The company may go the way of the Dodo because of brutal fines and crippling lawsuits and media demagoguery that’s turning the VW brand into the automotive equivalent of NAMBLA.
But if you think it’ll stop there… .
So, where will it stop?
How about real-time monitoring of the emissions output of all cars, all the time? This would certainly put the kibosh on “cheating” – by owners as well as car manufacturers.
And it’s already in the works.
Has been, for some time. This VW debacle will simply provide the necessary justification for implementing it – much in the same way that a school shooting becomes the justification for taking everyone’s guns away.
OBDII cars all have a universal plug-in “diagnostic” port – like an iPod’s USB hook-up – that’s used to connect the car (its computer controller, actually) to an external computer. The two electronic brains talk to one another, exchanging information. If your car has an issue with its emissions systems, a code (or codes) that have been stored in the onboard computer’s memory will be flashed over to the external computer, so that a technician can be made aware of the problem and – ideally – repair what’s wrong.
But, the OBD II system has a weakness. It can only transfer the information about a “fault” with the emissions system if it is physically hooked up to a testing computer (as at a repair shop or a smog check station). The most an OBD II-equipped car can do if you don’t take it in is illuminate the yellow “check engine” light in the dashboard. Which of course, you are free to ignore for as long as you like. Or at least, until the time comes to have the car smog checked – which might be only once a year or once every several years, depending on where you live. In some areas, those few that don’t (yet) have mandatory smog checks, a person could drive with the “check engine” light on indefinitely.
Enter OBD III.
When it detects a problem with your car’s emissions controls, rather than light the “check engine” light and wait patiently for you to take the car in for service, it will immediately narc you out to the DMV (or similar apparat) which will send you notice almost as immediately informing you that you’re required to take the car in to a state-approved monitoring/repair facility within “x” days and if you don’t, either fines will be rained upon your head or your vehicle’s registration will be benched.
It is even conceivable – because it is technically possible – for them to simply turn your car off remotely after the fix-it date comes and goes. The car becomes inert until you have it towed to an approved facility for repairs.
OBD III was pie-in-in-the-sky until technologies such as OnStar (and its equivalents), in-car GPS and mobile WiFi (internet access) became feasible and (lately) as commonplace as power windows and air conditioning. Your car – if it’s less than about five years old – already communicates with the external world, or has the capability to do so.
“Real time” traffic updates, satellite radio, the ability to check e-mail (and send it); roadside emergency and concierge assistance. They all rely on technology that lets the car send and receive information wirelessly and on the move. The same technology could just as easily send the DMV a message that your catalytic converter isn’t working – or has been removed. Or that you have reflashed the computer to illegally alter the engine’s performance, a la VW.
It will be argued – by the EPA and similar bodies, such as the California Air resources Board – that “cheating” is prolific and once-annually (or whatever) checks are no longer sufficient to catch “cheaters.” They will point out that just as it was easy for a major automaker like VW to “cheat” the tests, it’s just as easy – under the current “outdated” system – for an individual owner to do so. It’s actually easier to reprogram an ECU (that’s the technical name for the computer that controls your car’s engine) than it was back in the day to install a catalytic converter “test pipe” (that is, a hollow tube) that you ran for 364 days a year and then – for the one day out of the year you had to comply with the test – reinstall the actual converter.
With OBD II and ECUs, all it takes is a hand-held plug-in to jigger your car’s computer to your heart’s delight and without even getting your hands dirty.
Anyhow, this will be the case made for OBD III – which (like the “Patriot” Act) has been in the works for a long time, just waiting for the right crisis.
Which VW has furnished.
Note that the actual quantity of “bad gasses” (in this case, oxides of nitrogen and possibly also particulates, or soot) is never quantified or put into context by the media witch hunters, nor the EPA (or CARB). The impression they both seek to convey is of an Exxon Valdez-esque spewing of noxious compounds into the air. Which is demagoguery even worse than the shrieks about “assault rifles” (which are used almost never to murder people, excepting in a military – that is, government – context).
Yes, the “affected” VWs emit more oxides of nitrogen emissions (and possibly particulates) than the federal standard dictates. But the federal standard calls for effectively zero emissions. We are talking fractions of a percent differences. Car A’s tailpipe exhaust is 98.7 percent “clean.” Car B’s is 98.4 percent “clean.” They are both very “clean.” But car B is portrayed – misleadingly – as “dirty,” a “polluter”… because its output is .4 rather than .7.
This is what we’re dealing with.
And what EPA refuses to acknowledge – and the lazy (or politically motivated) media refuses to discuss.
But which will become the pretext for Orwellian, 24-7 monitoring of our vehicles. Anyone who questions it or takes issue with it will be smeared as a “polluter” – or a “denier.”
In other words – never overtly spoken, just an association implied – a person who questions that sanity of destroying a major automaker and imposing Stalinist controls on the populace over fractions of a percent’s difference in tailpipe exhaust emissions is morally in the same camp as a Holocaust denier.
These people are very, very good.
Also not discussed is that if a given emissions control (or programming) results in lower fuel economy the vehicle’s overall output of whatever noxious gas might be (and often actually is) higher than an otherwise identical car’s that’s been programmed in such a way that it goes farther on a gallon of gas (despite its tailpipe exhaust emissions being fractionally higher).
While EPA is turning the screws on the car industry to achieve fractional reductions in the tailpipe emissions of cars that have been 95 percent or more “clean” since the mid-1990s, no one seems interested in an easy – and cheap – way to cut emissions not by fractions of a percent but by actual whole percentages.
And then some.
If the fuel efficiency of a given car is increased by say 30 percent, its total output of harmful emissions will decline dramatically – without any changes to its existing package of emissions controls. Burn less fuel, produce less exhaust. Simple.
If EPA were really interested in reducing emissions – rather than dishonest political grandstanding – it would lock horns with the DOT and NHTSA to ease off on the “safety” mandates that have added hundreds of pounds to curb weight of the average new car, and reduced fuel efficiency dramatically as a result.
But that would mean less control for EPA – and DOT/NHTSA.
Which is why we’ll get OBD III instead of lighter, more fuel-efficient cars that produce dramatically lower emissions.
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