By on September 30, 2015

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In light of the great Yogi Berra’s recent passing, I felt it appropriate to use one of his more famous “Yogisms” for the title of today’s editorial. It’s about a time when a great institution was accused of cheating and lying to all of its customers. It’s about a time when numbers were inflated beyond rational belief, yet everyone, including industry experts and reporters, blatantly looked the other way. It’s about a time when our government decided to get involved and start calling people to testify on Capitol Hill.

I’m referring, of course, to the Steroid Era in baseball. Oh, you thought I meant #Dieselgate? Well, you wouldn’t be wrong. Here’s how the two situations are remarkably similar, and how it’s amazing that either was ever discovered.

Hop in the time machine back with me to 1998 (wow, was that really seventeen years ago?). Our great national pastime, baseball, had been consistently losing mindshare with the nation’s sports fans for quite some time. Younger people were no longer playing or following the game in the numbers that they had historically. For the first time, extreme sports were starting to become mainstream.

Baseball needed a savior. Lo and behold, they got not one, but two.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captured the nation’s attention by hitting more home runs between them than any two sluggers ever had before. McGwire cruised right past Babe Ruth and Roger Maris on the way to a monstrous 70 home runs. Sosa wasn’t far behind with 66. Baseball had become king again. And the reporters whose very livelihood depended on the success of the game were more than happy to look the other way as players got bigger, stronger, and swung harder than ever before.

After all, if a reporter asked questions — if he noticed a can of androstenedione in McGwire’s locker, if he noticed the nearly universally present back acne in the showers — his access to the team was nearly certain to be restricted. Clubhouse reporters couldn’t do their jobs without their access. They needed to befriend the players. They needed to write stories of McGwire as a superstar, a mammoth of a man who paid homage to the Maris family with every swing of the bat. Sosa was transformed by writers from a surly introvert who barely spoke English into a beaming, smiling ambassador for the game. Never mind that he went from a scrawny kid who hit an average of thirty home runs per year to a muscle-bound carnival act who hit sixty home runs three times in a four year span. Sosa was making the lives of reporters possible.

So what if a few grown men decided to inject themselves with drugs that screwed with the entire fabric of the game? They were creating a story, a story that was being read for the first time in God knows how long.

It would take another six years for the San Francisco Chronicle to leak grand jury testimony from Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi that proved they used steroids. But even that wasn’t enough. It would take three years after that for the Mitchell Report to be commissioned, and that only occurred because Jose Canseco wrote his book Juiced as a giant middle finger to the game to which he had sacrificed his entire life — only to be blackballed from it in the end. It all could have been reported a decade earlier if reporters hadn’t willfully ignored it.

“I think all of us wish now that we had pushed harder,” says Tom Jolly, sports editor at The New York Times. “I suspect we weren’t as well-informed about the whole thing as we are now.”

“In hindsight, I screwed up,” said Ken Rosenthal at the Sun in Baltimore. “That is our greatest sin, extolling these guys as something more than they were. Some of us had a feeling that something was amiss. We are more guilty of making McGwire and Sosa into heroes when they weren’t.”

I have a feeling that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the dirty pool that Volkswagen played in this scandal, but when it all comes out — both at VW and the other OEMs who have near certainly manipulated tests in their own ways — the question will remain: What role did automotive journalists play in obscuring the story, either intentionally or as willing pawns?

Think about the stereotypical journalist dream car — the cliche of the brown manual diesel wagon. There is no shortage of journalists out there who think that they carry some sort of torch of authenticity by trumpeting the mantra of DIESEL! It will make us just as awesome as Europe! You capitalist pigs who can actually afford new cars might cling to your trucks and your crossovers, but I, the Automotive Journalist, know that diesel cars are the Holy Grail of Automotive Excellence.

They love them. They extol their virtues. The journalists who actually do buy cars put them in their driveways. I can think of half a dozen.

So we are supposed to believe that auto journalists — who are supposed to know about cars as an actual job qualification and tested these vehicles — had literally no idea for decades that there might be something funny going on with the diesel cars that Volkswagen delivered to their driveways everyday month?

At the very least, there’s a conflict of interest here, and at worst, there’s ethical misconduct. Somewhere in the middle is what most auto journalists are claiming, which is that they shouldn’t “be expected to be experts on emissions,” so they are morally exempt. To which I say: Nonsense.

If we are to call ourselves “journalists,” (which, by the way, is term I never apply to myself as an editorialist) then shouldn’t we be responsible for doing, oh, I don’t know, investigative journalism?

The Volkswagen bombshell wasn’t uncovered by the equivalent of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada. Instead, it was a study commissioned by the International Council for Clean Transportation after noticing that there was a pattern of non-compliance by VW vehicles in emissions testing. A $50,000 study at West Virginia University was all it took; a study which they reported the findings of nearly a year and a half ago. Auto journalists, including here at TTAC, didn’t exactly notice. In fact, they could have emailed the findings of that study directly to every journalist in America and I doubt that it would ever have found its way to the Wheels page. We found out about it at exactly the same time as everybody else, when the EPA served its Notice of Violation to Volkswagen’s doorstep.

The automotive press may not be as responsible for obscuring the facts of #dieselgate as sports journalists were for obscuring the Steroid Era in baseball, but it is undeniable that the far-too-cozy relationship between the automotive press and the OEMs played a large role in Volkswagen being able to pull the wool over the eyes of its adoring public for far, far too long. The automotive industry is devoid of watchdogs in the press, who often prefer to be treated as the PR arm of the OEM.

There needs to be a restoration of balance. The OEMs need to start inviting their less-friendly outlets to PR events. A negative review shouldn’t cause a writer to be blackballed. Somebody — anybody — needs to start doing some actual investigative journalism in this business. It’s far too easy to speculate on Twitter about a business that you’ve never worked in. It’s much harder to actually dig deep and find the real story.

The question is: who? Smaller outlets, such as us, don’t have the budget. Larger outlets rely too much on the OEMs for access. Newspapers, who might have had the budget to do it in the past, are shrinking their budgets and workforces daily. So it becomes ever more likely that we’ll find out about the next scandal the same way we found out about this one: after the fact.

Who’s going to write the automotive equivalent of Juiced? Who’s our Canseco? My guess is that every OEM on the planet is praying to Lutz right now that they don’t have some disgruntled former employee who’s willing to write a tell-all.

But they shouldn’t have to. Let’s end these cozy relationships and advertorials once and for all.

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67 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: Dieselgate is Deja Vu All Over Again...”


  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    As is the case most of the time…the auto journalists did not fail to TRUST, YET did fail to VERIFY.

    Pretty simple.

    You could say the same thing about the business journalist, looking at you WSJ, about Bernie Madoff. Probably a more apt analogy as he defrauded for financial gain at the expense of others. Sosa and McGuire did not directly steal from anyone though they did reap financial reward from juicing.

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      “Sosa and McGuire did not directly steal from anyone though they did reap financial reward from juicing.”

      That’s the same thing people said about Lance Armstrong and his U.S. Postal teammates. But they did directly steal from others — other athletes. The ones who were clean, not taking PEDs, and as such, were unable to match the cheaters and therefore not given jobs/contracts. How many enhanced players in baseball took a roster spot from talented, clean players? We’ll never know, though it’s certain to have occurred.

      • 0 avatar
        RonaldPottol

        Who would that be? Drugs and doping has been so rampant for so long in cycling that we have no reason to think anyone is clean, stripping Armstrong of his title was damage control at best. The should have stripped the titles from everyone who competed since they instituted such rules, or not bothered.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’m going to disagree here. How many automotive journalism outfits have a real-world emissions tester on hand? Is that really their job? I’d say it isn’t…any more than doing crash tests is their job. When they test a vehicle, they make the same assumption that consumers make – that the vehicle meets all safety and regulatory requirements.

      It’s the government’s job to make sure those requirements are met. Unfortunately, they got hoodwinked in this case, just like everyone else.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        What exactly is an automotive “journalist’s” job then? Most magazines and all newspaper writers seem to literally be a “PR arm of the OEMs” as Bark puts it. Are they not supposed to investigate or criticize anything? Is it just supposed to be entertainment, like “Top Gear”?

      • 0 avatar
        dstover

        As Consumer Reports has shown, readers are willing to pay for journalists to conduct independent testing and report the results. Consumer Reports buys the vehicles it tests. Most automotive journalists, though, “test” vehicles that are provided at no charge by the manufacturers. Who knows what has been done to those vehicles to prep them?

        When I was reporting on cars for a national magazine with a large circulation, we took test vehicles (albeit ones provided by the manufacturers) to a closed track and put them through their paces with instrumentation to document performance. That rarely happens anymore. It costs money, but arguably it’s worth it to build credibility. Consumers don’t need journalists for specs or all-expenses-paid reviews. Where journalists can play a role is independent verification and conflict-of-interest-free opinion.

        Part of the problem is that most people writing about cars are enthusiasts, rather than critics. I saw the same problem when I was writing about the space program: You can’t do your job well as a space journalist if your dream job is being an astronaut. But if you write critically about NASA, as I did, you eventually run into access problems.

      • 0 avatar
        Von

        +1 Mike.

        The system in place is that trust is the norm and not the exception. And the deterrent is the heavy penalty for lying and cheating.

        Journalists test and verify what their readers are interested in. In most cases, that’s 0-60, skid pad Gs, handling, interior refinement, etc.

        Journalists can’t really verify every claims in detail. How far would it go? Do they need to take samples and verify the claimed strength of the high strength steel and aluminum? Or track down individual cows to verify where the leather came from? Lab test the lights to verify they put out the specified lumins of light? Or that their paint is as thick and abrasion resistant as they claim?

        There is simply no outfit that can do all of this profitably, and as much as I disagree with some of the things that consumer reports does or their opinions, it’s about as good as it gets at a non-government level. That’s why journalists and consumers rely on the government to perform the verification. I am not for big government, but we have proven that corporations will gladly take advantage of consumers when they don’t think they’ll be caught or if the penalty is small. They basically make a cost/benefit analysis and go for it. I am glad things like the FDA and (most of the time) EPA exists.

  • avatar
    tedward

    In general yes, let’s see more adversarial journalism. In this specific instance though, I don’t see how an auto publication could have known about the tdi thing. Running fifty thousand dollar studies or using one hundred thousand dollar machinesis goes a bit beyond what I would consider a reasonable expectation. The baseball thing was far more obvious and required no special equipment to pass the not libel/slander test.

    The fault lies on journalists for not actually reading studies in their field, and also on the researchers for not publicizing the study well. If they had been motivated the story could have broken before the epa announcement.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      “Running fifty thousand dollar studies or using one hundred thousand dollar machines goes a bit beyond what I would consider a reasonable expectation.”

      More like $3,000 machines:

      https://store.snapon.com/Flexible-Gas-Analyzers-Kit-Hand-Held-Gas-Analyzer-5-Gas–P821505.aspx

      I think the $100k number that gets tossed around is either a PM tester, or an exhaust gas analyzer that includes a dyno (as opposed to on-road testing).

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        I just went off of what was quoted. Good to know. Still, it isn’t done because consumers of cars and media largely don’t care about emissions. Any publication that does this, unless they break a big story, is wasting time and print space. I would certainly skip right over any emissions summary in a car review, and it would almost certainly not affect a purchase decision of mine. I think the buying public had provided so many examples of emissions indifference that a pol is unnecessary. If people cared, enough to influence the wallet, the manufacturers themselves would be screaming from on high about their good results. I don’t see that, just little blurbs in support of high mileage quotes, which people do care about, somewhat.

        Domestic hearse, yes testing is expensive, but they were blatantly, visibly, juicing. Everyone knew it, public and journalist alike. I certainly thought so at the time, even though I don’t care at all about steroid use in pro sports. Missy people didn’t care either it was the cheating angle that gave the story legs. Just like the tdi story.

        • 0 avatar
          Domestic Hearse

          tedward, yes, just looking at Sosa’s rookie card and comparing it to the beast slamming home runs a decade later is enough to know that something was not natural. Heck, look at Bonds’ head his rookie season, and then observe it grew three hat sizes 10 years later — obvious HGH user.

          But here’s the deal: As a journalist, you walk a thin line. You can write about what you see — Sosa looks different, Bonds’ head is huge — but you better be careful about how you imply those changes occurred without proof. The millionaire player, his lawyers, his agent, the team, its lawyers, and even MLB itself may come down on your head and your editor’s head and even your employing publication itself.

          It was not until Balco was uncovered, Canseco’s book, and a congressional inquiry that MLB and its players admitted cheating. But to have accused Sosa on appearances alone of illegal PED use would have brought multiple lawsuits, ironically from the team’s owner, the Tribune Company (and probably cost the writer his job).

          Yeah, we “saw” it in baseball, everyone saw it, but accusing juicers in print is an entirely different thing.

          With Dieselgate, we didn’t see anything. NOx is odorless, invisible. We just believed. Took VW’s word for it.

          Baseball now has more tests to weed out cheats, and writers are more keen to break a cheater story if they can (including multiple sources and proof). Auto writers should now be equally as vigilant. Be on the lookout, test and verify. They have the tools to do so readily at their disposal. The auto reporting game, like baseball after the Steroid Era, has now changed thanks to Dieselgate.

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            What’s interesting is how little outcry there is about PEDs in the juice-juice-juiciest league of the all, the NFL.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          I agree. I think the only way a journalist would have tested these cars for emissions is if they were tipped-off, or if they stumbled into the information while researching a different story.

          My favorite shop had one of these testers on demo a few years back. They played around with it a bit, but it wasn’t a cost-effective tool. I think the only job they used it for was an old carburetor Volvo that was running rough. 99% of their customers’ cars are OBD2, no need for an expensive tool that is only used once in a blue moon.

        • 0 avatar
          mechaman

          Indeed. CR was referenced in another post, but THEY didn’t catch VW. I disagree, though, that it was all that hard to see the juicing. I think the league knew early enough … guys I know who are powerlifters and bodybuilders were talking about people they’d never seen before getting in to juice, asking about it during that period.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      The story automotive journalists missed was interviewing engineers who worked on the many Diesel engine for passenger car programs that got canceled. I bet some engineer who had the job of analyzing what Volkswagen was doing probably figured out nobody could meet the US pollution standard without urea. Guarantee that someone had been under pressure to figure out how Volkswagen made it work.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        Mazda for instance, was never interviewed…or maybe I missed it.
        Then again, not sure how open the engineers and their companies would be to interviews.
        Maybe the always there “source” might have worked.
        But Mazda was one that really wanted to bring a diesel here but failed.

        • 0 avatar

          https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/mazda-6-diesel-delayed-due-need-aftertreatment/

          • 0 avatar
            TrailerTrash

            Now I remember reading ths.
            I wondered at the time about why the Australian interest.

            So the big question is why didn’t other diesel engineers know about the VW cheat?
            Seems to me they take apart and test each other’s work all the time.
            Nobody in the game looked into and at the VW engines?
            Seems strange.
            Or another case of not making waves to avoid getting the same treatment on other stuff you do.
            It is like asking other doctors to comment on poor work of anther doc…never.
            They just say crap happens. Mistakes get made.
            And the twits get on with their poor work.
            Ditto teachers, cops etc.
            So called professional ethics????

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            “So the big question is why didn’t other diesel engineers know about the VW cheat?”

            Because snitches get stiches, it would eventually come out on it’s own, that segment isn’t worth it, and everyone has something to hide.

        • 0 avatar

          Asking the questions is one thing. Getting answers is another. Many OEM engineers are instructed by their PR handlers to not talk about the specifics of a competitor’s product.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            That falls under the snitches get stitches provision.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Today they are called: whistleblowers.

          • 0 avatar
            George B

            Mark, I would assume that there were engineers that both analyzed Volkswagen TDI diesel engines and no longer work for the company where that work took place. For example, Navistar chose not to follow the urea injection path a decade ago, failed to get their emissions controls to work, and had massive layoffs in 2012 when they got out of the business of making diesel engines. There would have been many diesel engine experts, no longer tied to Navistar, who knew where the bodies were buried regarding NOx emissions controls.

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      “The baseball thing was far more obvious and required no special equipment to pass the not libel/slander test.”

      Oh, but special equipment is absolutely necessary. In order to sniff out PEDs and in most cases, the drugs and chemicals that flush or hide PEDs, very expensive laboratory equipment and well-paid technicians are absolutely necessary. As is the voluntary submission of blood and urine by athletes to a publication, which was (and still is) well outside what baseball and any other non-Olympic sport requires of its players.

      Looking back at the Steroid Era, if it was too good to be true, it was probably false. Though printing that story would have been just speculation without hard science and testing to back it up. The same is true of Dieselgate, if the TDI returns efficiency and emissions at such a good value, it’s probably too good to be true. And it was. But here’s where the stories diverge: Baseball writers had no access to Barry Bonds’ blood or urine. Auto writers had access to TDIs. And they also had access to emission testing devices for the price of asking the right people nicely.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        OK, DH, let’s take that one step further. If automotive journalists are supposed to test cars not only for performance, but to make sure they meet regulations, why aren’t they doing crash tests to make sure the ones being tested aren’t “ringers”?

        I don’t think that’s really their job. They’re supposed to be reporting on how the car drives, not whether it actually meets all the government regs; like us, they pretty much have to assume that this is the case, and that if it’s not, then the government will take action.

  • avatar
    another_pleb

    Maybe it comes down to the ABC of journalism that every cub reporter is taught.

    Assume Nothing
    Believe Nothing
    Confirm Everything

  • avatar
    Undefinition

    Well, I don’t know if I can make quite the same strong connection as Bark did to Baseball journalists, however I did notice that in the first 24 hours or so of the Volkswagen Diesel story breaking that auto blogs were sort of writing it off like, “No big deal. It’s a BS test, anyway.” It wasn’t until the story broke into OTHER media that the tone changed to, “ZOMG, this is a scandal of Biblical Proportions!”

  • avatar
    VoGo

    OK, We all agree with you, Bark,
    But what is actionable here? Do you expect Car & Driver to suddenly start reporting honestly? Should they start rating half of all cars as below average? What happens when they do that? Well, R&T, MT and Automobile keep getting all the perks (free trips, access to the best cars first) and CD gets nothing.

    Then how do they sell magazines? How do they capture clicks? Do you remember what happened when Farrago likened the face of the B9 Tribeca to female anatomy? It wasn’t just Subaru that blacklisted TTAC.

    Nothing changes without a plan to get there.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      VoGo, there’s panning a car and then there’s silly panning, and I’d say Farago’s “it looks like a vag” line falls under the second category. You don’t have to be sophomoric to be critical.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    “stereotypical journalist dream car…”
    Did you mean to type steroidtypical?

  • avatar
    nels0300

    I don’t know why an automotive “journalist” would be expected to investigate emmissions claims by manufacturers. They’re writers, not powertrain engineers or EPA investigators.

    But nevermind the emmissions scandal, one thing I’ve always noticed is that auto publications have ALWAYS let VW off the hook when it comes to reliability.

    Sure, they’re testing brand new cars, but I remembered these publications recommending the 4th generation Jetta even after all of the WELL KNOWN issues with these cars. They were terrible cars. Bad ignition coils, bad window clips, and to make matters worse, VW only replaced the failed parts even though there are 4 windows with bad clips and 4 shitty ignition coils ready to leave you on the side of the road stranded. The newer ones have their own issues, like plastic water pumps that fail, carbon build up, catastrophically bad fuel pumps, mechatronics unit failures. And yet the mags STILL love them some VW.

    How many people read these reviews and ended up buying a nightmare VW because of them?

    And DON’T EVEN START with the same tired VW fanboy response….”All cars have problems, my VW has 10K miles on it and I haven’t had one problem!”

    NO! Statistically, all cars DO NOT have problems like VW.

    I wouldn’t be sad at all if VW had to leave the US, good riddance!

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      Why not test emissions?

      Car writers test every single metric of a car during the review. NVH, acceleration, braking, skid pad, aesthetics, ergonomics, capacities, etc.

      Why not verify the OEMs’ claims of emissions while they’re at it?

      Certainly in almost every state you can see an independent garage or state testing facility for a verification, and then to verify the OBD results, hook the car in question to an old tailpipe sniffer, most of which are in mothballs and available for the asking.

      If car writers are going to test everything, well, test everything.

      At this publication alone, you think Murilee and Alex and others couldn’t verify a car’s emissions on a shoestring budget? Now that we know there are cheaters out there, I think TTAC could lead the way in showing others how to do it, and questioning them if they don’t.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        “Why not test emissions?”

        Because most people who read car magazines don’t care, and most people who care don’t read car magazines. I assume that A) the EPA sets fairly aggressive emissions targets and B) by virtue of it being on sale in the US, a given car meets or exceeds those targets, and that’s the extent of my consideration of emissions in my car buying. I assume 90%+ of the buying public approaches it with the same or less though than I do.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          Right. I could see AutoblogGreen or Mother Jones testing vehicle emissions, but would never expect mainstream car mags to do it.

        • 0 avatar
          Domestic Hearse

          They care now.

          And the target demographic that bought “Clean Diesels” absolutely cared. Cared a great deal. The “Clean” claim was the reason why the demo bought the TDI over hybrid offerings.

          We can no longer “assume” any car, be it diesel or not, is complying with EPA or CARB requirements. If we’re testing every claim an OEM makes about their vehicles, then a tailpipe verification can be performed with little or no expense. Chris, you can choose to read or ignore this part of any car review, but I suspect for many other consumers, this piece of information is important to know.

          • 0 avatar
            S2k Chris

            “They care now.

            And the target demographic that bought “Clean Diesels” absolutely cared. Cared a great deal. The “Clean” claim was the reason why the demo bought the TDI over hybrid offerings.”

            Nah, they have manufactured outrage, just like in every other scandal.

            Also, in my experience, most people who buy VW diesels like A) VWs, B) European things, C) high gas mileage [because they’re cheapskates], and D) things that last forever (Hybrids have a reputation as needing $$$ batteries down the road).

            I thought most people acknowledged diesel was a little dirtier but the gas mileage was the defining factor, not the emissions.

          • 0 avatar

            @s2k Chris

            Of my four friends and relatives who have Jetta TDIs, two are car people (one’s a woman) and two are not. One of the car guys (has it with stick) is really p!ssed off, says he’ll never buy VW again. The two non-car people got them for environmental reasons, and they are p.o.’d. I think the woman would happily continue driving the thing without getting the fix, if she can.

      • 0 avatar
        nels0300

        Because until now, it was assumed that if the car was for sale in the US, it was in compliance with EPA standards. And why wouldn’t you assume that? Emmissions are a metric with standards that are LEGISLATED. None of the other metrics are.

        What’s next, Car and Driver buying cars and crash testing them?

        • 0 avatar
          Domestic Hearse

          Your argument of crashing a car (at the price of the car) and testing emissions (at little or no cost) is rather illogical.

          And your argument that just because something is legislated, all parties are complying is also illogical. How incomprehensible! A multinational corporation breaking the law? Why I never!

          • 0 avatar
            nels0300

            Yes, incomprehensible is EXACTLY how I would describe the VW emmissions scandal.

            When was the last time a company this large DELIBERATELY broke the law, for years, on this scale?

            Not a cover up after the fact, and not trying to “game” the system, but from the beginning, intentionally setting out violate the law?

            I can’t recall any situation that’s similar.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            WVU was paid $50k to test three vehicles in the study, so it wasn’t cheap.

            And CARB lent a hand by having those same vehicles tested in its lab.

            Expecting the EPA, CARB or automotive media to use the same testing procedures for every car sold in the US is unrealistic. It would cost millions of dollars and little would come of it.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Two things I think:

    1. Automotive “journalists” wildly overthink their importance in the car industry. You guys are entertainment writers. We all know it. You exist to write stuff interesting enough for us to keeping paying $8/yr to get the WeatherTech and TireRack ads in the mail. That’s it guys. You aren’t the 4th estate keeping Congress and the President in check. Don’t get me wrong, I love and consume vast amounts of automotive journalism, but I consider it “journalism” the same way I consider “Law & Order” a courtroom documentary.

    2. How would you possibly know to catch this stuff? I don’t consider car writers to need to verify every claim a carmaker makes, I am interested in their impressions of the feel of things. For instance, in a test C/D commented that though the ATS is rated as having more HP than the 328i, the 328i felt stronger. I don’t expect an expose where they put them on a dyno and do the “channel 5 investigates” crap, I just want to know that nugget of gut feeling. And given that startup emissions aren’t something you can “feel” to even know to look into, why should you?

    Car writers pushed and promoted cars they liked and cars they felt were exceptional, and I have no problem that they were promoting TDIs right up until the cars were exposed, because if a TDI is what you want, it does (appears) to do a pretty good job at it. I consider car writers “victims” of being hoodwinked more than anything else.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      “How would you possibly know to catch this stuff?”

      In retrospect, it is odd that only VW could sell ‘clean’ diesels in the US without expensive urea treatment. Were BMW, Daimler, Honda and Mazda just not all that smart? Unlikely.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        But is it really that cut and dried? Urea treatment isn’t really that expensive, and few (no?) other car companies sell diesels in the volumes that VW does/did, so yeah, it did kind of make sense that VW could have a method that works for them that other, lower-volume sellers might not find workable. I’m a novice when it comes to the diesel market, but to the casual outsider, yeah, it does seem like it’s plausible a company with a very successful diesel presence would be better at it than other companies who do it on the side or are considering breaking into the niche.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          You are right. It isn’t that cut and dry. VW has been the diesel leader in passenger cars forever, and it sounds like they did this to save $350 or so. It was reasonable to assume that they had more people working on diesel engines and did something different than the others.

          For example, if GM has a better push rod V8 than anyone else, I don’t question it.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            OK, but VW is the clear diesel leader in the US only. MB and BMW both sell a LOT of diesels in Europe, so they must have some expertise. Both Honda and Mazda tried to bring diesels to the US without urea, and failed. Honda invested $200M+ in tooling in Indiana, and just couldn’t get it to work. This is the same Honda that builds more ICE engines than anyone else on the planet.

            It just seems a little odd – in retrospect – that only VW could make it work. That’s all I’m saying.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I mean, it’s kind of odd, but it isn’t unbelievable.

            Also, Honda and Mazda didn’t bring diesels here for other reasons as well. Mazda is having issues with their diesels in other places and Honda had the diesel engine planned for the US before Carmegeddon. The events that transpired between 2008 and now made bringing the diesel engine here not worth it (market crash, sales drop in US for everyone, tsunami, core product updates, gas price drop), market wants more CUVs).

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I dunno, VoGo, why do some manufacturers make excellent CVTS, while some make bad ones? Why is UConnect great, while CUE sucks?

            Just because a manufacturer tries to make some tech feature work doesn’t guarantee its success. Given VW’s long history making diesels and selling them here, I had no problem believing that they had the upper hand tech-wise…just like I had no problem believing Ford can make a great pickup truck, or Chevy can build great sports cars.

  • avatar
    Charlie84

    Had they been forcibly informed of VW’s malfeasance, to what extent would they even care? Is environmental friendliness found anywhere in the test regimes of Road & Track or Car & Driver (or even TTAC)? To what extent would they prefer to keep the blinders on in order to protect their beloved diesels?

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Consumers Report…we will get to them in a bit. But first…

    don’t wanna be to harsh on the normal, just wanna earn a living writers. after all, there is a whole lot to look for when reviewing cars and trucks.
    but most of all we want just a narrowing down of what what cars we should consider test driving. a generalization and opinion on where to start considering.
    and the actual consumer testing is the job#1 we all gotta take on. this is not the responsibility of reviewers. they never suggest we actually make a purchase based upon their advice.

    but now…the holy grail of reviewers for consumers…Consumers Report…now they should have a responsibility here.
    THEY are the one that demand the top position as GREAT PROTECTOR of consumers. THEY are the ones that put forth the ratings that we are supposedly to follow religiously. THEY are the ones that feed off the CNN/USAToday and other rapid headline grabbing.

    cannot wait to see what this does to their vw ratings …past and present. and how they accept responsibility for their failure to catch during their so called scientific testing.

  • avatar
    ajla

    There is no such thing as “automotive journalism”.

    There are automotive reviewers, automotive entertainment writers, and automotive editorialists.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    If the US government really wanted to vet actual performance, they should issue a Sources Sought for such oversight. I’d choose an alliance of Consumer Reports and IIHS. Either is better organized better than the government (painting with a broad brush here) and already acquire cars in the wild that are unmolested by the manufacturers. In a joint venture, I believe they could do the job cheaper, faster and more comprehensively than the EPA, under contract to same.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Why would you expect automotive journalists to know that VW has software to detect EPA and other regulatory organizations tests?

    It’s not like VW left the program on a USB drive labeled “Cheaty EPA Emissions Program” on the swag table at a press event. Unless another manufacturer or VW insider ratted out VW, they’d never know. It’s not like VW came out with something incredibly outlandish. McGwire and Sosa were doing things that had basically never happened in the 100+ year history of the game.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Don’t forget, during the McGwire and Sosa run, it wasn’t just the players who were juiced. So were the balls. And the bats were corked. This implies that MLB was either complicit (in allowing and/or sanctioning the balls, as well as not testing the bats) or were turning a blind eye to all facets of cheating in order to boost popularity and ratings.

  • avatar
    anomaly149

    Companies like Consumer Reports, A2Mac1 and Underwriters Labs have this equipment, and it’s not always busy. Some of the bigger publications could just pay for some machine time.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      But this doesn’t address my question above about CR.
      If they are the standard they themselves market, they should have used their own friggin equipment and done their jobs.
      They actually ask folks to purchase cars based upon THEIR wisdom and scientific work.
      They get a big fat FAIL here.
      They should suffer some mud in their reputation face for this.

  • avatar
    wulfgar

    A couple of quick thoughts:

    Investigative journalism is dead. Even when it was alive, enthusiast publications weren’t the place to find true investigations.

    The fans of such publications really don’t care. We. Are the ones likely to tinker with the intake, exhaust and whatever else on our toys to make it “ours”. Emissions go by the wayside.

    We have entirely too much fabricated outrage in our society. Punish VW, fix the cars,move on. Seriously, why all the drama? Human beings cheat at every aspect of life – I don’t like it or support it but we just do. To think that automakers have some morally higher ground is ridiculous.

  • avatar

    on newspapers, automotive journalists are stepchildren, and also there has been less and less money for investigative journalism.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      The most important investigative journalism – of the government – will get you investigated. That’s what happened to Sharyl Attkisson (CBS), James Rosen (Fox) and 20 AP reporters, all under the most transparent administration ever.
      Kind of a disincentive.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Given all the wondrous opinions being made thru the cheapness of hindsight, it has me wondering:

    What is Bark M had written this article (obviously without the direct Volkswagen accusations) three months ago? An article where he claims that Volkswagen HAD to be cheating because nobody else could make a diesel system work in the same manner. And we’d have all (well most of us, anyway) would have laughed our butts off, and made all the usual tin foil hat jokes, and let the whole matter drop after making a few pithy comments questioning the author’s sanity.

    Because, of course, that hadn’t happened, wasn’t going to happen, and couldn’t happen. Except now that it has, was, and did; and all of a sudden we’re up in arms (fond memories of Casablanca at this point).

    Hindsight is wonderfully cheap and accurate. And fuels way too many opinions.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, if I were a reporter, rather than an editorialist, I’d have to have something to back up my assertion. See Domestic Hearse’s posts.

      • 0 avatar
        nels0300

        Bottom line is that regulation oversight isn’t an enthusiast mag’s job and it shouldn’t be their job. Their purpose is to editorialize.

        Oversight is the EPA’s job.

        Their tests didn’t catch this (and Motor Trend would’ve?), so they’re adjusting their tests.

        Car and Driver, Motor Trend, TTAC….carry on.

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