[SystemSafety] The VW Saga

Peter Bernard Ladkin ladkin at rvs.uni-bielefeld.de
Sat Oct 10 11:35:32 CEST 2015

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This raises possibly more issues than it clarifies.

The situation is that, in order to conform with regulations on NOx emissions, unsustainable
amounts of AdBlue were injected into the burn mixture during formal tests. Without this, the NOx
emissions were substantially more than the amount allowed by regulations.

How to fix this?

If it can be fixed through a SW change, as is claimed here for some models, that says that the HW
is perfectly well able to conform with emission regulations. So the question is why the emission
levels would have been faked at all on these vehicles. I can see some possible reasons. One is
that VW engineers didn't know before the scandal that these vehicles could conform without faking
the test. With the huge amount of effort that goes into understanding and tweaking the performance
of road vehicle engines, that is hard to believe. Another is that the engineers knew the engine
model could conform, but couldn't be bothered to configure it to do so. That would be supremely
cynical. But one of those must have been the case.

Other models will get changed HW. Given that it has only taken a few months to redesign the HW so
that it will conform with emissions regulations without faking, one wonders why that wasn't done
years ago, or (to be a little more cynical) in Spring 2014 when it became clear to VW that third
parties knew the tests had been faked. The answer could be that the redesign comes with a
performance penalty of some sort; either less power or higher fuel consumption. Neither of those
is going to make any buyer happy - they will have been sold a product that, when modified as
proposed, does not live up to the performance claims when they bought it.

If such a vehicle was bought within the last two years, and some millions of those vehicles were,
then European law entitles a buyer to compensation. Similar things happen in the US with different
legal mechanisms. Think class actions suits in every EU country and the US. That is all going to
amount to a huge amount of money, even without the fines that are all but certain to be levied in
the US. There is a reason VW stock has plummeted.

And if woudl be that VW has redesigned the HW in a couple months so that it conforms, *without*
significant performance penalties, one wonders why on earth that wasn't done before. Why cheat
people when there is no need?

One aspect of this has not yet been emphasised. A number of engineers, very possibly a large
number of engineers, knew that emissions tests on these engines were being faked. British
engineers who belong to a professional engineering society (including members who are not
Chartered Engineers) subscribe to a code of conduct that expressly rules out collaborating to
mislead clients. The engineers who knew about the faked tests will have violated that code and by
rights could have their membership terminated, were they to belong to a British engineering
professional society.

German engineers qualify as engineers through their university degree solely and maintain that
status when they practice engineering. Were VW to be a British company, then chucking people en
masse out of the professional engineering societies could be a plausible action. In Germany there
is no such possible measure to be taken, as far as I can see.

Professional codes of conduct in professional societies have their purpose. I will be suggesting
to my colleagues in VDE that they think of introducing and enforcing one.

VW has taken out full-page advertisements in newspapers, such as our local one this week. The page
is mainly blank, with the VW logo at the bottom and a short statement in the middle. VW is aiming,
it says, to regain the trust of its clients.

The situation is that VW has been systematically and deliberately misleading its customers about
the performance of 11m of its cars for years. When informed by a third party in early 2014 that
they knew about it, the company apparently did little. It acted decisively only when the US
regulator took explicit public action, over a year later. All that is in the public record.

Let's say you are a customer of a shop, where it turns out shopkeeper Bill has been systematically
selling you and everyone else stuff that doesn't do what it was bought for, but you hadn't thought
to check. Like Gary Bolton selling Her Majesty's Armed Forces fake "bomb detectors". The local
authorities find out, and tell Bill that they know. Nothing happens, so a year later the
authorities tell the public that "Bill has been deliberately selling you stuff that doesn't work.
We found out about it last year, told Bill, but Bill didn't change his practice. So now we are
telling everyone."

Bill takes out a full-page advert in the local paper telling his customers he wants to regain
their trust.

Would you go back and buy from Bill? I wouldn't. I would be astonished if Bill ever got another
customer. Assuming, of course, that there are other shops to buy from whose keepers don't behave
like Bill.

Bolton went to jail.

I think this story has a long way to run.


Prof. Peter Bernard Ladkin, Faculty of Technology, University of Bielefeld, 33594 Bielefeld, Germany
Je suis Charlie
Tel+msg +49 (0)521 880 7319  www.rvs.uni-bielefeld.de



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