QOTD: How Much Do People Really Care About Emissions?

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro
qotd how much do people really care about emissions

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it has officially emerged that Volkswagen has been lying to the general public like one of those guys who approaches you at a gas station and says his car has broken down and he just needs three more dollars for a bus fare.

This is surprising. Anyone who ever owned a Volkswagen knew that they were a bit sleazy, in the sense that they told you they offered “solid German engineering” when what they really offered was a bunch of untested parts farmed out to the lowest bidder. But we never really expected them to be overtly lying about stuff. Especially stuff as important as emissions results.

Or at least, I say “important,” but then I stop and think about it for a second, and I wonder: How important really are emissions numbers?

The answer is, pretty damn important if you breathe air. As it turns out, these high-polluting Volkswagen diesels are putting out 10 to 40 times more nitrogen oxide than they should be, which can be harmful for people with respiratory problems, or asthma, or basically just anyone who wants their air to be relatively clean.

And 10 to 40 times more than the standard isn’t a small figure. I keep reminding people it isn’t 10 to 40 percent more. It’s 10 to 40 times more. If the EPA standard is 100 somethings, Volkswagen isn’t at 110 to 140 somethings, which would be 10 to 40 percent more. They are at 1,000 to 4,000 somethings, which would be an increase of up to 3,900 percent. That’s a huge figure. And yet…

Given that emissions are generally something we can’t see, they’re something people usually don’t think about all that much. For instance: a Jetta’s engine has a quoted size, and a quoted horsepower rating, and a quoted torque number. There are quoted city and highway fuel economy ratings. But the vast majority of people probably have no idea how emissions are even measured, let alone what the Jetta’s figure is. It isn’t something we think about.

So how much do we really care about emissions?

I say this because I’ve read a huge number of forum posts, comment replies, Tweets, and Facebook statuses from Volkswagen TDI owners over the past few days, insistent that they do not plan on participating in any sort of recall that will limit their performance or fuel economy — and that sort of makes sense. Why would they want to trade something tangible (acceleration or gas mileage) for something they can’t see (emissions) — especially when there are giant semi trucks and huge construction vehicles and enormous factories polluting more than a TDI-powered Volkswagen ever will?

So maybe we don’t consider emissions to be such a big deal.

And yet, would we really be so quick to vilify Volkswagen if we didn’t care about emissions?

I think the answer is actually yes, largely because this isn’t really about emissions. This is about a corporation doing an evil deed — and not a deed they’ve carried out by accident, like faulty tires or a poorly designed ignition switch. This is a corporation that has intentionally engineered a device to violate federal regulations. It isn’t about emissions; it’s about corporate responsibility.

For proof of the fact that we don’t really care about emissions all that much, consider how long it took us to figure out that this was going on. These cars have been driving around and polluting way more than they should’ve for six years now, and the truth is only just coming out after some researchers with amateur-looking test equipment found some irregularities. By comparison, when Ford was overstating fuel economy figures, consumers were down their throats after a few months. The inflated numbers only lasted for one model year.

And so I ask you: Do you care about emissions? Does emissions factor into your decision to buy a vehicle? Or do you just trust your federal regulators to take care of emissions regulation and enforcement for you?

I admit that emissions aren’t something I think about very often. But as this scandal develops, I think that may start to change. For one thing, I’ve made it a point to cough in the general direction of every TDI Volkswagen I see. I’m sure their drivers appreciate this very much.

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6 of 247 comments
  • Ihatetrees Ihatetrees on Sep 26, 2015

    Emissions from car pipes is a classic "Tragedy of the Commons" problem. There's no simple fix - especially given the De jure corruption and third-Worldization of much of our Regulatory State. Heck, here in True Blue NY State, old diesel pickups are emission test exempt. The current binary Pass/Fail model of Emission Testing is broken. Replace it (along with CAFE?!?) with an Emission Tax model. But limit the tax to a certain max - say $500 or a percentage of the vehicle's value - and average - say $100. Scale the tax, based on emissions, exponentially. Most important: Reset emission STANDARDS based on a sampling of the CURRENT vehicle fleet - not some EPA pipehead fantasy. Preventing the Watermelon Lobby's natural tendency to go pliers and blowtorch on drivers and businesses is a must.

    • See 3 previous
    • Pch101 Pch101 on Sep 26, 2015

      @NMGOM Plants need water. Therefore, plants cannot be over-watered, because it isn't possible to have too much of a good thing. Denier logic in action ain't so logical.

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Sep 27, 2015

    Care ? Good Question. Most pollution is not very visible for you when you make it. I recall as a kid in the Bronx, back in the leaded gas days, it was very smoggy. Burn Wood-huge particulates, etc...a wood burning stove is a mess. Classic, warm, great to stand in front of, but a mess. Go to a valley full of wood burners in the wrong weather, and you'll wish for oil heat. Oil Heat-anyone paying attention ? I go through a few hundred gallons a winter...you probably do too. Gas-not as bad, as currently practiced..evaporation emissions are well controlled, engine management is almost perfect-you can get 400 hp, pass regulations, and get 20 mpg. Diesel-NOx is nasty and makes acid rain. You won't smell it, but the change in pH wreaks havoc all throughout the food chain, on coral reefs, and for many forms of life. The US cares about NOx...the EU is all carbon all the time. Who is right ? Two strokes were banned-the only ones you can now buy are "off road use only"- motocross bikes. Even boats banned two strokes. My most recent snowblower is the same as my last snowblower, but the cheapo two stroke was replaced by a cheapo four stroke. For some light motorcycles and jet skis, the two stroke was a better engine, as it is hard to make a four stroke that doesn't mind being inverted or run at severe angles. Makes me want to buy a clean-as in good shape-RD400 to park next to the Superjet. I admit fondness for a good ring-ding and some two stroke oil fragrance...Golden Spectro, anyone ? Even Mr. Eco-Crunch has a foot print, and thinking they don't is delusional. The reality of your personal pollution isn't going to change much because VW broke the law. I'm unhappy because VW has probably bombed my resale value, but beyond that, I just ordered new brakes.

  • Dukeisduke Globally-speaking, in August, BYD was the fourth best-selling brand name. They pushed Ford (which had been fourth) to sixth, behind Hyundai.
  • 2ACL Some of the reported issues sound expensive for all but the most committed wrenchers. Scant documentation on some of the previous work is also a minus. I wouldn't mind something like this, but whereas the seller is trying to make room, I don't have any for something this intensive.
  • Merc190 Any Alfa has a unique character built in, so there's that, once you get it running properly, until it doesn't...
  • Syke Yeah, no sympathy for the dealerships whatsoever. I've gone enough thru training a dealership's salesperson under the guise of trying to buy an EV. I'm pleasantly surprised that Ford's insisting on Level 3 DC Fast Charging rather than the usual Level 2 that most dealerships have now. This is definitely forcing a commitment on the part of the dealer that they're going to be serious about selling EV's.Oh yeah, DC Fast Charging is never free, so you're definitely talking another income stream for the dealership. The big question is are they smart enough to make something real of it?I continue to say that the legacy automakers biggest problem when it comes to selling EV's is their own dealerships. And this article really drives that home.
  • SCE to AUX Yeah, I'm going to spend 5 or 6 figures on a used/abused car from a punk.