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Fiat Chrysler to Modify 100K Vehicles After Accusations of Emissions Cheating (nytimes.com)
120 points by JumpCrisscross on May 19, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

This is not a problem with capitalism.

This is not a problem with regulation.

This is a problem with humans. Some will always try to break the rules, and take risks, no matter what the system. The best systems are the ones that recognize this and have ways of self correcting.

In this case if there was a magical device that measured actual pollutants in every car sold, through out it's life, and could be easily and inexpensively checked annually so that the owner had to pay a tax on excess pollution (or even better, a market price for total pollution), the regulation would be easy.

Automakers could claim whatever they wanted, rig whatever tests they chose, but it would become very clear in real world usage that they had done so. And their brands would be murdered if they got a reputation for lying.

Of course it's a problem with capitalism and regulation. The particular form of capitalism we have today provides a strong financial incentive to concentrate on short term returns. And the particular form of regulation we have today created an environment where automakers felt there were few consequences, if any, for gaming the emissions system. These cheating programs didn't spring up de novo all of a sudden, they came as the result of years of incrementally gaming the system more and more with no regulatory consequences. Particularly in Europe automakers have been tweaking the vehicles they send for emissions to improve performance in tests. It's easy to rationalize this sort of thing as just "making sure" that the emissions results are accurate and reflect the best the vehicle can do. But once you get into that mindset it's easy to fall into the trap of pushing the envelope on gaming the system more and more. And once you do something like VW did of building different emissions behavior into the vehicle software you can create an enormous divergence in emissions between the test state and the regular operating state.

Sure, other systems can have similar problems, but that's no excuse.

I would love to see the manufacturer taxed on the difference between advertised and real-world measured pollution (perhaps exponentially, if they emit more pollution than they advertise -- this would greatly incentivize conservative accuracy in fuel economy and emissions specs).

But no matter what scheme we propose, I do worry that this would become an adversarial "gaming" situation a bit like hackers vs DRM -- no matter what the rules/criteria to reduce dangerous emissions, manufacturers will employ people specifically to circumvent them in any and all ways possible. This isn't to say we should stop trying to curb emissions -- just that they must be ongoing and open to change and adaptation to new "attack vectors".

Genuinely interested in what you think the difference between a system that "recognizes this and has ways of self correcting" and "regulation" is...

If you have to pass some standardized tests, the engineers will do what they're supposed to: Meet the goals.

I wouldn't call it 'rigged tests', it's more like they optimize the system under test to meet the spec. It probably happens everywhere, not only in cars. The behavior of your fridge, AC or any other hardware is probably optimized in weird ways just to meet Energy Star etc.

>I wouldn't call it 'rigged tests', it's more like they optimize the system under test to meet the spec.

You would do so wrongly. In these cases, like VW, the car is programmed specifically to detect when it is being tested, and lower emissions. They aren't optimizing to test spec, they are cheating. There's no other word for it.

In the auto industry, it's called a "defeat device", and has a long history of causing woe to car companies who use such devices.

Since when? And which long history? Seriously, I don't know, where can I read up on this?

Wikipedia has a list of a bunch of incidents going back to the 70s, in which the phrase "the largest fine to date" appears often: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defeat_device

No, he's right. That's "optimize for the test spec". Detect an idiom and optimize it is very common in this situation.

For example, commercial compilers are often written to specifically detect and rewrite idioms/code in oft-used benchmarks (that aren't common to the real world), etc Your browser's javascript engine almost certainly does it.

They aren't cheating, they are just making the test worthless by optimizing it. They still shouldn't do it, but it's super-common.

Exactly -- what we need are better tests that aren't as easy to game. The idea of installing a real-world pollution measurement device to each car is still valid though -- that would just become the new test.

In recent cases, these defeat devices have all been for NOx. NOx is reduced in the catalytic converter, unless there is too much oxygen in the exhaust. The defeat devices turn off behavior that limits exhaust oxygen.

Every car comes with an oxygen sensor, which could be used to infer how much NOx is being emitted. So, the solution may actually just mean a standardized little microcontroller that reports directly through the ODB port on how much oxygen has been in the exhaust. If it's sufficiently simple it shouldn't be beatable.

You don't really want to have to plug something into the ODB port.

I have been a member of the ISO committee that standardized ODB-II and related stuff. I remember the representative of one OEM suggesting that they expected at least California to require emissions testing in real-world conditions at some point. This was about 15 years ago.

There was the expectation that in the future the vehicle bus would have a short-range wireless gateway so that you can link the brakeing systems together of cars in a road train. With this in place a country could set up roadside boxes to read out the current emissions values.

With the change in usage of mobile phones over that time you could pick a different mechanism today.

I guess you still have the issue of potentially needing to prevent cheating, the OBD-II PID values are in a sense "translated" from the OEM specific data on the CAN bus.

This is a problem with humans. Some will always try to break the rules, and take risks, no matter what the system.

A deeper point to ponder: Is that really a problem, or is it just life and the way it should be? Would trying to "fix" this "problem" only result in a more dystopian, authoritarian society with more government control?

This is probably going to sound quite controversial, but I've never been a fan of such emissions regulations. The argument that emissions effects everyone is true, but IMHO besides the point: After all, the best way to not "pollute" the planet is to just not live at all.

I do have an interest in car modding/tuning so I may be slightly biased... but to summarise, I'd much rather die from pollution than live in a society which doesn't have any personal freedom anymore.


You might be fine dying from pollution, but what about the rest of us who aren't?

If you were only affecting yourself, most people would be happy to let you. But you're not. You're taking down the rest of us with you.

Regulating this seems, well, like a regulation problem.

We already have something similar for odometers and I believe some states assess taxes on miles traveled.

Yea, that's a good comparison.

But odometers aren't magical, they can be turned back. There was a recent scandal/lawsuit where an ex-Ferrari mechanic claimed that Ferrari dealerships were equipped with tools to roll back mileage for their best customers. Example being as the ones who bought Ferrari's elite million dollar cars, so they could drive 10,000 or 20,000 miles and roll them back to 200 miles at sale to sell them "as new".

So regulation still requires a way to detect false measurements at the customer level if it becomes too prevalent.

Unless you're going to trust a TPM style chip to sit the reading continuously and/or broadcast them in real time for external audit, you have that same problem.

Pff no need for that. Worm devices are enough for the task and can be audited openly

> In this case if there was a magical device [..] the regulation would be easy.

You'd also need magical devices that force the people who do the readouts and judge cases based on those readouts act honestly, and so on. Why are we talking about magical devices again?

Cant wait for the realtime GPS tracking reported to a central authority too, to make sure nobody is cheating, of course.

That's silly. You don't need to track every single car, just a reasonable number to get a cross-section. I'm sure that randomly selecting people and offering them money to mount a detector on their tailpipe would be enough. No need for hyperbolic mass tracking.

An issue with dieselcars is that they emit small particles PM2.5 particles which is very damaging to human health.

"A typical diesel car emits around 10 times more nitrogen oxides than an equivalent gasoline car."

"Fivefacts about diesel the car industry would rathernot tell you" https://www.transportenvironment.org/sites/te/files/publicat...

PM 2.5 particles which is small particles emitted by diesel vehicles are a cause for preterm births in babies. " We estimate 2.7–3.4 million preterm births may be associated with PM2.5 exposure in 2010 globally." http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412016...

"Health experts lambast ‘deceitful’ carmakers as data suggests 97% of vehicles fail to meet NOx emissions standards in real-world conditions". https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/apr/23/diesel-cars...

And Volvo just announced it's stopping work on diesel engines and throwing themselves full-force at electric engines.

Diesel is just a means to an end. If it's a fundamentally unsafe technology, then it should go into the dustbin of history, alongside leaded gasoline, lead paint, and asbestos for non-critical purposes. There are other ways to get around; no one needs diesel qua diesel.

I read older diesel engines emitted bigger particles, so larger that they were filtered by your nose. With the newer EURO5/6 norm the diesel engines got a lot more unhealthy (PM2.5).

Does this also happen in Bluetec engines?

Yes, BlueTEC is just Mercedes' name for the DEF system that treats the exhaust. There's nothing special about the engine itself, the exhaust is just treated.

BlueTEC is just a marketing term like SSRS ( airbag ).

not as much ... Bluetec is just an advanced catalytic converter, that reduces NOx. Mercedes has been implicated in the emissions scandals, afaik. Inherently diesel is less refined than gas, so it does not burn as clean.

Amazing. If you get caught with so much as a non-stock air filter on your car, you can get hauled into criminal court (at least in California). If the car maker actively conspires with ill intent, to cheat the test, all they need to do is "fix" it and promise not to do it again.

Oh, no, they'll pay a fine per car similar to VW, maybe a little less for less stonewalling. Fiat is still claiming there's no defeat device, though, which raises the possibility of an even larger per-car fine.

It's still a slap on the wrist either way. They aren't going out of buisiness any time soon because of this. These companies do things we send average people to jail for, on a regular basis ( https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/pr/9-charged-federal-court... ).

$22,000,000,000 was not a slap on the wrist for VW. And there are VW execs in jail awaiting trial.

How can you tell that no one from Fiat is going to be arrested? Isn't that truck diesel developed in the US?

As far as I know, only one is awaiting trial because he was brazen enough to think he wouldn't be arrested, and the rest that are indicted are not within reach of the law.

Indeed. Although VW is still a massively profitable company and as big as ever the whole scandal had the effect of costing them a whole crapload of customers. I'm a Canadian VW TDI owner whose car is getting bought back. Like a lot of customers, we're so pissed about how things went down we'll never touch another VW/Audi again. And a lot of us have switched to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. My Chevy Volt is on order.

The thing that made me the angriest about VW is how they tried to pin the blame on their engineers when the story first broke.

They are the worst dinosaur -- wasted a decade of R&D on diesels instead of investing in EVs. They actually removed their only hybrid from their 2017 lineup. Their only EV is a rush job with an air cooling system on the battery, which is going to lead to even more class action lawsuits as those start to fail as they did in Nissan Leafs. Audi has their semi-successful PHEV A3 with a sad range but they did nothing to improve it for 2018 (except increase the price).

I've come to loathe them, as have a lot of other VW/Audi owners. It will come back to haunt them.

I'm so thankful for Tesla. We've seen this coming for two decades now, and yet no other manufacturer has gone all-in on electric. Now Tesla has a higher market cap than most of the dinosaurs.

It really puts the lie as capitalism to being the end-all, be-all solution for innovation. Nope, companies just find local maxima and stay there, and as long as they all stay there and collectively decide not to venture out, they can get stuck there for decades.

The market cap is high because of speculation. Whether Tesla can turn the high expectations into reality remains to be seen.

GM produces very high quality EVs and PHEVs that are available right now at a reasonable price. They are just being cautious about producing them in volume. Same with LG Chem and battery supplies (the two likely tied together) That could change in a few quarters if they sense the time is right.

I don't think you can go from 1,000 cars/month to 40,000 cars/month in a few quarters. 40k/month is the number pointed at by Model 3 reservations. LG Chem apparently does have a big ramp of their battery factory in progress, but with cars like the GM Bolt selling well under their 30,000/year minimum target... GM's got headroom, no evidence of demand for what they're selling, and no sign that they could hit it out of the ballpark this year.

Personally, I'd love it if GM would hit it out of the ballpark. More likely that they aren't even going to hit the minimum.

They are apparently losing $7400 on each Bolt. So they've kept the production numbers low. It's a halo car and a cautious test of demand, and something to have in their backpocket in case consumer demand warrants it, battery production on scale becomes feasible, or a gov't forces its via regulation. I think there are likely warring divisions within GM, too.

See: https://cleantechnica.com/2017/05/20/ubs-chevy-bolt-drivetra...

Oh, and as for 1000 to 40000 in a few quarters, a company like GM absolutely can. They have decades of experience in mass manufacturing. The limitation as far as I can see it will be battery supplies.

I was referring to battery production scaling, sorry that wasn't obvious.

What does California do about rolling coal? I see it a lot in the Midwest.

I've never actually seen it, but I expect the same thing for most aftermarket things that are frowned on- fix it tickets & fines.

So after VW's issue and now this, it makes me wonder--is diesel actually as attractive as some of these manufacturers had made it out to be? Or was that all inherent in this big con?

According to VW documents they were really optimistic, but as development costs rose and rose they were unable to meet expectations.

Deisel is not currently attractive as you need to either hobble the engine or spend more on urea. Of course, hobbling the engines in all cars would be a good idea- you only need like 40 horsepower to do 80 mph. Base model cars have 200 horsepower just because it's more fun.

Well it's torque that is attractive to consumers not top speed, though that does sell car. And there is _some_ advantage to good torque like what diesel (or even better, electric) gets you -- helps on the freeway with merging or passing, or some emergency maneuvers.

But yeah, you're right. From a strictly technical POV consumers don't need all the power they have now.

Cars are stupid anyways. The sheer amount of land paved over in asphalt in order to feed the beast of driving is just insane. At the macro level it does not seem like an effective use of resources.

It was very attractive because it was cheap. Pollution notwithstanding, modern diesels drive just as well, if not better than petrol but consume significantly less fuel. In Europe where fuel is comparatively more expensive than the US and where emission regulations do not hamper it, diesel dominates the market.

Another aspect of it is that the carbon emissions tend to be lower than for an equivalent petrol engine, which is (part of) the reason why various tax incentives were put in place in Europe to favour diesel. They've mostly been rolled back now, but the carbon emission gap and the fuel economy remain.

And much of the push happened around the time of the Kyoto Protocol being agreed, which was all about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

I think we're seeing the end days of diesel for passenger cars, at least in developed nations with strict emissions controls. Hopefully electric will take over. Unfortunately, no one's quite solved the trucking problem yet.

I hate to say it but I think you're right. I was a big believer in diesel passenger cars because their mileage is as good as a hybrid, they're cheaper to produce, and you can operate them more or less carbon-neutral (with biodiesel).

But that was before we found out everybody was cheating on the emissions.

Diesel cars aren't as fuel-efficient as a gasoline hybrid. You're making that comparison via volume, which is misleading because diesel is significantly denser (and, thus, burning a similar volume of diesel releases more greenhouse gases). Do the comparison by mass instead of volume, or simply by CO2 mass emitted per mile, and you'll see that the hybrid still wins out.

Although, of course, even hybrids aren't good enough in the long run; we need to stop digging up and burning buried carbon, full stop. Electric cars do that. Hybrids and efficient diesels do not. Electric cars are a workable final solution that results in a planet that remains livable; hybrids and diesels are not. They don't destroy the planet quite as quickly, but the destination is still the same.

Specific gravity of gasoline is roughly .74 and diesel is roughly .85, so point taken. Agreed that electric will be the best solution.

It's the end days of internal combustion engines.

That will go as well as their 'voluntary' air bag recall.

Even Mercedes haven't got close to schedule they promised (they are a decade late), let alone Chrysler's less premium brands.

It would be interesting to see real world impact of health and economy of diesel passenger vehicles in a country like Ireland where most passenger vehicles are diesel vs the US where very few are.

Commercial vehicles are going to push far more emissions out, with far more miles/running hours/idle hours and older standards (i.e. you will have a 40 year spread of commercial vehicles on the road).

Slightly OT: I didn't know there were such things as 1500 (1/2 ton) diesel pickups before I read this article. Interesting.

Question: Do any emissions regulations (US/EU/etc,etc) set a ratio of lab to real world emissions?

No. And the US, until prodded by the academics from WV, apparently never measured any real-world anything, even for research purposes.

now everyone who thinks their vehicles are made to be crash safe think twice! they make them only to pass those tests

It it a crime if everyone does it? Capitalism has its problems.

It's a crime if it's a crime, and it has nothing to do with Capitalism.

But if everyone does it and it's a crime, then you might want to reconsider what a crime is (not saying that you should in this case...)

It's the legislature's place to make that decision. The companies don't get a pass on breaking the law because everyone's doing it, the same way you and I don't get a pass.

And I don't think every company is breaking the rules. Letting the scofflaws off sends exactly the wrong signal to the companies that made sacrifices (in price or performance) to stay within the law.

Not sure I understand this logic. Certainly everyone is not cheating emissions regulations. Some vanishingly tiny proportion of humanity (0.0001% of people or less) are responsible for cheating emissions regulations, whereas all 100% of us have to breathe in the resultant harmful pollution.

You're trying to compare this to jaywalking or something, but it isn't. Laws are passed by and for the benefit of all of humanity, so you must look at the entire group of all people. You can't just narrow it down to automobile manufacturers and say that if they all do it it's right, because there is more to society than automobile manufacturers!

Tons of people litter, but it's definitely a good idea to have it be illegal.

Besides... This rule is not crippling. These companies absolutely could have met emissions just by keeping the engine in test mode. Not only that, but they could have just not made deisel cars. They broke the law because they didn't want to settle for a tiny inconvenience, in a market they didn't need to be in, selling cars to people who would have gotten a gas car if they had to. The sheer arrogance necessary to convince themselves to blatantly cheat on an emissions test (by detecting test conditions and gimping the engine) is staggering.

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