The VW “scandal”

This could kill VW — until recently (until last week) the world’s largest car company.

But unlike say the exploding Pinto fiasco this is not a story about defective cars. It is a story about defective public policy.

None of the VW cars now in the crosshairs are unreliable, dangerous or shoddily built. They were simply programmed to give their owners best-case fuel economy and performance. Software embedded within each vehicle’s computer — which monitors and controls the operation of the engine — would furtively adjust those parameters slightly to sneak by emissions tests when the vehicle was plugged in for testing. But once out on the road, the calibrations would revert to optimal — for mileage and performance.

Now, the hysterical media accounts of the above make it seem that the alteration via code of the vehicles’ exhaust emissions was anything but slight. Shrill cries of up to “40 times” the “allowable maximum” echo across the land.

Well, true.

But, misleading.

Because not defined — put in context.

What is the “allowable maximum”?

It is a very small number.

Less than 1 percent of the total volume of the car’s exhaust. We are talking fractions of percentages here. Which is why talk of “40 percent” is so misleading and, frankly, deliberately dishonest.

Left out of context, the figure sounds alarming. As in 40 percent of 100 percent.

As opposed to 40 percent of the remaining unscrubbed 1-3 percent or .05 percent or whatever it is (depending on the specific “harmful” byproduct being belabored).

The truth — explained rarely, for reasons that will become obvious — is that the emissions of new cars (and recent-vintage cars) have been so thoroughly cleaned up they hardly exist at all. Catalytic converters (and especially “three way” catalytic converters with oxygen sensors) and fuel injection alone eliminated about two-thirds of the objectionable effluvia from the exhaust stream — and they’ve been around since the 1980s.

Most of the remaining third was dealt with during the ’90s, via more precise forms of fuel delivery (port fuel injection replaced throttle body fuel injection) and more sophisticated engine computers capable of real-time monitoring and adjustment of parameters, and of alerting the vehicle’s owner to the need for a check (OBD II).

Since the late ’90s/early 2000s, the industry has been chasing diminishing returns. The remaining 3 percent or so of the exhaust stream that’s not been “controlled.”

You may begin to see the problem here.

Internal combustion is always going to produce some emissions. The engineers have picked the low hanging (and mid-hanging) fruit. But the EPA insists on what amounts to a zero emissions internal combustion engine.

Which, of course, is impossible.

Which may be just the point.

Set unattainable standards — then denounce the victim for “noncompliance.”

VW’s sin was trying to get diesels that people would want to buy into the showrooms. These would be diesels that went farther than an otherwise-equivalent gas-engined car on a gallon of fuel to offset the higher up-front cost of buying the diesel-powered vehicle. Or at least, far enough — relative to the gas-engined equivalent — to justify the price premium.

People also expected — demanded — that the vehicles perform. That they accelerate when the accelerator is pushed.

VW set the calibrations to deliver those things. The operating characteristics its customers want.

VW is in hot water because of that. Because it put customers — rather than government — first.

No one has alleged that any of the “affected” vehicles runs poorly. The fact is they run better than they would have if VW had set the calibrations to appease the implacable EPA.

Which will never be appeased until we’re all driving $60,000 “zero emissions” electric cars we can’t afford. Which will put most of us into public (that is, government) transport. If we’re transported at all. Probably, we’ll be herded into urban cores, stacked like proles — for the sake of “the environment.”

It is a tragedy of stupidity and maliciousness and engineering ignorance.

Consider, for instance, the fact that if it were not for federal “safety” mandates, VW (and other car companies) would be able to sell vehicles hundreds of pounds lighter than the current average. Which, in turn, would allow for smaller engines — which burn less fuel. Which, in turn produce a lesser volume of exhaust. Even if a hypothetical 1,600 pound ultra-light vehicle’s exhaust stream were, let’s say, 2 percent “dirtier” than a current 2,300 pound EPA (and DOT) approved “safety” car’s, if the ultra-light burns 40 percent less fuel, its total output is still much lower than the government-approved car’s.

But such cars (the ultra-lights) have — effectively — been legislated out of existence.

At the same time, the cars that may still be manufactured are required to meet increasingly unattainable standards, putting the manufacturers (like VW) in the position of manufacturing government-compliant cars that cost too much and perform poorly that few will want to buy… or “cheating” the government, in order to build cars people will actually want to buy.

What’s happening to VW could have come right out of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s cumbersome but nonetheless predictive novel of 50 years ago. VW cast as the real-life version of Rearden Steel.

Some inside baseball: Mazda has been trying to get its Sky-D diesel engine EPA-compliant (while also customer-viable) for the past two years, without success so far. You are denied this 50-plus MPG (and extremely clean) diesel because of the particulate jihadists in Washington.

Remember: In neither case (VW or Mazda) are we talking about a return to the LA of the early ’70s, a feasting on lead chip paints and bathing in DDT? It’s all a bogey at this point. A straw man. A phantom, meant to scare you. But it has no reality.

The “emissions problem” has been solved — decades ago. But the EPA, et al, cannot admit this.

Because then there’d be no need for the EPA.


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