By on September 29, 2015


Speaking to Auto Express ahead of Tesla’s first European factory opening, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said internal combustion engines have hit their physical limit for efficiency and that Volkswagen engineers may have resorted to lying out of necessity.

“There must have been lots of VW engineers under pressure — they’ve run into a physical wall of what might be possible so trickery was the only option,” he told the publication.

Musk told the group that VW’s salvation may only be in leading the charge (literally and figuratively) toward electric vehicles.

“All car companies will go electric eventually,” he said, according to Auto Express. “Any car company that doesn’t go electric will be out of business.”

Volkswagen currently sells its e-Golf in California and 10 other markets.

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61 Comments on “Musk: Volkswagen’s ‘Trickery’ May Have Been Only Option...”

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Remarkable man that he is, I think Musk is being a bit disingenuous here. Obviously he placed his bets on electric, and over the longer haul, he’s likely right to have. But to suggest that VW engineers were forced to commit fraud in order to keep up is ridiculous. Engineers don’t walk the plank when they’ve seemingly reached the outer limits of technical possibility. I’m guessing it was the higher-ups who didn’t listen well to the underlings. They often seem to live in a parallel universe.

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s what’s remarkable about Elon Musk: He is a tireless (no pun intended) self-promoter.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Imperial

      Absolutely right, Jeff. Musk has a personal interest here, so we all should take what he says with a grain of salt. This is a veiled comment meant to bring positive attention to his business, since VW is the convenient villain here (albeit their own making.)

      Yes, the VW higher-ups are the true culprits here. Profits were the end goal, greed triumphed over ethics. In the end, the engineers will be (some) of the fall guys.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      Crony capitalist who makes a fortune selling electric cars says the ICE is dead. Yep, he just might be a little biased…

      Musk has been dead to me since his “You can’t have a person driving a 2-ton death machine” comment.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        Technically, Musk made his fortune selling online payment software, Tesla is mostly in the red (though he probably makes a fair bit on stock gains).

        In reality, “trickery” was the best option for VW (in their minds) to achieve driveability and results versus cost and engineering complexity plus consumer appeal (not having to add urea).

  • avatar

    He’s not gonna spew is he? Looks like he’s carsick.

  • avatar

    There’s some truth to what Musk is saying, but it doesn’t excuse what VW did.

    • 0 avatar

      I think it’s total BS. While there certainly is a physical limit, the notion that VW has arrived there is as bogus as saying that the world is going to run out of oil. Oil will eventually get too expensive to make it worth the effort relative to other sources of motive power, but we’re nowhere near there yet. Similarly, ICE is going to get significantly more efficient before the marginal cost of additional efficiency exceeds the added value.

  • avatar

    Quick poll: Who do you trust more with, let’s say $335 of your money?

    A) VW Engineer from Germany
    B) Elon Musk

  • avatar

    It wasn’t the only option is was the easiest and most profitable option.

    When shareholder profits and production goals are the primary drivers of a corporation this is the end result.

    VW unethically, if not technically illegally, promoted their product in the vehicle market which was intentionally designed to deceive the environmental friendly regulations that the people of the world chose to enforce.

    It is very hard to comprehend the true nature and consequence of this revelation but I think this a monumental failure of the highest ‘humanity’ level and as this story drags on into week 2/3, I still cannot bring myself to concede any level of forgiveness.

  • avatar

    Other car makers compete with VWs numbers and don’t cheat. So I disagree with Mr Musk. But presumably VWs competitors are preparing their own class action lawsuit…

  • avatar

    Efficiency of an ICE is between 15% and 25%. There’s still a lot of improvement possible. A bit of a game-changer would be an ICE that scores one-third on efficiency. Also, the higher the efficiency, the cleaner the engine will probably perform.

    • 0 avatar

      That assumes the efficiency ceiling is 100%. But that would still be awesome, to even go from 25% to 33%.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        “That assumes the efficiency ceiling is 100%. ”

        I didn’t do well in physics, but the first and second laws of thermodynamics tells me that the efficiency ceiling is <100%.

      • 0 avatar

        The efficiency percentages I mentioned refer to the amount of energy that’s put into the engines, and how much energy is given at the wheels. Most energy losses are frictional and warmth. Another sort of ICE will be necessary to boost the efficiency. What comes to mind first, is an ICE with less friction, therefore less moving parts.

        • 0 avatar

          Less moving parts does not mean less friction nor higher efficiency. In fact, history basically shows that the simpler we make an engine the worse it performs in thermodynamic efficiency.

          Moving parts that increase efficiency when properly applied to that goal:

          Variable Valve Timing systems
          Turbochargers with variable vanes
          Cylinder on demand

          Things that do not increase efficiency:
          Rotary engines
          Two stroke engines without valves

    • 0 avatar

      “the higher the efficiency, the cleaner the engine will probably perform.”

      It’s the opposite. There is a lot of confusion on this website about the differences among NOx, efficiency and MPG.

    • 0 avatar

      Nah- engines are already extremely clean. The easiest way to increase efficiency is to use lean burn, but this is basically filling your cylinder with a bunch of excess oxygen and nitrogen, which tends to react and make these NOx emissions. This is exactly what VW did.

      Carnot efficiency is the theoretical maximum efficiency for a given temperature difference.

  • avatar

    1970 – internal combustion engines have reached their maximum efficiency. Pollution controls are the end of the world.

    1980 – internal combustion engines have reached their maximum efficiency without forced induction. If you want efficient and light, you need turbo!

    2000 – wow – 1970 power with 1990 4-bainger fuel economy out of a V6 engine – who would have though possible!!!

    2005 – internal combustion engines have reached their maximum efficiency without electrification and/or parallel/series hybrids. Peak oil, gas is going to $10 a gallon, doom, gloom!

    2015 – wow, 1970 power with 2005 hybrid (non-Prius) fuel economy out of a 4-cylinder gasoline engine in a 1/2 ton pickup truck.

    Meh – what would you expect Musk to say.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure about your 2015 statement in a pick up truck, but you are pretty accurate on the others.

      • 0 avatar

        The Ecoboost Fords are getting better highway MPG and near city MPG of the BOF and larger car based hybrid SUV offerings of less than 10 years ago. Only the GM hybrids back in the day could also actually work like a real SUV and pull a trailer or carry loads of any consequence. The others couldn’t trailer at all, or had limits of 1000 pounds.

    • 0 avatar

      2005 was pretty accurate prior to fracking being a mature viable technology. I truly believe, at least in part, the Iraq War was fought because this *was* reality in 2001 when it was planned.

  • avatar

    Could liquid piston’s rotary engine be the next big ICE? Possible efficiency numbers reported up to 57%.
    I think it will be a long time before electric motors replace ICEs barring a huge advancement in the battery or method of supplying power.

  • avatar


    easily could have put a catalyst in the exhaust and held a core charge on it for swap out. This is beyond easy to do but extremely costly to the consumer. Not like urea wasnt implemented at the cost of consumer and its basically a second fuel. You can lay it out however you like. Bottom line is that they cheapened out of doing what was required by a pack of morons that accept the oddest ways of cutting emissions. There were much easier and less demonizing ways to have taken on the challenge. It might have been at the expense of the brand image but that is tarnished for good now anyway. Audi is feeling the heat as we speak…

  • avatar

    The VW trickery is not unlike what Tesla does wrt to powertrain. Claim amazing reliability while being unable to make them last 30,000 miles. How about claiming 690 HP when the true number is ~550? Or fake battery swaps to bilk CA taxpayers or ……..

    “Any car company that doesn’t go electric will be out of business.”

    Said the CEO of the first and only auto company to go out of business within the next 5 years.

    • 0 avatar

      …Said the CEO of the first and only auto company to go out of business within the next 5 years…

      If I was taking bets on dead car makers walking, Lotus would be my number one pick over Tesla.

      Tesla is past the “out of business” state – implode and bought by someone? THAT could be possible, but I still say the end game for Tesla is not cars at all, it is going after the ancient concept of a power grid and taking consumers off grid for their own electrification. Small and midsize business first, trickle down to homes second.

    • 0 avatar

      He didn’t have to cheat the taxpayers. He only did it because it’s the only way to make money on electric cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Got any pointers to the data that a P90D is only 550HP when it’s claimed 690? Did a quick search and couldn’t find it. I’m fascinated to see how someone came up with that.

      15 of the listings on Autotrader for a Model S have miles above 30K, one with almost 60K. You’re saying if I call all those people they will all say the powertrain has failed at least once?

  • avatar

    Ultimately we will have to go electric for many of our vehicle needs. So Musk is right in a way but hybrid type vehicles will always be needed for long distance trips. VW turns out alot of crap vehicles as far as reliability is concerned so I have no sadness at them being caught with their hands in some other woman’s private parts. The Japanese are the automotive leaders and everyone is is pretty much second tier as far as technology, quality and reliability is concerned. Read this and weep. America was once the leader but we are barely competitors anymore.

  • avatar

    The demise of ICE is greatly exaggerated. The eventual replacement of ICE with of Electric is greatly exaggerated. The technology of both, and hydrogen fuel cells or who knows what (Mr. Fusion?) will determine how cars evolve. It may well turn out that battery tech doesn’t keep up and Musk’s vision is a dead end.

  • avatar

    Trust me, I heard it from an electric car salesman!

  • avatar

    Musk is clever. His statement is absolute baloney, but most people won’t realize it. He will get publicity for his car company, and publicity for the idea of electrics, and he will make it look as if internal combustion is the technology that isn’t up to the job, and people will engage in magically thinking that within a few years, the range and refueling time problems will be solved.

    • 0 avatar

      Anyone too dim to grasp his comically blatant disingenuity probably won’t be able to afford an EV of any kind let alone one of his boosted golf carts.

      • 0 avatar

        RideHeight. I would have to disagree with you alittle. Only due to the fact that most folks dont really know or care about cars. Did you know that their are some folks who still think that Olds is still making cars (mom). There are alot of folks that will only buy Honda/Toyota due to the fact that its what their dads drove and CR and everyone else says they dont break. These folks that care about what the car runs on, only that its reliable. Thats alot of people.
        So when you have blow hard like this MFing Musk saying self serving stuff as this the first thing some of this group will say is well, I heard on tv that EV are better and gas is killing us.
        just saying.

  • avatar

    Poor old Elon Musk. It’s obvious he hasn’t a clue about IC engine efficiency or developments. Toyota has just introduced a 2.8 liter diesel for the world Hi-Lux that is up to 44% efficiency – goodness knows what pollution standards it meets. Both Honda and Toyota are shooting for 40% thermal efficiency in their latest experimental gasoline engines, up from 38% in the current Prius and Accord hybrids.

    All the greater or lesser crackpot inventors who claim ridiculous efficiencies for their new IC engines forget that cycle efficiency is directly related to the hottest temperature of the working fluid compared to the temperature of the air it inhales. High efficiency means high temperatures, and that creates more of the nitrogen oxide gases that are the real pollutants. The tightrope mainstream engine manufacturers walk is getting the mix of high enough temperature to be reasonably efficient while still developing reasonable power.

    The inventors who claim wacko-high efficiency numbers make the common mistake that high efficiency means low pollution, and that simply is not the case or it would have been designed thirty years ago by every manufacturer’s technical staff during a coffee break. Of course, these inventors think that engineers at car manufacturers are dumb, while they, creative geniuses that they are, have re-invented the wheel. Usually they come up with a rotary engine of some kind that will have seal problems and drink oil. Nobody, not a soul, has yet beaten the poppet valve for sealing – it just works.

    I still say that the electric-hybrid with IC engine (gasoline for minimal “nasty” pollutants”) running at its programmed peak efficiency operating speed is the way to go. Yes, the Prius kind of thing – but there’s nothing saying it has to be deadly dull to drive if it had a big enough battery and electric motor for decent acceleration.

    Straight EVs are OK if you can eliminate coal-fired electricity generating plants. Hydrogen and fuel-cells? Wake me up when the space-age awe and general BS wears off.

  • avatar

    Dear Turd,

    We put a man on the moon using a capsule with less computer power than everyone carries around on their person each and every day, and you’re selling electric cars. Suck it.

  • avatar


    You OBVIOUSLY are selling vehicles that COST TOO MUCH for Main Street to afford and are throwing stones at GOVERNMENT CRONY CAPITALISM passing regulations to make car manufacturers LESS COMPETITIVE.

    Why don’t you tell us about how “the P85D lacks highway passing power” and how you quietly removed the Horsepower rating from your website.

    In fact, I have 1 word for you.


    And as soon as my shares hit $300…I’M SELLING ALL.

  • avatar

    Thing is he is correct. The EPA is pushing for fuel economy numbers that aren’t possible at the price point Americans can afford and or willing to pay. I am not saying the technology doesn’t exist but its expensive and as the old saying goes someone has to pay for it. Automakers are putting largely untested technology into cars to try to claim these fairytale MPG numbers. Putting turbos in everything when the average American driver barely keeps up with the maintenance and driving habits required for regular basic engine configurations.

  • avatar

    Now even though I would never see myself owning anything Volkswagen produces, I don’t see the big deal.

    Correct me if I’m wrong: the current fuel consumption of TDI Volkswagens is better with the hack that VW implemented on their cars. It just isn’t clean as the EPA wants it to be.

    Well, I’m not too concerned, because it’s not like everyone drives a TDI Volkswagen (or a diesel anything, for that matter). The immature nineteen-year-olds with the ‘macho’ PowerStrokes rigged to pour out black smoke on purpose is more of a concern–even then, the Feds shouldn’t become involved, the local police can and do take care of those idiots.

    Once VW rolls out the fix, it is my understanding that MPG will decrease. If I was an owner of a TDI Volkswagen, I wouldn’t feel outraged. I would feel thankful that I’m saving a few $ and wouldn’t take my car in to get this eventual fix.

  • avatar
    George B

    Musk is wrong. Volkswagen sold a lie, “clean diesel” without urea injection, because it was cheaper than developing Diesel engines for US pollution standards. Hard to put a Diesel engine in a cheap car in the US and make money.

  • avatar

    This statement from Musk is total BS. He is expanding diesel problems to all internal combustion engines. Everybody in the Automotive world knows he’s full of it. But his audience is different. Tech savvy millenials who can’t afford Tesla and dream about it and rich generation x-ers who have made their fortunes in tech business (Tesla owners). He is a marketing genius foremost.
    Tesla’s market penetration is only limited to fanboys with the background mentioned before. Model S costs high end 5-series money but their interior quality is comparable to Chrysler 200. Everybody knows it, not everybody admits it. Electric car is not for everybody. The price level of Model S is so high that 95% of the potential customers expect very high mobility form their cars. If they need to take a unexpected business trip 500 miles away or drive around town between business meetings etc the whole day then they cannot be bothered with thoughts about battery range. If the gas tank is empty then they can refill it in 3 minutes and continue with their errands. That is the expectation this kind of customer has. They are not going to make any compromises in their life only because Tesla is a cool car or Elon Musk is a cool guy.

  • avatar

    I beg to differ with Musk. We may have explored the limits of efficiency of ICE when it comes to the quality and formulation of the fuel we currently burn. Let’s not forget that there are fuels such as propane (works in both spark ignition and compression ignition engines) and DME. Both fuels are known for burning much more ‘cleanly’ then current fuels.

    I’ve always wondered how well DME would burn in one of them ‘TDI’ engines.

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