back to article Herbie goes to a hackathon: Mueller promises cheatware fix

Volkswagen is going to spend up big getting rid of its troublesome cheatware, the company has announced. Reuters reckons auto industry analysts reckon the fix could cost as much as US$6.5 billion. At less than $600 for each of the 11 million affected vehicles, that's a snip, and should get engineers somewhere a bonus (but …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    VW division will be spun out to operate with the same kind of independence as Audi and Porsche

    Looking at the mechanical differences between A1, Ibiza, Fabia and VW Polo that is an independence level which is well known as "NONE".

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      The important thing is fiscal independence, to get ready for the oncoming shitstorm.

    2. uncle sjohie

      2 reasons

      This is probably done for 2 reasons, to legally and financially separate VW form the other brands of the volkswagen Group, and for PR reasons, although all group brands with the 4 cylinder diesel engines are affected, so the PR nightmare is complete already.

    3. Yugguy

      Hehehehe.

      I expect your vote down was from an Audi driver.

      But you're absolutely right. Trim and finish may vary but mechanically they are ALL THE SAME.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        I drive an Audi and I think he's totally right.

      2. dotdavid

        "Trim and finish may vary but mechanically they are ALL THE SAME."

        Not true. My Audi didn't come with indicators, for example.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Not true. My Audi didn't come with indicators, for example.

          Is yours made by the VAG group or Matchbox? :)

    4. enormous c word

      "VW division will be spun out to operate with the same kind of independence as Audi and Porsche"

      ... so they can declare bankruptcy without affecting the rest of the group - the ultimate contingency plan. Just waiting for those cheap VWs to start hitting eBay.

  2. Jack of Shadows Silver badge
    Headmaster

    VW division will be spun out to operate with the same kind of independence as Audi and Porsche.

    "Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan" logic there near as I can tell.

  3. Neoc

    So....

    How long before customers begin to sue VW for the sudden crappy performance of their vehicles?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: So....

      Not so hasty. We still do not know if the NOx, the CO2 for UK VED and the bhp for VED in Portugal, Bulgaria, etc were admin-ed separately or at the same time. The real fun will begin if these need to be re-run and vehicles re-banded.

    2. enormous c word

      Re: So....

      "How long before customers begin to sue VW for the sudden crappy performance of their vehicles?"

      :-) Expect a cottage industry of after-market modders to put the old SW back after VW make their mandatory updates. Its all just one big mess really.

      As bad as VW have been - it is the politicians + environmentalists + lobbyists who campaigned for lowered CO2 and the cock-eyed legislators that jumped on the CO2 popularity band wagon and neglected to consider the bigger problem of poisonous NOx.

      Used VW prices will plummet either because performance will be cripped post-fix or TAX will increase sans-fix. I said it before, expect to see after-market modders restoring the old EMS SW post-VW-update...

  4. frank ly Silver badge

    If a UK VW Passat (as an example) passed its MoT test emissions levels last year, there's little reason why it shouldn't pass them this year. Unless there is a reclassification of the vehicle and the tested pass levels are changed to reflect that? Even so, if the VW Passat is passing the tests due to cheat software, the MoT test process will need to be altered or some formal check of engine software update status will be needed. Will VW owners be 'forced' to take their cars in for a software modification? This will be an admin nightmare.

    I'm still wondering about buying a 4 year old turbodiesel Passat.

    1. Chemist

      "If a UK VW Passat (as an example) passed its MoT test emissions levels last year, "

      What MoT emission test .? AFAIK only particulates are checked

      http://www.ukmot.com/manual/7.4/Exhaust-Emissions-Compression-Ignition

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Will VW owners be 'forced' to take their cars in for a software modification? This will be an admin nightmare.

      I don't think so. All they need to do is to amend the recall process already in place so that a recall for any upgrade or change to make the car compliant is documented, so maybe you get an extra, dealer stamped sheet to carry with the type approval papers you already have (yes, there is margin for fraud here but that's always the case, for the large majority this works).

      At the same time, the MoT *may* be amended with a check for this piece of paper, I suspect that that will be easier to do than changing a test process to prevent the cheat routine from picking up the test.

      It's not that different from checking for a compulsory recall correction, which is AFAIk already an established process, the only difference is that it's software.

    3. Nigel 11

      The general rule here in the UK is that a vehicle is tested against the criteria which applied when it was new. So VW drivers can probably refuse any "fix" that will reduce their vehicles performance. The car passed its MOT test once without that fix, so it still will. It's the car that cheats, not the owner.

      Ethically, there's a dilemma. The pollution that such cars emit is hurting people, especially if the car is used for commuting into city centres. Also traders probably won't be allowed to sell unfixed cars. So the secondhand values of VW cars will fall. Sell your car for ££££ less than it was worth a few weeks ago, buy a better one, sue VW?

      Also the government might insist that the (car-crippling?) fix is applied, by enforcing it at the next MOT test. Not an admin nightmare. just something that won't win them any votes!

      I'd steer clear of buying any diesel until the extent of the problem is known. If all manufacturers have been cheating along similar lines, there may be a serious backlash against diesels, akin to the almost-banning of smoking/smokers.

  5. Alister Silver badge

    Volkswagen is going to spend up big getting rid of its troublesome cheatware

    Why is everyone reporting it this way?

    My understanding of the issue is this:

    Every modern car - and by that I mean both Petrol and Diesel powered vehicles - uses software to manage the way the engine runs. This software relies on a large number of sensor inputs, including throttle position, engine revs, road-wheel speed, air intake pressure, etc, etc, to determine the settings for fuel/air mixture, spark timing (for petrols) injector pressure and so on which govern the efficiency of the engine and ultimately what pollutants it produces.

    In all cases, this software needs to be able to recognise the unusual situation presented when a vehicle is on test - the driven wheels are turning at high speed, but the undriven wheels are stationary, the air intake pressures are low, suggesting the vehicle isn't moving, and so on.

    In the absence of any instructions to the contrary, the vehicle software would probably assume a fault, and shut the engine down.

    There is therefore a part of the software which recognises this test condition, and in effect tells the computer to ignore certain sensor inputs, and run using a number of preset default settings.

    What Volkswagen is alleged to have done is to alter these default settings to artificially restrict the engine to run in a mode where it's pollutants are minimal, a mode which is not available in normal running conditions.

    However, you can't REMOVE the software, as is being reported everywhere, if you did, the engines wouldn't work properly.

    All that is needed is for the Volkswagen Group cars to have their test running parameters set back to a mode which reflects normal driving.

    Whilst not insignificant, the cost of changing the parameters used by each car whilst running in test mode (by a firmware update or similar mechanism) should be fairly small, compared to completely replacing the software.

    1. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Volkswagen is going to spend up big getting rid of its troublesome cheatware

      But can they do it without the commensurate loss of power or without exceeding the limit of NOx they are in trouble for in the first place.

      That is the multi million, er, billion dollar question. It is one seriously good hack if they can.

      1. John Arthur

        Re: Volkswagen is going to spend up big getting rid of its troublesome cheatware

        "It is one seriously good hack if they can." If a hack, even a seriously good one, would fix the problem then shirley the hack would have been incorporated in all the cars from Day 1. More likely that this will require the addition of hardware for urea injection into the exhaust which costs money to install and further money in ongoing refills.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Volkswagen is going to spend up big getting rid of its troublesome cheatware

          My guess is they will make the low emission mode the default on start and install a "sport" button the driver can press to override it.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Volkswagen is going to spend up big getting rid of its troublesome cheatware

      "All that is needed is for the Volkswagen Group cars to have their test running parameters set back to a mode which reflects normal driving."

      T'other way round.

      If they did what you suggest then they would fail the emissions test. The issue is that normal running does not reflect the test results which entitled them to be on the road. It's the normal running parameters which need to be changed to bring them into line with the tests and when that's done the vehicles are likely to be down on power, have higher CO2 emissions or both. Owners will then be complaining that they haven't got the performance they paid for & maybe that their vehicles have been reclassified into higher tax bands. Either that or remediation is going to include the fitting of additional hardware to inject urea.

      As I have a VAG petrol driven car I'm hoping that this doesn't extend beyond diesels. OTOH, assuming it doesn't, I'm glad that after my experience with a crap (as in crap from brand new) company car years ago I've refused to even consider another diesel.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Volkswagen is going to spend up big getting rid of its troublesome cheatware

        As I have a VAG petrol driven car I'm hoping that this doesn't extend beyond diesels. OTOH, assuming it doesn't, I'm glad that after my experience with a crap (as in crap from brand new) company car years ago I've refused to even consider another diesel.

        Weird, I've never really had problems with turbo diesels, and I have been driving them from the time VAG brought out the first turbo diesel. I rather like the fact that with the modern ones I can fill up the tank and be close to 1000 km further before it wants a top up, and the buckets of low end torque make for quite comfortable long distance driving.

        Having said that, it's more *fun* driving the 4.2 v8 I have, but that goes through fuel at a quite a different rate (from 10l/100km at 120 km/h to some 50l/100km at 250 km/h) so on long distance it certainly doesn't get you there faster. I'm looking at a Tesla now, a friend of mine is quite happy with it and he also uses it for house visits (he's a GP).

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Volkswagen is going to spend up big getting rid of its troublesome cheatware

          "Weird, I've never really had problems with turbo diesels, and I have been driving them from the time VAG brought out the first turbo diesel."

          Mine wasn't VAG.

          The power band must have been all of 500rpm wide and on acceleration away from the lights the traffic behind vanished. Behind a black cloud.

          Being a company car I handed it in when I retired & bought a 2nd hand petrol-driven Sierra with a suspiciously exact 60,000 on the clock. It was a major improvement.

          1. Vic

            Re: Volkswagen is going to spend up big getting rid of its troublesome cheatware

            The power band must have been all of 500rpm wide and on acceleration away from the lights the traffic behind vanished. Behind a black cloud.

            The black cloud tends to be over-fuelling. You'll frequently see it if the turbo has expired.

            The narrow poewr band? That's another symptom of a knackered turbo.

            My guess is that your turbo was faulty...

            Vic.

            1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

              Re: Volkswagen is going to spend up big getting rid of its troublesome cheatware

              My guess is that your turbo was faulty...

              Thanks Vic, I like the fact that I keep learning new things here :).

  6. Uberseehandel

    In the long run spinning off the VW brand is not a good idea

    VW AG (VAG) has always prided itself, present circumstances aside, on the involvement of senior management in engineering. One commonly hears comments along the lines of "Daimler is run by people who used to be engineers, VW is run by people who are engineers".

    If the senior managers become detached from the underlying brands they become far too involved in non car related matters, to the long term detriment of the group and its customers as a whole.

    The best that can come out of this scandal is that passenger diesel cars are forgotten about as fast as possible, or the scientists and government policy makers who colluded to redefine what pollution is are consigned to oblivion and a more accurate measure of pollution is used, if such a thing is possible.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In the long run spinning off the VW brand is not a good idea

      The best that can come out of this scandal is that passenger diesel cars are forgotten about as fast as possible

      Oh really? They're not the real polluters. If you really want to address diesel pollution you'll have to tackle HGV traffic, and I wish you luck there.

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: In the long run spinning off the VW brand is not a good idea

        If you really want to address diesel pollution you'll have to tackle HGV traffic, and I wish you luck there.

        Unless the HGV engines are cheating as badly as the car engines, I doubt it. The problem with HGVs is that they last longer than cars. There are some horribly old soot-belchers still on the roads. Banning them from city centres may accelerate their replacement.

        On the technical front, I think it's easier to clean up a larger engine. Less exhaust in contact with metal surfaces. Also HGVs aren't judged on their 0-60 acceleration.

        Finally there's no alternative. Something has to burn the diesel fraction of the raw petroleum, and we can't do without trucks.

        1. Rob Daglish

          Re: In the long run spinning off the VW brand is not a good idea

          From what I understand, the London Low Emission Zone applies to HGVs and PCVs, and means that engines which don't meet at least Euro IV (basically anything before 2005) are charged £200 a day to enter the zone. Seems like that would accelerate their replacement - I can tell you from experience coach operators don't have margins like that to play with!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a fix to fix a fix

    probably by the same innocent party (Bosch) who came up with the original not-for-real-world / only-for-testing fix.

  8. Drudgery Leak

    From what I've heard the current system of VED bands is about to be scrapped anyway.

    Self-regulation by the motor industry has failed, but as we've learned the NOx regulations were too strict and not achievable.

    All car manufacturers will be implicated to a lesser or greater degree.

    If the governments do what they should they will protect consumers - that's car buyers in this case - from the effects of this mess. But they'll probably protect the industry first. And naturally dodge any blame for failing to regulate effectively. And we'll end up paying more for the privilege of sitting in traffic jams.

    1. Chemist

      "but as we've learned the NOx regulations were too strict and not achievable."

      Not to minimise this but Eur 6 does seem to be achievable BUT the standard is for a certain mix of simulated driving. As I've mentioned before this will never represent all the possible conditions of actual use.

      In any case the actual risk to health is a function of the concentration.time product which can't be garnered from tailpipe emissions directly as it depends on so many factors. ( traffic density & speed , wind & rain, mix of HGVs vs vans vs cars, background levels of NOx from other sources [heating, industry] )

    2. Aitor 1 Silver badge

      Most engines fail.. but no all

      It is a simple question of a bit higher fuel consumption.. but that looks like your engine can't compete.

      So what you are saying is that it is unrealistic to have a Tour the France without performance enhancing drugs.

      No. It is possible, and there are engines that are able to make it.

      1. Drudgery Leak

        Re: Most engines fail.. but no all

        The Tour de France could be three weeks on a coach tour stoned off their tits for all I care.

    3. Nigel 11

      If the governments do what they should they will protect consumers - that's car buyers in this case - from the effects of this mess. But they'll probably protect the industry first.

      Politics is the art of the possible.

      It's not possible to fix all those cars instantly. If this is an industry-wide problem and not a VW one, any proper fix will take a ten-year view (average life of a car is about ten years).

      It's not sensible to drive the EU car industry into bankrupcy, and end up having to import all cars from countries which care less about air quality than we do. To that extent, the motor manufacturers may get off lightly.

      OTOH a good start would be to tax petrol and diesel by the Megajoule, not by the litre. Diesel contains more energy per litre: it's somewhat cheaper than it should be (not hugely so). So cut the tax on petrol. (BTW no self-interest - I drive a diesel).

      And once the facts are known, change the VED regime to reflect typical on-the-road emissions of all pollutants, not just CO2 emission in a very flawed lab test. Better, scrap annual VED. Put a one-off charge on new cars to reflect their likely lifetime emissions, and add enough tax on petrol and diesel to ensure government tax-take is unaffected. That'll put more pressure on drivers to minimize fuel consumption, both in new car choice and all car usage, and emissions will look after themselves if they're largely proportional to fuel consumption.

      In ten years time we'll be where we should have been today, with the cars on the road reflecting the best achievable pollution levels. This is a scandal that may yet become a much larger one, but it is not a catastrophe.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And the Gravy Train starts rolling...

    Harris County (Houston), Texas filed a $100M lawsuit yesterday claiming lots of bad things happened to the air as a result of VW's cheating. I can only imagine the number of other counties and municipalities that will be getting in line for their own free money. Appeasing VW owners is a fraction of the liability VW is going to have to deal with.

    Hottest item right now in law offices all over the world? The the latest edition of the Learjet catalog.

    1. enormous c word

      Re: And the Gravy Train starts rolling...

      Yep! I suspect the *outing* of VWs transgressions has more to do with the US domestic car manufacturers killing the competition than a lowly US testing station discovering VWs SW cheat. Few US cars are diesel powered. Many imports from Europe and Asia are - simples...

  10. Cincinnataroo

    First: My understanding is that modern cars essentially have a "software defined engine". That is defined by a bunch of functions essentially defined by interpolation of data arrays.

    No secret magic, evil, coding to detect it's under test. You tell the car it's under test as with only one set of (drive) wheels turning it would otherwise lock up. Given the one axle dynamometers that they decided to use. VW just slipped in a different set of functions when under test. A planet of 200 nations or whatever, has testing government bods (presumably in all countries) who then, for 6 years or more can't see the possibility and didn't bother to run real tests. These genius are no "environment protection" anything. They're "guaranteed environment destruction" agencies.

    It's notable too that private citizens have been none the wiser, effectively condemning themselves to believing officials and PR, sort of "modern belief in magic".

    VW unacceptable, government even worse.

    Secondly: "Fixing" the SDE (Software Defined Engine) gives the car owners something they may want less than a faked running mode. That's more expensive / less performant car operation (I think). These poor sods really want:

    a) A new car

    b) (second prize) compensation every year for the additional costs, until they get a new one. Maybe if the fuel grade is upped performance might come back, so that would cost VW even more.

    Blessed are those who trust government to do anything right, for their rose tinted spectacles make even hell look super good.

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