back to article Volkswagen pleads guilty to three Dieselgate criminal charges

Volkswagen today pled guilty in a Detroit, Michigan, court to scamming the American public through its "Dieselgate" vehicle emissions test cheating. The car giant was charged with breaking environment protection laws, misleading investigators, and swindling citizens. "Your honor, VW AG is pleading guilty to all three counts …

  1. G R Goslin

    Natural Law v Governmental Law

    Much as I deplore Volkswagen's actions, My sympathies lie mostly with the car maker. Governmental Laws are often arbitrary and run counter to reality. The Emission Laws are one such. As part of my technical education, I did Heat Engines. What I learnt there was that to attain higher thermal efficiencies, you had to go to higher pressures and temperatures. Chemistry tells you that all molecular activity and chemical processes are easier at high temperature and pressure. So VW are in a cleft stick situation. They are required (by Law) to attain results that fail in either one case or the other, and cannot pass in both So they came over with tests that covered one set of conditions and hid the other. It has oft been said that human laws are always broken, and indeed are made to be broken, and that Natural Laws cannot be broken, ever.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Natural Law v Governmental Law

      The emissions laws are met by everyone else.

      The difference is that the other manufacturers use a bottle of urea and a catalyst to scrub the NOx.

      VW claimed not to need the urea. Seems they lost the pissing contest

      The regulations are set un consultation with manufacturers - the targets are set at a level the manufacturers think they can meet.

      1. Robin Bradshaw

        Re: Natural Law v Governmental Law

        "The emissions laws are met by everyone else."

        Richard 12, I have some bad news for you, all the manufacturers are bullshitting the tests.

        Felix Domke gave an excellent talk on how Vauxhall/Opel are doing it in the Zafira at last years Chaos Communications Congress (the Opel analysis starts appx 20min)

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7t4paclIwuU

        And you can find the report referenced in that talk here:

        https://www.bundestag.de/blob/461984/f23e5f41d8668625ec3fa74d74cf50bc/stellungnahme_mock-data.pdf

        On page 2 is the graph showing a variety of cars tested, the bottom of the bar is how that car did in the Euro emissions test regime, the top of the bar is how it measured in real world useage, so the size of the bar is the amount of bullshitting, a bit like Pinocchio's nose :)

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge
          FAIL

          That was never the test

          Useful tests are under controlled conditions. A particular set of ambient temperatures and pressures etc.

          The regulations do not and never can specify "real world" results.

          They only specify results under a particular range of conditions.

          The regulations specifically allow manufacturers to have higher emissions when cold etc.

          Yes, it would be better if the test covered more sets of conditions. It didn't.

          But nobody else actually changed how their engines ran based on whether they were actively being tested.

          There have been a lot of really shitty articles about this.

          It is meaningless to compare the emissions in unknown conditions to the emissions in specified conditions.

          That's like saying Bolt is a terrible sprinter because he can't run 100m in 10sec, without mentioning that it was at 10,000m altitude. Of course he bloody can't!

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: That was never the test

            nobody else actually changed how their engines ran based on whether they were actively being tested.

            Do you really believe that? Every manufacturer "optimises" their engine tuning for the tests, it's hard to draw a line between allowed optimisation and cheating. VW's problem is that they admitted crossing that line, which I imagine they now regret. No other supplier is going to own up now, no matter what they have done.

          2. Robin Bradshaw

            Re: That was never the test

            "But nobody else actually changed how their engines ran based on whether they were actively being tested."

            You didnt watch that video did you?

            The bit where the Zafira reduces adblue injection when its going faster than the max test speed, or outside the testing temperature window, or as you mentioned altitude if its being driven at a higher altitude than the highest European testing station or reducing the amount of EGR if accelerated harder that than required for the test (which is fine as EGR works best at low powers) but keeping it reduced even after returning to normal lower power use.

            This isnt changing how the engines run if they are being tested?

            The rest of your reply suggests that the only data that counts is the test data and "It is meaningless to compare the emissions in unknown conditions to the emissions in specified conditions." that's exactly how the manufacturers view it too, which is why they are all on the fiddle with the engines behaving nicely under the test conditions and turning off or reducing emissions features when they aren't operating under conditions that correspond to testing.

            There is a very nice slide at 50m45s showing the results of testing the Zafira with a portable testing system in real world use with both the old cheating software, and their revised not cheating software after Germany had some stern words with them , its almost miraculous.

            (it will use more adblue though)

            1. Richard 12 Silver badge

              Re: That was never the test

              Yes, the only conditions that matter are those defined in the regulations. That's what regulations are.

              You are saying that if you can run 100m in 15sec at sea level, then I can also demand you do the same at 5km altitude. Or 10km.

              According to you it can be done under any conditions at all!

              If you don't like the regulations, lobby your politicians to change them. I think that they could and should be improved, specifying behaviour under some range of conditions that covers all expected European driving conditions.

              But they don't. In fact they explicitly exclude low temperatures and high altitudes. The reason is probably clear by now.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Natural Law v Governmental Law

      My sympathies lie mostly with the car maker.

      Not for me, sir. I work for a German company. Out engineering technologists are first class, sadly German managers make up for that by being amongst the worst in the world (I have some reasonable breadth of experience on the matter).

      German managers are the worst sort of bureaucrats. Tidy minded reductionists, who slavishly apply whatever is reported as "best practice" by crappy management consultancies, and treat all rules as exactly the written words, rather than any sense of the intent of the lawmakers and the possible consequences of breach.

      In this case, the whole point is that engineers steered VW to disaster because management (even if former engineers themselves) took that reductionist approach. Sadly I work for another German company that has seen its value crash by around 85% in the past ten years or so for the same reason of poor quality management.

    3. jamesb2147

      Re: Natural Law v Governmental Law

      Suck a lemon.

      They could have solved this with engineering, and many other manufacturers did, as pointed out by others. In fact, they did develop a "blu-tec" urea system, but it was discarded as being "too expensive" because it added several hundred dollars in cost to the vehicle itself as well as requiring additional maintenance to refill the urea container.

      Instead of selling a compliant car, or none at all, they lied to the world; consumers, regulators, dealers, literally everyone outside of a very small number of VW engineers and managers was deceived. And their deceit literally cost lives by injecting noxious fumes into the atmosphere in spite of society's collective decision to ban them. (I believe someone calculated the number to be somewhere around 50 in the US.)

      No, sir. These guys can rot in jail and go to hell, for all I care. They were not forced to lie, not forced to kill people, not forced to ruin our air. They chose that path and will be damned for it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Natural Law v Governmental Law

        as well as requiring additional maintenance to refill the urea container

        It requires no more "maintenance" than filling a screenwash does.

        1. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

          Re: Natural Law v Governmental Law

          Try doing it on a Peugeot Partner van !

    4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Natural Law v Governmental Law

      My sympathies lie mostly with the car maker

      Mine do not. It was possible to comply with the regs by buying technology from another manufacturer - Mercedes. Merc is extremely reasonable in their licensing terms. They DO NOT charge at all for licensing any technology which deals with car and human safety (it is a company policy) and they used to (I need to check if this is still the case) charge RAND for tech which deals with pollution and environmental compliance. The only thing which they (quite rightfully) insist on is that the fact that the tech is licensed is clearly mentioned. If you open any modern piss-driven diesel booklet you will find somewhere in it that it contains technology by Mercedes Benz GMBh.

      This is purely about idiotic "do not lose face in front of more senior managers". Not even about corporate greed.

      The worst part of it is that there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING done about it at corporate governance level. There should have been a Shogun moment here with "The battle was over, the slaughter has began. 2000 heads were cut by blunt bamboo saw that day". Did they do anything about it - NO. That is also why I am not going to buy a car from VW group - not now, not in the immediate future. They did not actually heed the lesson and they just wrote it off as cost of doing business. There will be a repeat of this.

    5. hattivat

      Re: Natural Law v Governmental Law

      First of all, Volkswagen, together with some other European car manufacturers, actually lobbied IN FAVOR of tightening these emission norms. That is because they viewed their ability to pass these stringent tests as a competitive advantage over less technologically sophisticated manufacturers from lower-cost countries. That alone is why I have absolutely zero sympathy for Volkswagen in this case.

      Second, there is one huge caveat in what you said - these tests cannot be passed by a reasonably designed DIESEL engine. But cars do not have to be diesel, and petrol-fueled cars can pass the emission tests fair and square. In fact just 40 years ago very few people in Europe owned a diesel-fueled car. To this day, few people do in the US (sub-5%, IIRC). The usage of diesel for ordinary passenger vehicles only took off after European governments scared by the oil price rise started promoting its development*. Then the European car companies, being the only ones with this new "nice diesel" technology, started promoting it worldwide. Volkswagen are very much promoting diesel in their marketing. Which is why my sympathy for them is not just zero, but actually negative.

      *Just look at this graph and let the implications sink in: http://www.turnermason.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Graph_Page_1.jpg

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    bad timing - another year or so and the EPA would have been gutted and they'd have got away with it

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Bingo! We have a winner. If VW would have spent that US$4B paying their way through the various US crooks, er I mean congresspersons by making bribes, I mean offering lobbyist "gifts" on K Street in good old Washington DC, they could have done so MUCH MORE!

      From knowledge of the case where Sirius Satellite Radio was trying to merge with failing XM Satellite Radio, it costs about US$6K per "Representative" to influence their vote for what should be a typical business transaction.

      At that rate, spending US$4B would net you well over 600,000 "influences" with US "Representatives." In other words you could "influence" the US Congress over 6,000 times and still have change left!

      This is about grabbing some free money, NOT about having clean air. Ask what's left of the EPA, if you think otherwise, muggles. Clean air is on hold for the foreseeable [sic] future, thanks to a new bunch of crooks who conveniently choose what science they think is real, and what isn't. Very possibly based on an old man with a shitty baseball hat and a divining rod and a giant decision wheel where a dead chicken makes the call. (see: South Park)

      All VW did was get caught out in what every other car manufacturer only wishes they could do; make it look like dirty diesel engines are not blowing out huge plumes of exhaust, when that's what most do after some time in service, or rather not getting enough service, as most car owners are apt to do. See for yourself:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_exhaust

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Justice for the UK?

    VW have been forced by the authorities to do the right thing in the US. Meanwhile in the UK, VW CEO and chief weasel Paul Willis has back-pedaled on previous apologies. In spite of official evidence to the contrary, he now says "we did not fit defeat devices to our cars", and is merely "sorry for any ambiguity or confusion that I have caused to customers". His previous promise to the Transport Committee to publish the Jones Day report has been broken, thereby impeding criminal investigations outside the US. He has admitted to the latest hearing (HC 1021) that VW is recalling 1.2M vehicles in the UK but that "our position is that there is nothing wrong with any of them at all." So why was the recall sent out on the UK government Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency letterhead then? VW are taking the piss out of an apparently toothless UK government.

    1. annodomini2

      Re: Justice for the UK?

      It's due to a difference in the law, the EU regulations the UK follows in this regard doesn't specifically state that a bypass device/software for the test is illegal, whereas the US regulations do.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Justice for the UK?

        AD2, are you are drinking the VW Kool Aid? Regulation 715/2007/EC Article 5(2) states "The use of defeat devices that reduce the effectiveness of emission control systems shall be prohibited."

        VW programmed the ECU with a "cycle recognition" strategy to increase the EGR and thereby decrease NOx emissions when it detects running under EU emissions test conditions. So is that NOT a defeat device and NOT illegal?

        VW have publicly admitted to fitting defeat device in the UK. When asked by the transport committee in October 2015 "when was the first car fitted with a defeat device sold here in the UK? Paul Willis replied: "It seems from the information I have at the moment that it was around 2008"

        In October 2015 VW filed a Notification of Intention to Conduct a Non-Coded Action with the UK Driver Vehicle Standards Agency to rectify the defect "Nitrogen oxide emissions levels do not meet the regulatory requirements for registering the vehicle under Euro 5 standard". Why on earth would they do that if their position is that there is nothing wrong with any of the vehicles?

        VW are now desperately back-pedaling and lying to conceal their fraud in the EU.

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Justice for the UK?

        UK follows in this regard doesn't specifically state that a bypass device/software for the test is illegal,

        There is a bit of variation on this. Chipping (which on modern diesels pretty much shuts off the EGR), reprogramming your ECU map, etc are not explicitly prohibited by EU law and are (usually) allowed by the manufacturer. While they pretend that you cannot do it and it voids warranty, you actually can (especially if you just reprogram the map).

        I bought my Isuzu DMAX truck without knowing that the previous owner has had a custom map uploaded in the ECU. It was doing ~ 38.5 MPG UK motorway (67MPh) , 33.5 MPG Eu motorway speeds (85 MPh). After the ECU reset when I changed the battery it is down to 35.5 MPG UK, 29.5 MPG Eu. The mod is well known and it basically kills off most of EGR in software. AFAIK you can do this to all GM and Ford vehicles sold in the Eu (no idea about the others). The manufacturer has done NOTHING to prevent this. Not surprising - the legislation does not force them to and they do not have to undergo a NOx emission test.

        What the legislation asks of them is to comply with the test. Which they do. From there on it is a matter of PR and damage control. In this particular case VW decided to admit to cheating (they are reprogramming all UK ECUs for free) as a part of their damage control exercise. So did GM after the Zaphira debacle in Germany.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Justice for the UK?

          Manufacturers are quite happy to allow drivers to do illegal things with their vehicles, such as exceeding the speed limit and driving with bald tyres. Just because a manufacturer turns a blind eye to owners voiding the original type approval by not preventing chipping/remapping doesn't make it legal. Did you re-chip your vehicle after it reset the ECU, and if so, did you inform your vehicle insurer of the modification?

      3. Grease Monkey

        Re: Justice for the UK?

        "It's due to a difference in the law, the EU regulations the UK follows in this regard doesn't specifically state that a bypass device/software for the test is illegal, whereas the US regulations do."

        If the fitment of such a device results in the car being classified in a lower bracket than should be the case then it is illegal. If it results in incorrect fuel consumption or emission figures being advertised them again as a beach of the trade descriptions act it is illegal. There are probably other laws it breaks too, but those are the first two that slurring to mind.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: Justice for the UK?

          "It's due to a difference in the law, the EU regulations the UK follows in this regard doesn't specifically state that a bypass device/software for the test is illegal, whereas the US regulations do."

          Bollocks.

          Bypassing emission control is illegal in Eu on both company and individual driver level. The issue is that the only police forces with on-the-spot roadside emission checking equipment which actually enforce it are Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They ethnically profile it - you are not likely to be stopped unless you are sporting an Eastern European number plate and driving something which is obviously modded, smoking like the Admiral Kuznetsov on a really bad day or ridiculously old. I know people who have been nailed and have had cars impounded too for removing the catalyst to replace it with a LOUD FART PIPE (they made the mistake of going to Germany after that).

          As I drive in the Eu quite a bit (up to 8K miles a year), I am not going to take the risk of copping the 1000Eu+ fine for bypassing emission control despite the relatively low likelihood to be stopped with UK number plates. So - no, I have not chipped my car back and I am not going to.

          Now on the subject of chipping. It will be a good idea if the muppets from the Met start checking and enforcing it. One of the reasons why the air quality in London is so shite is that that >50% of the private hire cars and taxies are chipped or with a custom map to turn off the EGR. Yeah i know - tall order. Requires work to be done.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Justice for the UK?

            " It will be a good idea if the muppets from the Met start checking and enforcing it."

            It doesn't need the Met to do it. The DVLA enforcement arm can just as easily start checking for missing cats/DPF and impounding vehicles - it's a MOT failure and MOT is the _minimum_ standard for maintenance a vehicle must be kept at in order to be allowed on the road.

            The interesting thing is that it's possible to pick up NOX emissions via a suitable roadside camera and then flag down offending vehicles 100-200 metres down the road. If the claim about PHVs is accurate then "drive over this ramp" will catch them pretty easily.

  4. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Go

    Popcorn time!

    Well, after that admission, and seeing as VW sell their vehicles with the cheat technology in all states in the US, this seems to open them up to the biggest class action lawsuit ever! 350 million US citizens (plus legal residents) can sue VW for increasing the risk of them developing lung cancer due to the emissions of those vehicles. The VW management knowingly let the emissions breach the limits whilst also knowing the possible effects on health, therefore it seems a pretty open-and-shut case. I hope they all get individually sued AND given hard jail time, it might make other manufacturers think twice about cheating environmental limits again.

  5. Grease Monkey

    Here's a thing I don't understand about many countries lack of prosecutions against VAG. In many territories some models produced by VAG were placed in a cheaper taxation category than they should have been, therefore effectively defrauding the public protease of millions. This being the case surely the first action of any sensible taxation authority would have been to calculate the back taxes owed and invoice VAG for the full amount plus nominal interest. I haven't heard of this happening in a single country.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If VAG claims there is nothing wrong in UK/EU cars why are they then issuing a 'fix'?

    TBH if you have an affected VAG car I'd avoid the fix like the plague I've head nothing but negative things about how it affects the car and one reliable report of the fix causing the turbo on the car to expire and major damage to the engine..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "If VAG claims there is nothing wrong in UK/EU cars why are they then issuing a 'fix'?"

      According to VW MD Paul Willis in evidence to the Transport Select Committee, the reason for this is "to remove any questions or concerns customers may have had about how the cars passed through the tests" So it is not to remove any illegal software from the vehicle then.

      There is mounting evidence that VW are lying about the impact of the so called "technical measures". One Dyno reading showed reduced torque below 2500rpm. Customers have complained about failed EGR valves, increased DPF regenerations and more diesel rattle. VW have dismissed these concerns. Dealers are unable to undo the software update if you don't like it. So I will avoid the fix like the plague.

      VW have not changed. They continue to lie. EU governments almost seem in collusion with them. This fiasco beggars belief.

  7. MJI Silver badge

    I wonder

    Sometimes if the older Diesels despite having more emmisions may not be as bad as the EU3 or 4 engines.

    Mine is EU3 but for some markets EGR is not supplied. The engine is also known to run better when de EGRed.

    But then the exhaust doesn't seem to have that funny smell some Diesel exhausts have.

    1. 0laf Silver badge

      Re: I wonder

      Older diesels produced visible soot, which although hardly good for you might not be as bad as the smaller particulates made by newer 'clean' diesels.

      No idea about NOx levels in older cars.

      Plenty manufacturers still making cars which are allegedly EU6 compliant without additives. I'll be more surprised if more manufacturers aren't caught out for cheating.

      Peugeot was raided not long ago was it not?

  8. phuzz Silver badge
    Joke

    "Your honor, VW AG is pleading guilty to all three counts because it is guilty on all three counts," the company's general counsel Manfred Doess told the court

    W..was that a lawyer telling the truth?

    I guess the old joke is true, lawyers are like sperm, one in every one hundred thousand has the chance to become a real human being.

  9. ps2os2

    Short sightedness loses business

    I was astounded when I read the first stories of this andf found it unbelievable.

    The more that came out the worse it was for VW.

    Now, hopefully after the smoke has cleared I wonder if VW really knows how much they have damaged their reputation.

    I for one would never buy a VW of any type again PERIOD.

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