Volkswagen May Need to Fix Software 'Cheat Device' With Hardware

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2016-01-13 Print this article Print
Volkswagen cheat device

This leaves Volkswagen with two unpleasant choices, which is to retrofit old cars with the catalytic converters found on newer cars or to buy back the old cars. There may be an additional alternative for some cars that involves revising the software and installing catalytic converters. Unfortunately, retrofitting old cars with a new urea injection system may not be possible because of space and weight limitations, and it may cost more than simply buying back the car even at pre-dieselgate prices.

So far, Volkswagen hasn't said how the cheat device software came to be in the cars that were sold to something like 11 million customers worldwide. It appears that senior executives were blindsided by the revelations, which suggests that someone in the company's engineering department quietly developed a solution to an otherwise thorny problem, but didn't share the details up the line.

This seems improbable, but it might be what actually happened. A great deal depends on the corporate culture within that part of Volkswagen. While I don't have any inside knowledge about VW's corporate culture, press reports suggest that it's highly siloed, which would explain a lot. This could be one of those situations where an engineer found a neat hack and used it, but didn't explain the details.

Unfortunately, that hack is costing Volkswagen dearly. It's possible that it could bankrupt the company. It certainly will cost the company far more than it would have to have found a real solution. In the process, it's also costing the company its reputation, while its market capitalization has dropped 20 percent and its CEO was forced to resign in disgrace.

The solution for Volkswagen—and for your company—is twofold. First, make sure your engineers and your programmers know that any cool hacks they develop to make your products or procedures work better have to be fully disclosed to management. This probably means code reviews when some cool solution shows up.

In addition, companies in general need to realize that you can't just skirt the law, or the contract requirements, or public faith. Not only is it a bad idea, but someone always finds out. You cannot keep things like that hidden forever. And when someone finds out, you'll find yourself thinking of Walt Kelly's Pogo and one of his other famous quotes, "We have met the enemy and he is us."


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