The Mushroom Cloud Expands

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Well, there’s good and bad news wafting upward from the immolation of Volkswagen over its now-public end-running of the EPA’s preposterously over-strict emissions rigmarole (more about that here and – audio clip – here).VW mushsroom cloud

First, the good news:

* The affected vehicles actually run better than they would have, had VW not “recalibrated” the software that runs the computer that controls the operation of the engines in these vehicles.

They get higher mileage – and give better performance.

The last time something like this happened – that I know about – was back in 1973, when GM’s Pontiac division (RIP) tried to slip the high-performance SD-455 V8 (destined for the Trans-Am) under the EPA’s radar by including this de-tuned race engine within the already-approved “family” of ordinary 455 V8s, even though the SD shared almost no parts (in particular, its high-performance camshaft) with ordinary, run-of-the-mill 455s. EPA found out – and Pontiac got “busted.” But back then, people cheered Pontiac.

And boo’d the EPA.

* You will probably be able to score a sweet deal on a new diesel-powered VW. As the mushroom cloud expands, the fallout will rain on VW dealerships all across the country. Cars that commanded full MSRP – plus some – just a week ago will be discounted heavily in the very near future, if this disaster is not contained.VW behind bars

Keep in mind, the vehicles are in no way “bad” vehicles (unlike, say, the epically awful GM diesels of the early 1980s) but the negative publicity will create that impression and the cars stand a very good chance of becoming pariahs. Which will benefit people smart enough to see past the know-nothing hysterics and pick one up at a fire sale price.

* The “scandal” may expose the lunacy of current federal regulations – which have gone from reasonable to ridiculous.

The media is not explaining to people that the emissions in question amount to fractions of a percent of the total exhaust volume; nor that these cars meet very strict (just not insane) European standards. Perhaps people will begin to comprehend that a fractional difference in emissions output is not that big a deal – especially when the “affected” vehicle actually uses less fuel – which (think about it) means it produces a lesser volume of total exhaust gasses.

Perhaps people will ask why it is that American buyers are denied access to 60 MPG diesel cars that are commonly available in western Europe, where the air seems to be quite breathable and people are not walking around wearing surgical masks or hooked up to oxygen tanks… .

Now, for the bad.

* If you already own a VW, its value – like the value of the VW itself – just took a nosedive. Cars that just a week ago held their value better than most are now losing value like a rusted-out ’01 Aztek with 149,000 miles on the clock. People who financed a VW could find themselves owing more on the car than the car is worth – before they’ve paid the thing off. And people looking to buy a used VW can expect to pay higher interest on their loans, as interest rates are based on retail values.VW execs

But the really bad news is that VW – the company – now faces the possibility of what could prove to be one of the largest class-action lawsuits ever. Potentially, every person who owns a VW – whether it’s a diesel or not – could claim they’ve been defrauded (see above in re resale/depreciation) and seek compensation. We’re talking millions of people – and possibly, billions of dollars. On top of what the government is going to do VW.

Worst case, VW goes out of business. This could happen. (The Explorer/Firestone tire fiasco of the ’90s almost killed Ford – and that fiasco was of much lesser magnitude than this one.) Millions of people could lose their jobs. Not just directly (those employed in VW plants and dealerships) but also indirectly (suppliers and so on) whose business will go away if VW does.

*  If you own an “affected” vehicle, the government is probably – almost certainly – going to insist that you bring it in for “fixing.” It will be returned to you “fixed,” all right. It will use more fuel – and not perform as well – once recalibrated to pass muster with Uncle.

And if you resist (which is futile), the government will probably resort to nastiness such as denying you renewal of your vehicle registration, rendering the vehicle effectively useless to you.

This nastiness is likely to expand beyond VWs, too.

In a way, it already has.Mazda Sky-D

Word inside the business is that Mazda – which had promised a new line of “Sky-D” diesel engines for models like the CX-5 crossover and the Mazda3 sedan – has decided to forget it because of the near-impossibility of complying with Uncle’s edicts while also managing to deliver the mileage and performance customers expect. Mazda will sell the Sky-D engine outside the U.S., where policies are less insane.

But that’s of no particular help to us.    

Also, expect “smog checks” to become more onerous – as EPA stomps around and demands “stricter” enforcement mechanisms. The words of Rahm Emmanuel spring to mind:

Never let a good crisis go to waste.     

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31 COMMENTS

  1. @Liberty4Ever – I agree that fixing the cars after the VW dealer “fixes” them will happen.
    @Eric – I think you might be wrong about the value of VW cars going down. People might rush to get them, because they know the present cars will get better gas mileage than new ones will.

  2. Hacker’s Motto: Everything is hackable.

    Hackers to the rescue! Take your VW diesel into your local VW stealership for the government mandated reprogramming to reduce efficiency and performance, so the king will allow you to drive on the king’s highway, and then drive home and install one of the soon-to-be-available after market VW diesel performance maps that will get you BETTER THAN NEW PERFORMANCE AND FUEL ECONOMY. The nanny government’s meddling has created the market for these upgrades. Look for the kits on eBay in 3… 2… 1….

    And when the California Green Nazis mandate any form of vehicle emissions testing, you can be sure that the after market will provide some way to game the system on test day and have optimal performance and fuel economy every other day.

    Remember radar, leading to radar detectors, leading to radar detector detectors, etc.? Yes, for those of us who don’t enjoy playing the game and just want to be left alone, this all sounds like a big waste of time, but hey… government. That’s what they do to pass the time until they grow large enough to reach their ultimate goal of “a boot stomping on a human face forever”.

    • As I wrote earlier somewhere here… “tuning” devices to write new maps and such to the ECU are capable of saving backups and thus if the new ‘tune’ doesn’t work can restore the car to a previously saved configuration. Of course the prudent always save the factory stock configuration. Something tells me those who make these things for VWs will see an increase in business.

      • Well, what do you know:

        “VW is the least worst of the offenders”:
        http://www.transportenvironment.org/sites/te/files/publications/carmakers-failure-infographic.pdf

        . . . and who owns Opel? http://topnews.ae/images/GM-Opel.jpg

        Moreover, it’s obvious that here ain’t no “40 times” the legal limit, for VW or anybody else, and certainly not 40 times overall exhaust emissions. If there were, Europeans would have been choking to death years ago. Speaking of which:

        “EU Warned On Devices At Centre Of VW Scandal Two Years Ago”

        Also:

        This morning’s Bild am Sonntag, which claims to be in the possession of an ‘explosive document’, reports first that a October 7 deadline has been handed VW by Berlin to ‘fix’ its problems, and second that engineering giant Bosch, which provided the initial “defeat device” software, warned VW as long as 8 years ago, in 2007, that the software was for internal testing purposes only. VW‘s own technicians “warned about illegal emissions practices” in 2011, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung cites an internal report as saying.

        And that’s just the beginning. Or rather, the beginning may have been much earlier. Bloomberg writes, in an article called “Forty Years Of Greenwashing” that “On 23 July 1973, the EPA accused [Volkswagen] of installing defeat devices in cars it wanted to sell in the 1974 model year.”

        http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-09-27/greater-fools-bigger-liars-society-decline

        Who knows how far down the rabbit hole this goes, but you can be sure of three things: (1) this will prove to be regulatory capture on a vast scale, (2) the investigations have only just begun, and (3) so have the finger-pointing and ass-covering.

        • This VW thing has put me again trying to educate the masses in the face of government and media mis-education. There are tests and each test has its own pass/fail criteria, it’s own standard. One cannot go test cars a different way than the government says so and apply the government’s standard to that test. It doesn’t work that way. Now if one did lots of testing both ways, a lot of careful analysis then correlation factors between the two tests could be developed, but that’s not being done.

          The chart you presented. With a little work and a lot of research on the designs I could make it come out any way I wanted. Why? Test design plays an important role. Everything is designed to pass the government test but different approaches even tiny ones can make big differences when the test is changed. Change the test to exploit weaknesses in some but strengths in others.

          This mis-education of engineering practice must be yet another con to do something politically. Never waste a crisis. Has to be.

          • “With a little work and a lot of research on the designs I could make it come out any way I wanted.”

            ANY way you wanted, including “40 times” the law limit on total exhaust volumes?

  3. All this collaboration of car companies sucking mile from gov’t hands is now coming back to bite these auto makers in the ASS!!! Sleeping with the enemy has never been a gainer for anyone. GM and Ford may be rubbing their hands. Well that will be short lived. The gov’t they love to collaborate with will bite their hands even harder, and make testing so onerous no auto company can match.

    I will now make the prediction that all the car companies, honest(!) ones included, that no car maker will be able to make cars to the new standards. Not just for emissions, but for collision protection and all the other garbage being forced on consumers. The EPS, NHSTA, and other departments will make new regulations so harsh the auto companies will be out of business sooner than you think.

    Hell hath no fury like bureaucrats fully unleashing their vengeance on car makers. Now that 1 company has been caught cheating, the b’crats will put the car makers out to pasture, treating ALL the car makers as criminals. In full compliance with agenda 21.

    I do not see b’crats coming to reason, doing a root cause analysis of the problem, and making corrections that please everyone. THIS event will fuel the next financial collapse of the market.

    Clovers will be salivating over this, until the fat asses have to start walking to work like the rest of us. And lots of industries dependent on car sales will go to dust. Beware of the coming dust storm, will dwarf the recession of the 1920s.

  4. I stopped at a VW dealership 09/24 hoping to get a little bit off the top due to this issue. I was a little confused by how empty the lot was until I was told by the salesperson that all diesels are currently banned from being sold until they get permission from the EPA.

  5. Well, my personal net worth took a big hit this week. Not only is my vehicle (Audi A3 TDI) worth about 2K less according to Kelly Blue Book – I happened to check the price just before the scandal broke, but the value of my house is in limbo while the County decides if they’re going to let Ursa Resources Group drill gas wells near my property.

    I don’t have to take my vehicle in for inspections, either safety or emissions. In fact, I know many people with pickups who bolt on “cat back” straight pipes to improve performance and annoy old people. Their vehicles would never pass emissions testing in Denver (and can’t be sold without restoring the exhaust), but in my county there’s no problem. However, I don’t think my car will run if I remove all the emissions control devices without some major work-arounds on the computer.

    My house, OTOH, will likely increase in value in the long run. In the short term though, it will be very difficult to sell at the price I paid or more just because there’s going to be drill rigs in my view. I get very little benefit to the drilling rig and all the hassles of having an industrial work site within 1000 feet of my house.

    The common thread to these issues is, of course, our wonderful system of government. The driller’s name, Ursa, is quite appropriate. Ursa is a bear. Bears do what bears do, I’m not really able to stop one by myself. I could stock up on firearms that will stop a bear, but that’s rather extreme, and besides, the state has offered to protect me from bear attacks. In this case, Ursa the bear is paying the state some protection money (as well as the mineral rights holder Exxon-Mobil paying off the major political parties), so the only thing I can do is hope the state remembers their word.

    In a libertarian world, I would expect to be compensated by the driller for damage to my property, including fouling of the air (anyone who’s been near a drilling rig when it starts production knows that there’s a lot of smelly stuff down there), and loss of property value should I have to sell my home while they are drilling. VW, of course, wouldn’t even need to submit to state imposed testing, since there’s so few automobiles in my area as to be background noise in air quality testing, so we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. And if the air quality in Los Angles were bad enough, either auto manufacturers would have to compensate the good people of LA for damage to their property, or people would live elsewhere.

    • Now’s the time to get some good pics and vids of the drilling process. You already know there’s plenty of light.

      I have a good view of the moon right now. it’s certainly dark and large being in the middle of the Supermoom eclipse. It’s a great view central daylight zone. West Tx. sky is wide and high and clear as a bell.

      Hopefully the rig isn’t east of you so you can see it.

  6. I’m not sure how the EPA would prevent you from renewing the registration on your car. The state DMV might. Some states require new Diesel cars to be CARB-compliant. Lots of these existing Diesel users have “used” Diesels for the purpose of registration. The standard for this in New York, as an example, is 7500 miles on the odometer. To register a non 50-state Diesel in New York State that is CARB-emissions exempt requires an MV-74 form, something that is not available from the NYS DMV website, but is supposed to be available from the DMV office.

    Some clever search engine searching can find it hidden buried in multi-page PDFs.

    CA car owners, living in the harshest bands of this shit hurricane, will probably be SOL, but I don’t live there so I don’t know.

    • Hi Warp,

      Not so much the EPA per se. But the local DMV apparat.

      They could require proof the ECU had been “fixed” – and more elaborate emissions testing.

      I’ll tell you what I see coming (and have, for some time):

      Real-time monitoring
      of emissions via remote sensing or via uploads from the ECU.

      • Illinois removed all the IM240 equipment in favor of OBD2 checks so there is unlikely to be anything more than a VIN check required by fedgov in emission testing regions.

    • To clarify on my previous post, to be able to file an MV-74, one must have:
      A. A very old diesel car or truck, one that was manufactured before a particular year depending on class of vehicle.

      OR

      B. A used diesel car, one that has over 7500 miles on the odometer

      OR

      C. The non-50-state compliant Diesel car must have been acquired because your existing car became non-functional out-of-state and needed to be replaced out-of-state.

      C is a particularly interesting one. It suggests you could drive a clunker out to a different state and whoopsie, it dies, whereupon you can buy a 45-state Diesel replacement and still register it in New York.

      • If’n a person wanted a diesel car, in the next 2-3 months would probably be a good time to buy. Tomorrow might be a great time to buy a VW but likely they’ll have a firesale and let some reconfigured new ones go real cheap.

        The whole debacle has a Trayvon Martin circus-like atmosphere to it…..looking for a scape goat no doubt. Clovers selling used VW diesels cheap in the classifieds trying to shed the onus.

  7. I work for Mazda at a low level, as many of you might remember.

    I’m probably not supposed to show this, but here goes.

    CEO Jim O’Sullivan sent this letter by e-mail to all employees yesterday, 25 September 2015. The letter has that date. A good explanation for the reason US standards differ and cause some problems for emissions testing is in bold. I think this shows the company in a good light, all things considered, and speaking only for myself. Here it is:

    As you’re all aware, our industry has been placed under a microscope this past week due to the emissions crisis involving Volkswagen’s diesel vehicles sold here in North America. As a key Mazda stakeholder, I wanted to take this time to address the situation with you directly and provide Mazda’s view on this issue.

    While we don’t currently sell diesel vehicles in the U.S., we have been working on introducing this engine technology for the past several years. I can assure you that Mazda remains committed to bringing diesel to the U.S. We want to make sure the diesel’s performance is up to the standards which are expected when driving any Mazda vehicle. Once we are satisfied that we can deliver the right balance between fuel economy and Mazda-appropriate driving performance, and of course meet all emissions requirements, we will bring our SKYACTIV diesel engine to this market.

    Of course, we do sell diesel-powered vehicles in other markets. In compliance with the law, Mazda develops hardware and control software for both diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles in order to meet the regulations and standards of each country.

    Mazda uses essentially the same systems throughout the world, but some countries, like those in North America, have special regulations and modes due to differences in traffic flow. In these cases, Mazda may add hardware or software to meet regulations, always being careful to fully comply with the law.

    Mazda’s customers may rest assured that all of the company’s vehicles are in full compliance with regulations.

    Media reports on this issue have identified the following two problems as the reasons for emission levels being higher in real-world driving than they are when testing for certification.

    1) The use of illegal software
    2) Differences in driving modes* when testing and in real-world driving situations
    * Vehicle speed, engine speed, slope inclination angle, engine temperature, etc.

    In the first case, the computer program somehow detects that the engine is being tested and sacrifices fuel efficiency and driving performance in order to reduce emissions. Such a process is an infringement of the law.

    In this situation, the illegal software does not operate during normal driving, resulting in a significant deterioration in emissions compared to when testing. Mazda has never used such illegal software.

    The second problem is caused by the difference between driving modes under testing and in real-world driving. Driving modes for homologation tests are established by the authorities in consideration of the characteristics of traffic flow in each country. When a vehicle is driven in the real world, it is possible for vehicle and engine speeds (rpm) to exceed those during testing. Also, the driver may brake and accelerate more frequently, and ascend steeper slopes than is done during testing. All of these factors will increase engine emissions.

    This is the same reason there is a difference between catalog fuel economy figures and those achieved in the real world. The principle applies to vehicles of any type, including diesel, gasoline and hybrid-powered vehicles, and in all regions.

    In order to solve this problem, it is necessary to make the driving modes for homologation tests as close as possible to real world driving. Authorities in each country are considering reviewing driving modes for testing, such as Worldwide harmonized Light duty Test Cycle (WLTC) and Real Driving Emissions (RDE).

    As a carmaker, we have the duty to continue developing technologies that enable Mazda to comply with regulations tested by driving modes determined by the authorities, and to reduce emission volumes as much as possible during real-world driving. Mazda has always been aware of this responsibility and will continue to be aware of it in the future.

  8. Is there evidence of a decline in price? If the gov will allow you to drive it why would the price change? It might even go up as new performance diesels cannot be imported and purchased.

    As a minor note diesel vehicle should be much less likely to have a fuel fire than gas. But who cares.

    • Hi George,

      There’s no data available yet; it’s only been a few days since the “scandal” broke. However, the VW brand is being dragged through the mud and if the public (generally) buys in to the narrative it is going to have massive negative repercussions for VW as well as anyone who owns a VW.

    • I happend to check the Kelly Blue Book web site about 2 weeks ago. They reported my A3 TDI was worth about $18K. I just ran the same query today and it came back at about $16K. Granted, there’s nothing “scientific” about how KBB prices cars, but interesting nonetheless.

    • I have to agree with George. I think this “crisis” will serve to make more people aware of TDIs- People who were not aware of them and the kind of mileage they get. It will increase demand, as the supply decreases.

      I have to laugh at our idiotic goonvermin(t), making a big deal about an extra needle in the haystack, while many of us are driving around in pick-ups that get 11MPG. (SHhhhh!!!!)

  9. Mustang people who reflash their ECU with ‘tunes’ save backups of stock with the devices. If the VW enthusiasts have something similar for their cars I suspect sales of these things will go up if they can backup the necessary parameters. People will figure out a way to save the stock programming.

    • Sure! Tuning got so bad that VW/Audi started requiring dealers to scan computers any time there’s service. The results are sent direct to Wolfsburg and compared to the factory data. Supposedly if there’s any change, even if you reprogram the system because you upgraded the stereo to a sat-nav system, you void the powertrain warranty. Of course, their warranty period is so short it’s not a big deal to most tuners anyway, but it could screw you later on if there’s a recall or other legal action.

    • Not only that, they have downpipes unfitted with the DPF(or you can ream it out), and EGR delete kits programmed into the software not to run rough or throw a CEL. Working around the stock parameters of the fueling? Just a fraction of what the market is already accomplishing with these cars.

  10. Do you think they will return to an actual tailpipe emission test again along with the computer hook up that they have been doing lately? Maybe with l VW’s for the time being.

    In the parts of Indiana that do emission tests, up to now diesels were not tested. I imagine that will soon change.

  11. Well, the ‘decreased value’ will not affect me, since I plan to drive it until it won’t go any more. But the mpg is already much lower than the previous generation of TDI’s. That’s going to bite the big one.
    I’m praying for my DSG to last.

    • If there’s a major repair required, the threshold for deciding to fix or scrap just got a whole lot lower. And depending on what they do to “fix” the emissions, repairs might be frequent and costly.

      I once shot a commercial for a body shop. They had a brand new (wrecked) Mercedes on the laser alignment jig because the unibody frame was out of alignment. The insurance company decided it was cheaper to fix than total, so they paid out a few grand for the procedure. My (at the time) S***box GM would never see the inside of that shop, the tin knocker beating out dents had a higher day rate than my car’s worth.

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