Automobiles

The Government Is the Other Villain in Volkswagen's DieselGate Scandal

It's not the company's greed, but the bad incentives produced by aggressive regulations that are to blame

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In the mainstream media's telling of the Volkswagen scandal, VW cheated on its diesel emissions standards because

VW CEO Winterkorn
AudiAG / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

it is a greedy, nickel-grasping company that wanted to cut corners to boost its bottom line. But blaming greed for VW's actions is like blaming gravity for someone falling off a cliff after a good shove.

The fact is that EPA's crazy emissions mandates shoved VW off a cliff and, if its regulatory authority is not curbed, more companies are going to follow suit, I note in my morning column at The Week.

Drivers want cheap, safe, powerful cars. That is exactly what the EPA's NOx standards made it very difficult for VW to produce. Meeting the agency's aggressive 2008 edict would have required the company to install a urea tank to neutralize the nitrogen oxide before release. But that would have not only bumped the prices of cars in a mid-range category, it would have diminished fuel economy, and made the cars far less zippy (since the engine is forced to divert power to the tank).

For a company like VW that was desperately trying to gain a toe-hold in a diesel-unfriendly country like America, EPA's NOx standards obviously posed a very difficult dilemma.

But these regulations aren't the only ones that are going to put carmakers at war with their own customers. Federal regulators (NHTSA specifically) have become overly aggressive on virtually every front. For example, new CAFE standards for light trucks have forced automakers to use lightweight material in the body. This makes it difficult to make safe trucks that can pass federal crash tests.

Some speculate that the Obama administration is determined to regulate away both gas and diesel engines from the market to induce a switch to electrics. Even if the administration isn't trying to outlaw these engines, if companies can't find cost-effective technologies that satisfy such regulatory edicts without pricing drivers out of the market, notes auto expert Sean McAlinden, they might well start flouting the law.

So if Congress wants to curb the growing contempt for federal regulations, it has to go after the out-of-control EPA as much as VW.

Go here to read the piece.

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  1. Woah. Is Shihka actually espousing a coherent Libertarian position on something?

    1. I know, right? I was shocked when I saw the byline.

      1. This doesn’t make up for her previously published crap, though.

    2. Let me guess. You use the term “cuckservative” unironically, don’t you?

      1. I’ve never used the term ‘cuckservative’. Sounds gross.

  2. The other villain? That presumes that VW are villains in this scenario. They aren’t; they’re heroes, as far as I’m concerned. Fuck the EPA.

    1. Fuck the EPA and fuck VW. The Kraut car company committed fraud.

      1. Fraud on the government, which doesn’t really count. Fuck those guys.

        1. Read the full article for this gem:

          VW was fraudulently marketing its cars as “clean diesel” while collecting potentially $51 million in green taxpayer subsidies

          Emphasis added. They defrauded taxpayers. Fuck ’em.

        2. No, fraud on purchasers. If people bought these cars because they thought it was environmentally friendly, that’s a fraud.

          Just because you might not ascribe much value to gas mileage or low emissions doesn’t mean that others who do value such characteristics should have their money taken from them under false pretenses.

  3. The fact is that EPA’s crazy emissions mandates shoved VW off a cliff and, if its regulatory authority is not curbed, more companies are going to follow suit, I note in my morning column at The Week.

    Yes, perverse incentives are perverse.

    But still, what the company did was stupid. How exactly did they expect to get away with it?

    Luckily for the CEO the title of “Worst German Leader Ever” is a pretty high bar to clear.

    1. Mad King Ludwig?

    2. Klinsmann has a few shortcomings

    3. Klaus Meine could have done a lot more with the Scorpions, now that I think of it…

    4. Dammit, I was going to say Sepp Blatter until I remembered that he is Swiss.

  4. I seriously doubt the VW is the first, or the worst case currently existing, for trying to get around asinine and arbitrary EPA standards. This is just the first one of magnitude that was discovered, and more will follow.

    The EPA needs a massive housecleaning to get rid of the envirotard zealots that currently infest it, and then it should be neutered.

    1. The EPA should be an advisory agency only. All regulations should be put before Congress for a vote.

      1. That really should be a constitutional amendment. All regulations drawn up by unelected bureaucrats have to at least be voted on in Congress.

    2. The EPA needs a massive housecleaning to get rid of the envirotard zealots that currently infest it, and then it should be neutered Gutted with an axe followed by a decapitation, a dousing in gasoline, flamed and chipped finely.

      ftfy.

    3. You were saying?

      German Magazine Claims The BMW X3 Diesel Also Violates European Emissions Limits

      The data Auto Bild is going to print tomorrow shows that while the U.S. market Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI exceeds Euro 6 NOx levels by a whopping 22.61 times, the Euro-spec BMW X3 20d Xdrive performs worse than the American VW Passat 2.0 TDI, exceeding the target figure by almost 12 times.

    4. I would go with “The envirotard zealots who infest the EPA should be neutered, and then the EPA needs a massive housecleaning.”

  5. It’s not just VW, people have been doing this with their own; removing emissions controls while they drive, but replacing them for regular emissions tests. Clearly, we need pop-up emissions checkpoints on major interstate highways to keep this sort of thing from happening. While they’re at it, the EPA agents should search cars for evidence of “intent to bypass emission controls”, namely possessing things like wrenches, quarts of oil, or screwdrivers in one’s car.

    1. Stop giving them ideas.

    2. Since Michigan doesn’t do emissions testing, it was (is?) quite popular to cut catalytic converters off of cars – very common to see older sports/muscle cars for sale without them.

      1. Where I grew up, [redacted], I’d take the yuppie, non-car-guy college kids out to [redacted] where I knew a mechanic who would torch the cats off for ten bucks. Then I’d lead them back to the muffler shop in town for a custom dual exhaust build like I had on my ’71 (which was pre-cat).

        They were so grateful.

        Growing up in a farmtown had some advantages, mostly in learning how to make mechnical shit work. And doing a lot of drugs to combat the boredom.

  6. I’m still confused as hell. There were VW diesels sold in the U.S. without urea kits recently?

    1. Yep. The 2009-2014 (or 2015) Jetta and Golf don’t have SCR systems installed.

      1. Wow. Did not know. I assumed they had the piss tanks like BMW and Mercedes.

        1. They use a NOx trap and purge it by occasionally injecting diesel fuel into the exhaust stream. The end result of the reaction converts the NOx to CO2, H20, and N2 if I understand it right. Since they’re regularly pushing fuel into the exhaust, mileage on the non-SCR VWs was always lower.

          My guess is that they cut back on the regenerations of the NOx trap(s) to keep mileage up. It’s also possible they cut back on EGR for performance.

  7. Can we please remove the “gate” suffix from public discourse? Thank you.

    1. Headlinegate, 2015

  8. I do not think it would be possible to make a claim about the EPA so outlandish that people would say, “Oh, that’s silly they wouldn’t do that.” The EPA is so completely out of control there is nothing they are incapable of.
    Thanks, Nixon.

    1. Out of control? Yeah right. Like the EPA has ever done anything to harm the environment, like release toxins into a river or something. HA!

  9. Don’t forget- General Motors killed the market for diesel passenger cars in this country with the unbelievably shitty diesels they shat out in the seventies.
    Nice work, GM.

    1. My family had the misfortune to own one. The oldsmobile Gutless Supreme. It was a hand-me-down from Grandpa, and I saw why he wanted to part with it.

    2. I was selling auto parts at the time – mid 80’s. I copped a couple Diesel emblems from the local GM dealer and put them on my Camaro’s B pillars.

      The number of people who earnestly asked if it were a diesel….priceless…

    3. IIRC one problem was that they hadn’t taken into account that real-world diesel fuel was often really “dirty.”

  10. under the new rules diesels now get half the milage they used to and since they are less efficient they only last half as long,because of this my friends company, that buys several a year is now buying gas powered trucks. burning twice as much diesel how is that better for the planet.
    BTW this brings up Catipiller laying off 10,000 people, they are claiming a slow down, but what may be happening is my friend who has to buy new diesel tractors to meet Calif regs sells perfectly good equipment to companies in other countries because the law does not allow you to sell them here. with all this good second hand equipment why would they bother buying overpriced equipment with smog equipment that only lessens the life of that equipment. once again that regulations not only don’t solve environmental problems but sometimes worsen they also put people out of business.

    1. I’m relatively certain that most of Caterpillar’s sales are directly to foreign companies, not domestic. Its the global economic slowdown that is causing layoffs, not Cali regs (although I doubt they are helping).

      1. A large percentage of the used construction equipment from the US goes overseas during auctions. There will be a lot of Tier IV diesel equipment that nobody wants in a few years. The auction houses are already starting to see the effects.

  11. Some speculate that the Obama administration is determined to regulate away both gas and diesel engines from the market to induce a switch to electrics.

    Or maybe the government is doing what it has been doing forever: raising the barrier to entry for foreign car manufacturers by imposing regulations that are impossible to meet, like NOx standards for diesel-engined passenger cars.

    1. Umm, the government’s regulations tend to harm domestic manufacturers more — CAFE standards, for example, hurt you if you specialize in big cars while your competitors churn out Camrys and Accords

      1. Re: prolefeed,

        Umm, the government’s regulations tend to harm domestic manufacturers more — CAFE standards, for example, hurt you if you specialize in big cars while your competitors churn out Camrys and Accords

        Yet people buy SUVs, as well as FUBPUTs: FUcking Big Pick-Up Trucks.

    2. Someone has pointed out that the automakers that the Obama administration seems to come down hardest on are those with non-UAW plants in the US….

      1. Obama’s supporters have reassured me that his administration would never be vindictive or allow bias to influence enforcement of the law.

  12. Perhaps Ralph Nader needs to pen a sequel, “Unclean at any speed”

    1. That’s the title of SugarFree’s autobiography – they’ll have to try something else

  13. This is all well and good but Shikhia has failed to offer an answer to a question she would be best suited to answer – which is the best European import for smuggling illegals into the country with?

    1. First Shikha column I’ve ever enjoyed, and you have to go all Suzie downer…

    2. That’s like, all racisty, or something.

      I like it!

    3. which is the best European import for smuggling illegals into the country

      You need something with carrying capacity, but low-key and pretty common. Its actually a tough call. I’d probably go with a Toyota Four-Runner, myself. Some offroad capability, for back roads at need, common as dirt, reliable, can carry probably 5 or 6 with carryon luggage.

      1. can carry probably 5 or 6 with carryon luggage.

        You actually allow your smuggled labor to have luggage? I just stack them up like cords of firewood, personally. I’ve been known to fit a dozen or so in a small sedan.

    4. In her next piece, she’ll predict how Mercedes and BMWs will get better once all those new Muslim immigrants to Germany start making them. You know, the Middle East tradition of craftsmanship. And Cytotoxic will agree, because immigration always improves things. Always!!

  14. ?This worked out to about 233 more statistical fatalities every year, wrote George Washington University’s Susan Dudley at the time.?

    George Mason University. Mercatus Center, even.

    It’s not tricky, like having to remember that Randy Barnett is Georgetown

  15. it would have diminished fuel economy, and made the cars far less zippy

    Those VW diesels are slugs as it is. If you lose the fuel economy and make them even slower I can’t imagine anyone would buy them.

    1. Apparently neither could VW…

  16. You know who else had unpleasant plans for Volkswagen?

    1. VfL Wolfsburg?

    2. Peter Thorndyke?

  17. Equipping cars with SCR systems (urea tank referred to in the article) does NOT reduce mileage.

    If anything, it lets car makers reduce the use of EGR and NOx trap purges, both of which actually decrease mileage/performance.

    The 2012 Passat TDI gets better mileage than the similar Jetta and Golf TDI models despite all 3 sharing a 2.0l diesel engine. The Passat has an SCR system and the Jetta/Golf do not.

    1. it’s mostly just a cost/weight/having to fill another tank type of thing right? I’m a diesel noob but that’s how i understood it.

  18. VW claimed that the design of the engine on its smaller diesel cars could meet the EPA’s emission standards without the urea tank. That turned out to be a complete lie…

    Well, technically it’s not a “complete” lie. The cars could meet the standards while operating in “emissions” mode, so VW could make the cars operate in that mode full time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what they end up having to do (either that or retrofit them for urea tanks). The problem is, in “emissions” mode the engine performance is probably a lot lower, plus there could be other issues such as reliability problems created by running in that mode all the time. In fact, that’s probably why they didn’t design it to run in that mode full time to begin with. If there were no performance/ reliability/ other tradeoffs why wouldn’t they? So if you own one of those VW’s and get a recall notice to fix their emissions, I’d suggest ignoring it.

    What’s surprising to me is how they got away with it for so long. You’d think some other car company would have called bullshit and figured what they were up to, unless they were all keeping quiet because a lot of them are doing it to(?)

    The problem for carmakers is that they can’t simultaneously satisfy such regulatory edicts and consumer demand.

    I think that’s the whole point. Feature, not bug as far as EPA is concerned.

    1. Subaru, Honda, and Mazda have all made big talk about importing diesels that don’t require urea kits while still meeting EPA restrictions. So far none have delivered – that is telling. The best engineers in the world can’t get their cars to meet EPA standards without an expensive add-on system.

  19. “Meeting the agency’s aggressive 2008 edict would have required the company to install a urea tank to neutralize the nitrogen oxide before release.”

    President Obama took office in January of 2009

    Soooooo how exactly is the EPA requirement from 2008 his fault???

    Riggghhhhhhttt cause it’s NOT

    what a hit job article of misinformation and misleading information.

  20. This piece, from The National Motorist’s Association, does better than anyone else explaining exactly what is going on with the VW fiasco:

    http://blog.motorists.org/the-vw-scandal/

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