Volkswagen Emission Test Scheme Probably Not Industry's Only Case

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2015-09-21 Print this article Print
Volkswagen Scheme

I first noticed this during the 1980s when I was reviewing products for Byte Magazine and we discovered one brand of Ethernet cards that performed much better than others during tests, but didn't seem to be much faster otherwise.

In those days, the most common test of network interface cards, one developed by Novell, had a predictable pattern and when the Ethernet card saw that pattern, it simply passed packets through without processing.

A few years later while I was testing Gigabit Ethernet switches at the University of Hawaii, I noticed something similar and as a result worked with Spirent Communications to develop a network test that mirrored actual traffic at UH.

Once faced with what appeared to be actual traffic, the switch being tested failed spectacularly. Fortunately, the VW cars didn't have that problem and are considered safe to drive even if they add more pollutants to the atmosphere. Owners of affected VW and Audi diesel models are also fortunate the company is committed to fixing the problem.

But the problem doesn't end there. Just because Volkswagen got caught doesn't mean it's the only company that's delivering false results. My experience shows that creating software that can detect tests to produce positive results is a long-standing practice.

The only way we were able to routinely get past such efforts was to find a way to simulate real-world conditions during the tests. The CARB did the same thing in testing cars.

But what's to keep other automobile companies from doing the same thing? Nothing. While I haven't done this testing myself, now that CARB has discovered what is going on, it's clear that real-world testing should be conducted on every vehicle that the Board tests, not just Volkswagens and not just cars with diesel engines.

If this is done, I'd be willing to wager something significant, say a case of fine craft beer, that other instances of auto test result fudging show up.

Of course, there's the question of why VW engineers went to the trouble to create the ability to fudge test results. I can think of two reasons. The first being that they weren't given the time required to produce the software they needed to make the engine run efficiently enough to pass the test legally. The second is that the engineers were under pressure to keep costs under control and produced an engineering answer to a cost problem.

It's possible the engineers developed the test-fudging software to keep maintenance costs from going through the roof. DEF is fairly expensive as an ongoing maintenance requirement, and Volkswagen was bearing that cost as part of its warranty service. Just stretching out the time before more AdBlue was needed would save millions.

The downside to this kind of solution is that someone always finds out that it was done, and now Volkswagen will pay dearly in fines, in repairs to cars, in loss of customer confidence and in overall damage to the reputation of its brand. Volkswagen's stock price has already taken a huge hit.

Welcome to the real world, Volkswagen.


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