back to article VW offices, employees' homes raided by German prosecutors

As European officials dither about new emissions rules, German prosecutors got real and raided Volkswagen's headquarters on Thursday. The German car-maker said it was supporting the investigation and had handed over documents related to the diesel-gate scandal. French authorities are also going after the company following the …

  1. Someone Else Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    In the immortal words of John Boehner:

    "What I want to know is...who's going to jail?"

    (A: No one)

  2. Chris Miller

    According to the BBC report:

    Mr Horn [VW's US CEO] said: "My understanding is that it was a couple of software engineers who put these in."

    I know nothing of VW's software development methods, but engine management systems are surely safety critical software. I'd be just as amazed if "a couple of software engineers" acting alone could implement changes as if "a couple of software engineers" could change the engine management system of an Airbus. If this really is the case, I'd say VW have bigger problems than cheating on their emissions tests.

    1. Graham Marsden
      Coat

      "My understanding is that...

      "...it was a couple of scapegoats who put these in."

      FTFY!

      (Coat because it looks like it's being hung out to dry)

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: "My understanding is that...

        My understanding is that it was a couple of software engineers who put these in

        I think that's just a retelling of the story in Grimm's Fairy Tale Number 39: The Carmaker and the Elves...

        1. Mint Sauce

          Re: "My understanding is that...

          My understanding is that it was a couple of software engineers who put these in

          Well, technically, yes, a couple of engineers probably did TYPE in the code...

          'Technically correct' is always the best kind of correct, pays the lawyers wages after all ;-)

          1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

            Vee Know Who

            A couple of engineers called Foulkes and Vegan

    2. Richard Jones 1

      Something very similar to changing the ECU on an Airbus was implicated in the Spanish Airbus military version crash. exact details escape my mind now but the crate flew with 'non flight' configurations.

      In this case the engine control appears to have had a sort of Road Plan and Test Plan and was able to opt in to either mode as circumstances 'required'. Apart from those down stream of the tail pipe (more or less everyone) the operational safety implications look likely to be zero.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        The Airbus crash, IIRC, was that the ground crew left the ECU in the "maintenance" setting which allows connection to the various components and also allows testing. It's a manual setting not an automatic one like VW used.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "In this case the engine control appears to have had a sort of Road Plan and Test Plan etc"

        In this case yes. But if there was no adequate oversight in the whole process what's to stop some other case happening such as in some circumstances the throttle doesn't close when the driver lifts off?

    3. Vimes

      "My understanding is that it was a couple of software engineers who put these in."

      Haven't we heard something very similar before when it came to wifi snooping?

      Has somebody from Google been called in to coach them?

      1. Smooth Newt

        "My understanding is that it was a couple of software engineers who put these in."

        But don't they have a quality process, requirements documents, functional specifications, software design specifications, API documents, project plans, test plans and all that other stuff that is usually needed before a couple of software engineers can do anything?

        Or do they just let people randomly hack their code as and when they feel like it and hope for the best?

  3. getHandle

    To be honest...

    I have a certain sympathy. Random quasi-governmental body insists on random emissions limits. Much as I hate pollution of any kind, cars are gonna emit. I can't believe VW are building particularly bad engines. My 2008 turbo diesel pulls very nicely but still claims 65mpg on a long A-road trip. Can't help feeling the real villain is government prioritising carbon over poison... Damn, I'm turning into Lewis!

    1. eesiginfo

      Re: To be honest...

      To be honest...... LOL.

      That just about says it all.

      This isn't about whether you, as an individual, believes that the VW engine is fine enough. It's about a corporation that in pre-meditated manner, decided to defraud the public, and break the laws of the countries that they were operating in.

      This by any standard, is 'organised crime'.

      We've seen it with the banking crisis.... where the only guy to hit the cells, was a nondescript french bloke.... anybody of any importance got out with millions..... leaving the general public to pick up the gambling tab, and provide the fresh 'stake money'.

      Open your eyes man, and stop doffing your cap to your 'betters', while they rifle through your pockets.

      1. Mark Exclamation

        Re: To be honest...

        Rubbish! The laws are made by bureaucrats who have egos the size of planets and brains the size of peas.

        Just because it's a law doesn't make it right. Emission laws are getting to the stage where no-one will want to drive a car because the car has really crappy performance.

        My next car will definitely be a VW!

        Open your eyes man, and stop doffing your cap to lawmakers, while they rifle through your life. FTFY.

        1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

          Re: To be honest...

          Nope, emission laws are made mostly by car making corporations, with blessing from governments.

        2. Cryo

          Re: To be honest...

          I think you're missing the point that they were not only being deceptive to those testing for emissions, but they were also lying to their customers directly. They repeatedly made a point of advertising their cars as offering "clean diesel", when clearly they were not. For many people, the supposed "environmental friendliness" was a major selling point that convinced them to go with their cars, when in reality, it was false-advertising.

          And no, it was certainly possible for them to make the cars both perform the same AND offer emissions within the necessary guidelines. Not doing so was likely more a matter of them cutting corners in an attempt to reap larger profits and undercut the competition.

          Now the question is how this will affect those who bought the cars. It's certainly going to negatively impact their resale value, so their customers have already lost money due to it. There's going to eventually be a recall, but how will that affect the cars? A simple software fix will not likely be enough, because the cars aren't built to be physically capable of offering their advertised performance at the required (and advertised) emissions levels. So, both a software fix and a more-costly hardware replacement will likely be necessary to bring each car up to code. And then you have to rely on the dealership actually installing the hardware correctly.

          I imagine they'll be careful to avoid issues like this in their upcoming cars for at least the near future, since they're under increased scrutiny now, but they may very well cut corners in other areas. At the very least, a company going out of its way to deceive both its customers and regulators does not seem like a very good reason for you to go out of your way to purchase from them in the future. Perhaps you have stock in the company though. >_>

          1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

            Re: To be honest...

            Whoever downvoted me should read this

            The VW scandal has also exposed the toothlessness of Germany's regulatory regime, opposition parties and industry experts say. The main oversight agency for the car sector, the Federal Motor Transport Authority, falls under the Transport Ministry in Berlin, raising questions about its independence and readiness to police the sector.

            . . .

            [In] the run-up to the next election and amid heavy pressure from the VDA, her government lobbied aggressively in Brussels - even threatening other countries in order to win their backing, according to diplomats - to water down new European rules on CO2 emissions that Daimler and BMW opposed. In a “Dear Angela” letter that later leaked, causing an uproar in the German media, Wissmann urged Merkel to fight the more ambitious targets.

            "I think we need to ensure that in our drive to protect the environment we are not damaging our own industrial base," Merkel said at the time.

            Months later, and only weeks after Merkel had won a third term, her party received donations totalling 690,000 euros from the family that controls BMW. The news sparked a backlash from opposition parties and the German media. The CDU said the money had "no connection to any political decisions".

    2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: To be honest...

      Carbon Dioxide is fucking poison, you git. How about we put you in a room with a gas mixture that is 72% Nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 5% carbon dioxide, and 2% trace gasses (primarily Xenon) and see how long you survive, hmm?

      CO2 is poison. Full stop. That your body can tolerate low levels of poison without dying doesn't make it something you can ignore.

      Worse, CO2 isn't the fun kind of poison, like ethanol. At least ethanol gives you happy fun times before the massive headaches, vomiting, nausea and death. CO2 goes straight for the "overwhelming migraines", "inability to focus", "crippling nervous system pain" and then, finally, mercifully, death.

      Please don't parade your ignorance of science around in public as something of which you're proud. It's embarrassing enough that you've got the dumb, pride in it's possession is just mind-boggling.

      1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

        Re: To be honest...

        Well, NO2 is also a poison, and very strong for that

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: To be honest...

          No question there. It behooves us to limit both as much as we can. Other companies can do this. It isn't an either/or proposition. Either CO2 is reduced or NO2 is reduced. Both can be achieved.

          VW chose not to. That's the point here.

      2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

        Re: To be honest...

        The first time I ever hit the report abuse button is to report that an abuser who thinks carbon dioxide is a poison. If you are so mentally fatigued you mistook carbon dioxide for carbon monoxide, then you need to check your heating system and cooking equipment and go for a long walk in the lightest traffic you can find. Then go to bed and sleep it off.

        In future save your abuse for the really deserving, such as the environmental cranks like yourself, that have no real idea about the way the world works but get terribly upset about it all anyway.

  4. chivo243 Silver badge
    Devil

    Only the first tree

    Say it with me, Timber! All of the auto makers are quaking, and waiting. Those special goats mentioned above will be at a prime. Also, I would hate to be a software designer for company x and wake up dead one day. How convenient!

    This will be an interesting "long late movie" I'll need more than popcorn and probably more than breakfast...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Only the first tree

      > I would hate to be a software designer for company x and wake up dead one day.

      Don't worry, that's not going to happen.

      The waking up bit, I mean.

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Only the first tree

      Also, I would hate to be a software designer for company x and wake up dead one day.

      You mean "differently alive", surely?

    3. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Only the first tree

      All of the auto makers are quaking, and waiting.

      I suspect that German auto maker A who make cars that exceed strict emissions testing and hardly use any AdBlue are more worried than German auto maker B who make cars that guzzle loads of AdBlue.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Having witnessed a *** being tested at an EU test labs

    I can't remember which manufacturer's POS was under test, but I was shown the filter paper of exhaust gas emissions sample for a Euro 3 petrol. Round white filter paper with faint , very faint purplish-brown haze in the centre.

    Next went the Euro 3 diesel, same cycle on rolling road, filter paper was WEIGHED at the end as it had about seven teaspoons of black sugar heaped on it. Are they PM10's was my question? ( particles of the order of ten micrometers )

    No was the reply, they are nearly all PM1's, and bio-available he alleged

    This pollution 'defeat-device' 'crime', might be considered as MURDER in some places?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Having witnessed a *** being tested at an EU test labs

      "This pollution 'defeat-device' 'crime', might be considered as MURDER in some places?"

      If enough people make enough money from it, it is a SEP (someone else's problem). E.g. tobacco. Big killer. How many tobacco company executives went to prison?

      More people got into serious trouble as the result of Chernobyl (still currently under 60 deaths) than as a result of years in which the tobacco companies not only knew they were killing people but were responding to the reports by, in come cases, actually adding nicotine to make cigarettes more addictive. And have been trying to stop attempts to reduce the number of children being hooked.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Having witnessed a *** being tested at an EU test labs

      Bearing in mind the dodgy engine was Euro5, and the engines in new cars are Euro6, your story is interesting, but irrelevant... Unless you're claiming that modern engines are as bad as those from 2000-2005?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Having witnessed a *** being tested at an EU test labs

        I saw a Euro3 test, and modern engines "claim to be Euro 5 or 6", but there are some academic allegations that the very large numbers of 'faulty' engines are emitting undefined levels of deadly particles. That's not Euro5, that's undefined, in real use, on Oxford Street, in the centre of Paris, in downtown Madrid.

        Your riposte does have a whiff of involved 'payola' about it!, I'm just mentioning that this experience is why I have only purchased Petrol engined vehicles since then; I could see that diesel nano-buckyball emissions, potentially trapping benzene, alkanes etc, inside the matrix, were exactly the wrong things to breathe, or emit.

        Bulgaria it seems is regrading their citizens' diesels into a higher tax bracket, yet sending the tax-due notices to Wolfsburg.

  6. Grease Monkey

    There is no reason why a couple of engineers would do this without instructions from management simply because the engineers would not stand to gain anything by doing so without the knowledge of management.

    The more serious issue here is not that of the credibility of governments. Many governments set much spite by their actions to reduce the harm done to the environment by motor vehicles, and yet here we have millions of vehicles which are doing much more harm to the environment than that are allowed to about which the governments involved appear to be doing nothing. What they seem to be concentrating on deciding who at VAG knew this was happening rather than doing something about it.

    1. R Callan

      It could be a simple instruction like "Under the test conditions". Also how are the regulations worded? If it is again something like "emissions under the test conditions" then there is arguably no case to answer. Like so many things this is politics and loopholes that a bus can be driven through.

    2. Erik4872

      Or just vague requests

      "There is no reason why a couple of engineers would do this without instructions from management"

      Agreed, but it doesn't even have to be explicit instructions. It will be very interesting to see where the smoking gun ends up pointing, but I bet it'll be an overworked engineering manager in an email saying they're getting huge pressure from above to reduce emissions and to make it happen using any means necessary.

      It will, of course, come down to who checked in the code, so someone in engineering is going to end up being the scapegoat. Too bad for him or her.

      1. Peter Simpson 1
        WTF?

        Re: Or just vague requests

        This is not "Joe's Software Shop", this is a large, German corporation that does business all over the world. Additionally, the ECU was manufactured and programmed by a third company (Bosch?) -- likely to VW's specifications. Which will be produced at the appropriate time. We've already heard the caution from the ECU vendor -- "make sure you don't leave this bypass code in for production, it's for test only"

        To suggest that some disaffected software engineers somehow took it upon themselves to add the bypass code to the shipping product is to indicate complete ignorance of how these things are done.

        Being a German company, process and procedures are likely paramount. So there will be specification documents with signature pages for every single thing in those cars. Of course, some of those documents may have been misfiled...and some signature pages may have fallen off. We shall see. And, there will be written test procedures for that ECU. Test procedures and code review notes. And a source control log.

        But it sure wasn't a rogue software engineer who put that code in there because he wanted to bring down the company.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Or just vague requests

          Requirements? Procedures? Testing? No, it's definitely a rogue software engineer. Mr Robot is, in fact, a documentary about working life at VW.

        2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

          Re: Or just vague requests

          What will come across as vague requests unless the company has been very silly is the brokering for the contract to supply certain sensors and emissions testing software, hence a link to people unlikely to get more business from VW for reasons best known to the devious buyers club.

      2. Pookietoo

        Re: it doesn't even have to be explicit instructions

        Indeed - rather than detecting test conditions and acting clean, they could just detect real-world driving conditions and act responsive.

  7. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Diesel-gate?

    Really El-Reg... I have higher expectations from you than to add the "-gate" catch-all word like the yellow-journals scandal-rags. How about calling it what it is: VW Smog Fraud.? There has to be something catchier and less cliché-ish than "-gate".

    1. John Tserkezis

      Re: Diesel-gate?

      "There has to be something catchier and less cliché-ish than "-gate"."

      How about volkswagen-gate?

      No wait.

      1. LucreLout Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Diesel-gate?

        Hidden Integrated of Technology Lowering Emissions Reductions?

    2. Captain DaFt

      Re: Diesel-gate?

      "How about calling it what it is: VW Smog Fraud.? There has to be something catchier and less cliché-ish than "-gate"."

      Naw, needs a clever name to keep the press happy.

      How about, "The VW Emissions Diddle", or VWED, for short?

      Maybe El Reg should have an acronym contest?

      1. Adam 1 Silver badge

        Re: Diesel-gate?

        Just call it what it is;

        VW Diesel Global Automotive Tailpipe Emissions

        1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

          Tail-gate

          VW Diesel Global Automotive Tailpipe Emissions Gate.

          FTFY

    3. farranut

      Re: Diesel-gate?

      These are all turbo diesel engines affected. Why not call it Wastegate-gate?

  8. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Go

    Volkswagen - the company that keeps on giving...

    > Also on Thursday afternoon, Michael Horn, head honcho of Volkswagen America, is up before a US Congressional panel.

    ... keeps on giving to the headline writers, that is. First we had Olaf Lies ("Lies from Volkswagen") and now we have Michael Horn which offers no end of possibilities:

    - "Horn sounds warning"

    - "Congressmen press Horn for information"

    - "Horn squeaks under pressure"

    1. Emmeran

      Re: Volkswagen - the company that keeps on giving...

      Hey and the guy who basically busted them's surname was "German", good fun all around.

  9. John Tserkezis

    "raided the private homes of some VW employees suspected of fraud"

    No-one from management I bet.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    unlikely to be software engineers

    I have worked along side R/D in a car company.

    more likely VW will have been very busy with shredders/drive erasers, than the engineers doing this without anyone knowing.

    (Also an interesting side is that they don't actually write code, they model in stuff like matlab and then a very expensive program turns it into the code!, then the code is run against test simulations before being put into test cars and tried on track! very interesting but nothing like normal software engineering, documented at every stage for input/output. )

  11. ntevanza

    RAID 1

    Every time I hear one of these 'officials raided VW HQ' stories I have to pinch myself. It's 2015. What do they expect to find? Files? Microfilm? Typewriters, so they can trace the source of the incriminating memo? WTF?

    1. Cryo

      Re: RAID 1

      They could recover files off computers, or ask questions to employees. And despite popular myth, companies do still tend to use lots of paper documents, even today, so there could easily be incriminating papers around somewhere.

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