VW´s TDI Engine Problems

What were they thinking? VW has been found to have fitted its TDI engines with a device to change emissions during testing. 

Fitted with a cheater device, a 2013 VW TDI engine.
Fitted with a cheater device, a 2013 VW TDI engine.

There is a lot of coverage about this. Automotive News, Jalopnik, Autocar, NY Times, NY Times and NY Times. What has happened? Volkswagen said on Sunday that it would halt sales of cars in the United States equipped with the kind of diesel motors that had led regulators to accuse the German company of illegally installing software to evade standards for reducing smog.

It gets worse: “Volkswagen, the world’s top-selling automaker, lost a stunning 17.1 percent of its value Monday after admitting that it intentionally rigged nearly half a million cars to defeat U.S. smog tests.” The Obama administration, meanwhile, announced it is expanding its investigation of what it’s calling ‘defeat devices’ in diesel vehicles, to make sure other manufacturers aren’t using similar schemes to thwart federal Clean Air laws.

“Volkswagen has now admitted that it intentionally installed software programmed to switch engines to a cleaner mode during official emissions testing. The software then switches off again, enabling cars to drive more powerfully on the road while emitting as much as 40 times the legal pollution limit.”  

There are some very good engineers in VW. I am very curious to know how intelligent people even considered trying this trick. Unusually for the car industry the sin is one of commission not omission. For the latter you can claim stupidity or ignorance (which is bad enough). Can someone really claim the defeat device was an error and not something calculated? VW’s position in the US will take a hammering and there will be a lot of corporate bloodshed as responsibility is apportioned. My question right now is did Ferdinand Piëch know about this?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

17 thoughts on “VW´s TDI Engine Problems”

  1. I would bet a lot of money on it. But i would bet even more money on Ferdinand Piëch never admitting his knowledge about these manipulations.
    The fact is, Winterkorn and Piëch were best friends at the time the manipulation started. And Winterkorn is not only CEO he also was and still is responsible for the Technical Development at Volkswagen.
    And Piëch is a Technoholic. So I am taking it for granted that both were informed about the Volkswagen-way to fulfill the american limits.

    I am not willing to believe that the end of their close friendship and the beginning of the scandal are two complete different stories.

  2. Of course, they all would have known about this – you don’t take this kind of risk without ensuring air-cover if you are a more junior manager in a large firm like VW. The next question is, which other companies have been doing the same thing?

  3. It was bound to happen, wasn’t it?
    What with a) a fundamentally flawed emissions testing process and b) VW’s management hell-bent on becoming the biggest (instead of the best) car-maker, it was always going to end in tears.

  4. Agreed – this doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that a rogue powertrain engineer or middle manager can just implement without there being a clear recognition at leadership level of the implications.

  5. The size of the problem will be unique to VW, being one of the few companies to heavily push diesels into the US market. But I cannot believe that other companies have not employed the same tactics. Certainly it will be interesting to see which manufacturers issue ECU related recalls or servicing bulletins over the next few months.

  6. It’ll be interesting to watch Ferdl’s next move when/if Winterkorn has fallen. As pointed out by everybody else, even the mighty Piech might find it too hard to explain that he didn’t hear or see any of this while heading the supervisory board – then again, that tactic actually worked fine when employed regarding theVAG’s workers’ council well-documented trips to exotic brothels.

    My guess would be that Ferdl has one of his minions waiting in the wings, once Wiko’s stumbling is turning into an uncontrollable motion – Porsche’s Matthias Müller being one of the most prominent names floating about in this context.

    Interesting times at VAG, that’s for certain.

    1. Interesting times indeed. Wiko gone, but will Matthias Mueller ascend to the throne on Friday, or will Herbert Diess get the nod thanks to the virtue of being a relatively new guy from outside the VW empire?

      Has Sergio Marchionne decided to try making Mary Barra jealous by offering to make an honest car company out of VW Group?

  7. I don’t see this as likely that it is only a VW problem. I said on another blog/forum approx a decade ago when SAAB 9 5 aero 2.3’s were being hit with higher road tax that the other manufacturers were cleverer than SAAB… or less honest. Sure enough we found that test cars were fitted with narrower tyres, taped up windows and mirrors removed. It isn’t a leap to understand that engine electronics can lean a car right off – long term being damage inducing – but re-set at the 1st service .. or even be programmed to alter the system at a pre-arranged mileage in the memory.
    Ever watched “The Insider”, a film about a technical director of a cigarette company who decided not to continue spiking cigarettes. This is no different, it’s just an electronic automotive opportunity to beat the system. Just like Formula 1.

  8. Well – let´s have a look at the positive side of this scandal: Who would receive these 20 Billions US-Dollar from Volkswagen and what would the addressee do with this nice amount of money?

  9. As stephenlewis points out, F1 has had this sort of switchable engine mapping for some time – although if a Golf TDI had an announcement from an engineer in Milton Keynes via the handsfree speakerphone to switch to dyno mapping and manage tyre degredation then the whole thing would have been caught much earlier. So the existence of a ‘dyno mode’ to optimise emissions results isn’t a surprise. But imagine a world in which a motoring magazine had investigated vehicle emissions claims and broke this story earlier.

    Secondly, dinner party conversation is going to get awkward for TDI drivers, who up until now were driving a car that had been a safe bet. It’s especially bad in America, where people were sold the idea that TDIs were ‘clean diesels’ and had an eco benefit. The class-action lawsuit has already been filed…

    1. I can see more manufacturers coming under the spotlight in the near future, trying to keep ahead of ever stringent emissions pressures will have tested the manufacturers to the limit. Almost everyone will have been doing whatever it takes. I assume that it’s the Californian emissions that have caused the issue to rear its head.

  10. VW’s ploy lacked deniability. Whoever approved the defeat device made a colossal error. Lawyers and engineers!
    The states and industry often hammer out agreements on regulations so they are manageable. Presumably VW had good lobbyists on the case to prevent impossible standards. Why did they need to cheat here?
    It’s mysterious.

  11. I was going to agree that tough standards for emissions in California could have been the tipping point for the dyno map workaround but Automotive News via Bloomberg is reporting that it’s the EA189 engine family sold GLOBALLY, an estimated 11 million vehicles ‘affected by irregularities’ as the VW Group legal team have no doubt instructed everyone under Wolfsburg’s umbrella to say. One of the commenters on that story pointed out that the US provided tax credits for around 40,000 buyers of 2009 Jetta TDI cars which had qualified for a US$1300 green car credit. I don’t know my VW engine families or the timeframe of this investigation to know if that’s within the scope or not. But I certainly remember both the Jetta and A3 TDI winning eco car awards that year – the A3 was announced at the LA Auto Show.

    Diesel sceptics will feel vindicated that they remained on the bandwagon before everyone started piling on board again this week. But it is interesting to think that between DPFs, AddBlue urea additives, rigged emissions tests and what would be hoped are valid claims for fuel economy, that diesel proponents convinced people that it was an ecologically-sound alternative to petrol engines. Apart from continuing to refer to them as ‘tractors’ (and I’m from a nation whose main industry is agriculture so that is not necessarily perjorative) I can’t claim the high ground on this – I was pleased to see Ford Australia put the TDCI V6 engine into the Territory SUV and I have friends and family happily driving diesel cars. But if you were either a die-hard diesel disliker or just wanted to see the soft-touch plastic and tasteful chrome embellished smugness wiped off the VW group’s corporate face then this growing scandal will make for fascinating viewing. Suddenly a manufacturer having relatively poor emissions figures has become a potential saving grace (‘see, our emissions are honest in comparison to those faked results!’) rather than a sales and taxation bugbear.

  12. Speaking as a diehard diesel sceptic, I find little pleasure in any vindication. I can’t feel too outraged at VW’s deceit, since it just seems to be one of many exercises in turd-polishing that diesel manufacturers have carried out over the past 30 or more years.

    Anyway I can’t be too high-handed, since I’ve just spent a fortnight and 4,000 km blowing particulates into the atmosphere of Southern France from my Euro3 diesel Fiat Ducato motorhome. If you buy a commercial-based vehicle these days the choice is DERV, DERV or DERV. The toxic emission framework is changed every four or five years (Euro6 was introduced last year) and low emission zones now exclude my 13 year old vehicle from entering various European towns. That’s fair enough, but it might be a good time to reconsider last year’s UNESCO report on diesels :

    http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/trans/main/wp5/publications/Diesel_Engines_Exhausts_Myths_and_Realities_2014.pdf

    Basically, the problems aren’t going to have disappeared by the time Euro9 or 10 comes around, and the fact that VW have carried out such an apparent deception suggests a desperation born of the knowledge that they are only too aware of the impossibility of achieving real-world ‘clean diesel’.

    This is likely to lead to more ‘revelations’ as customers become aware that the fuel consumption and emission figures that fuelled their particular choice of car are achievable only under very unique conditions, never reproduced on the road. Whether VW have pushed things further than other makers will be revealed but, if so, it’s only a matter of degree.

    1. Sir, that’s the sort of reasonable, thoughtful response that hopefully means you had a good holiday.

      I can see where you’re coming from RE: unreasonable legislation and desperation to find shortcuts to keep selling diesels in Europe, where the fuel is popular for passenger vehicles. But if clean diesel is impossible, why did VW Group bother exporting TDI engines to a highly-regulated and litigious market that doesn’t have the taxation incentives around using diesel or the long history of building and buying diesel passenger cars; and then consciously market them as clean diesels? Worried about average emissions and consumption figures for a petrol-only product range and no hybrids or EVs?

    2. I have no answer at all. I find the whole story incredible. VW have admitted it, so it must be true, but who would carry out such a deceit and think they wouldn’t be found out?

      Possibly VW, needing some sales boost in the US, thought that super clean diesel would be a distinctive USP. They might have gone into it genuinely thinking they could achieve the figures under testing then, when committed beyond the point of no return, realised that it wasn’t going to happen. Hence the desperation.

      It’s still hard to unravel the story. Newspapers pick up on stuff and come out with suitably horrific quotes or soundbites (40 times the particulate emission), but the writers are usual general journalists and they might lack the particular knowledge to put that sort of figure in perspective (i.e. 40x overall, or peaking at 40x under heavy acceleration?).

      Seeing news reports about something you have a modicum of knowledge about is disconcerting. There is a lack of objectivity that makes you question quite how accurate most the other things you read are.

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