            For example, (from above) "detection routine which recognizes which test is being run and setting the engine MAP explicitly to a set of values which are used only in a test."

            That is a false description, so it doesn't help identify the technical or management failures which lead to this crime.. Cheap and careless reporting leads to false descriptions like that I just quoted, and so cheap and careless reporting doesn't help identify the technical or management failures which lead to this crime.

            Hiding behind semantic justifications like "a device is a system" doesn't help either: there is no system specifically dedicated to cheating, and pretending that there is, while understandable given the poor level of reporting and edititing demonstrated here, doesn't get you any closer to punishing those properly responsible for the crime.

            Which reminds me that no, I wouldn't take anything that VW says on face value, even if it was accurately reported in the comments section of a news source, acccurately derived from an English language press release. (Which, with respect, doesn't seem to be the case here).

        2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

          Re: These is no such thing as an "Admission Device"

          There is a device device in devizes I think it is a Eurolink subsidiary device currently subdivisied to poetchically named eothically challenged Bodger Poetcher for a spell.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

          > It is clear that there is no "defeat device", and repeated use of that term just makes the editors seem cheap and stupid.

          I believe, but as always I am willing to be corrected, that the expression "defeat device" is a legal or technical term from whoever is responsible for these things in the States. It was first used in some press release and then the media latched onto it.

          Just mentioning it, as it is not clear whether you were aware where the expression came from and that could, or not, influence your opinion on this matter.

    2. Steve Knox Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

      "rather sensibly manages the engine performance and emissions in a manner most befitting the task at hand."

      Since the emissions are supposed to be under the limit even when "the driver puts his foot down on the open road", when "the engine management software delivers at the expense of pushing out lots and lots of nasty emissions" it is by definition not sensibly managing emissions.

      1. patrickstar

        Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

        I assume that emissions standards specify an average rate over time, as opposed to a peak rate. Then having high- and low-emission/performance modes isn't an issue in itself, but rather the logic that decides when and for how long each mode runs. And I'd imagine the finer points are worked out empirically rather than being part of the original specifications, so cheating could very well be introduced late in the development cycle by a small group as opposed to being something everyone had to be aware of.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

      > "Has either team done anything "wrong" by not taking into account the big picture? It's so easy to attribute malevolence to what could be incompetence."

      So it's an 'emergent systems error'. The various actors for their own reasons did things independently that in toto appear so beneficial for the company as to be suspicious.

      I'd like to say "BS!", but it has the unfortunate ring of reality. However, even if we accept that, it just opens the door for other companies to cheat and blame it on "some emergent thingy."

    4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

      rather sensibly manages the engine performance and emissions in a manner most befitting the task at hand

      Which is exactly what is missing from the report. The task at hand as done by a software engineer is defined by management. The report leaves that out completely.

      There is a world of difference between optimizing for the car not moving and programming a detection routine which recognizes which test is being run and setting the engine MAP explicitly to a set of values which are used only in a test. The former is a valid optimization. The latter is fraud.

      By the way, the combination of your opinion and the industry you work in (as noted in your other post) is not surprising. At least for me.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

        VW already called it a defeat device. Did they call it that in error?

      2. nijam

        Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

        > ... The latter is fraud.

        By that argument, so is revising for an exam.

    5. Dr_N Silver badge

      Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

      "I hate people talking about a "defeat device"."

      I hate* people spreading FUD about the criminal activities of VW in spite of the fact that VW themselves have already held their hands up and admitted their guilt.

      Or is this just part of a deep-cover VAG PR/marketdroid master plan?

      *hate is a really overused word for this, really.

    6. GW7
      Boffin

      Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

      REGULATION (EC) No 715/2007

      Article 3

      Definitions

      10. ‘defeat device’ means any element of design which senses temperature, vehicle speed, engine speed (RPM), transmission gear, manifold vacuum or any other parameter for the purpose of activating, modulating, delaying or deactivating the operation of any part of the emission control system, that reduces the effectiveness of the emission control system under conditions which may reasonably be expected to be encountered in normal vehicle operation and use;

      Sounds EXACTLY like the elements of design that VW used to fraudulently gain type approvals for their EA189 diesels.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

        Well informed fact based comment quoting primary sources. Whatever next!

        Seasons greetings.

      2. nijam

        Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

        > ... encountered in normal vehicle operation ...

        In other words, *not* in a test. So the regulation you quote means that what VW are alleged to have done is actually OK after all.

        1. I am not spartacus

          Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

          "So the regulation you quote means that what VW are alleged to have done is actually OK after all."

          No, you have misread it. You are not allowed to change away from the mode used for the test for any mode of normal operation, so what they did is not OK, unless they can argue that 'everyday driving' is, in some way, not normal operation. I can hear them cranking up their lawyers right now...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

          > In other words, *not* in a test

          Granted that the wording of the regulation may be somewhat confusing. I had to read it twice to realise that in this bit:

          "that reduces the effectiveness of the emission control system under conditions which may reasonably be expected to be encountered in normal vehicle operation and use;"

          The "emission control system" must be the thing that measures the car's emissions for certification or whatever purposes, as opposed to the thing that prevents harmful stuff from being released into the atmosphere.

          Or is it me who is misreading it?

      3. Andy france

        Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

        I stand corrected. Based on this definition there is indeed such a thing as a "defeat device". Thank you.

      4. AndrewDu

        Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

        "conditions which may reasonably be expected to be encountered in normal vehicle operation and use"

        Interesting.

        Does "normal operation and use" include the artificial environment of a test bed? It's arguable that it does not. So perhaps in fact VW did comply with the letter of this particular regulation.

    7. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: These is no such thing as a "Defeat Device"

      Hmm. Much the same approach as a fixed-jet carburettor (when such things were used) and the reason why fixed-jet types stayed in use until the very end, despite being utterly crap by comparison to variable venturi types.

      The fixed-jet type allows the fitting of a nice, lean idle jet (for testing at idle) along with a big, fat main jet[1] so yer boy racer's clog produces the desired effect at revolutions where the rules don't give a toss what's coming out of the tailpipe.

      [1] and often an accelerator pump to squirt neat fuel directly into the venturi when you clog it. Yes, these things are to accurate fuelling what a 4lb club hammer is to tappet adjustment.

  4. jgarry

    Given the realities of large corps, I don't think Occam's Razor applies, but consider:

    What if the general spec was "maximize power when accelerating, minimize emissions when in some constant mode?"

    You might honestly come up with engine management software that does that - cause and effect flips because most of the test conditions are constant, like "on dynamometer, hold at 30kph for n seconds."

    Of course, someone still might have noticed that and gone "haha, that fools the test specs too!"

    1. Fonant

      The USA emissions drive cycle is not constant, it's an attempt at a representation of a normal trip's driving. It does have limited top speeds, which is a bit of an issue, but it has some quite fast accelerations that certainly test the car's emissions control systems pretty well.

      You can see the speed versus time graphs here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FTP-75

  5. Graham Marsden
    Holmes

    concluded that it was a few bad apples and a "chain of errors"

    Didn't the Tobacco Companies say similar things when they tried to bury reports that cigarettes caused cancer...?

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: concluded that it was a few bad apples and a "chain of errors"

      Didn't the Tobacco Companies say similar things when they tried to bury reports that cigarettes caused cancer...?

      Odd thing is that there's no linear relationship between lung cancer and tobacco consumption. There is however a linear relationship between ischaemic heart disease/lung cancer and amount of vehicular travel.

      While Mr Robinson does not discount such things as diet, exercise and smoking as contributory factors to disease, he says that the mathematical relationship cannot be shown between these factors and illnesses as it can between travel and the ailments.

      For instance, between 1920-1972, lung cancer in Australia increased by 2810 per cent, which is about the same (2840 per cent) rate of increase in petrol consumption for the period.

      But tobacco consumption in that period increased only by 69 per cent.

      See: http://www.mercurynie.com.au/mathguys/articles/1991/910611a1.htm

      While causation is not proof of causation, lack of correlation indicates lack of causation. IOW a genuine causal link between tobacco consumption and lung cancer has never been established. This does not mean tobacco is not a contributing factor. As Meyer said at the time, tobacco has a small multiplying effect.

      Disclaimer: I proofread and edited Meyer's original MS prior to publication. The book was a flop in the marketplace largely because people hate being told that doing something they love (driving) is really bad for their health. So it goes...

      1. Stork Bronze badge

        Re: concluded that it was a few bad apples and a "chain of errors"

        I also seem to remember that for many years the number of lung cancer cases rose proportionally with the number of phones installed - but I don't think anyone suggested a link.

      2. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: concluded that it was a few bad apples and a "chain of errors"

        "While causation is not proof of causation"

        I beg to differ. I definitely think causation is proof of causation. Now correlation might not be proof of causation, I agree.

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