Tuesday, September 29, 2015
What to Make of the VW Crisis?
I was never much of a Diesel fan. It was the turbo lag in a 2009 VW Golf that got me in trouble in Leipzig and resulted in the car being totaled. But what to make of this episode now in 2015?
First and foremost, we must recognize that with the development of electronic and computer controls related to the internal combustion engine and diesel powered automobiles (which has taken place gradually over the past 20 years or so), there are all kinds of new threats to vehicles that consumers cannot adequately sense or measure. What I mean here is that the owner/driver is so removed or detached the the technology he or she owns because of digital technological systems, that personal control over the car has been for all intents and purposes lost. My 1971 Porsche 911 and even my 1985 Toyota Corolla have carburetors, and for the most part I can control their performance and emissions by turning idle and mixture screws, setting timing, and ensuring the vacuum systems operate correctly. Not so on todays cars, including the diesels. They are black boxes, programmed by geeks, and not to be touched by a shade tree mechanic. Far from autonomous technologies, they are the product of a "democratic centralism" that secedes operation and assumes a kind of technological virtue to the manufacturer whose software is incomprehensible to all but a handful of engineers and computer scientists. In fact, consumers have no way of really knowing what their vehicles are all about.
Much has been said about VW's dishonesty. And it may be that many more of the auto manufacturers practiced similar kinds of strategies to get around government regulators. After all, don't they assume that they are smarter than EPA technicians? It would seem that VW engineers are cats, and EPA analytical chemists are mice?
Is the VW brand hurt beyond repair? Doubtful. If a better product is made, people will buy it. Reminder -- the original bug was Hitler's car! Diesels now on the decline -- and that is a huge hit for European sales. To put the blame on Martin Winterkorn perhaps specious until investigations are conducted and blame is assigned based on concrete evidence.
Will this be the opening that the green manufacturers like Google are waiting for? Maybe, but petroleum prices need to rise before alternative technologies will flourish.
What does all this dishonesty do for air quality? Yes, some 125+ deaths is the result according to risk experts. And our air (and water for that matter) remains in stress. In sum, the price of our prosperity lead to insults to our public health.
Below are useful links on the VW story: