By on January 22, 2016

Many staffers and managers within Volkswagen’s engine-development department knew about Volkswagen’s illegal emissions-cheating “defeat device,” including a whistleblower who told other executives, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported (via Reuters).

The report said that there was a “desperation” among engineers tasked with creating a U.S.-emissions compliant diesel engine. Rather than going to the executive board with a failed engine, workers developed the cheat system to avoid repercussions from higher-ups.

The report also indicates that Volkswagen alone — not alongside auto supplier Bosch — created the defeat device.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung cited a source within Volkswagen who helped manipulate software to evade emissions tests, but said the source alerted another senior executive outside the department who said nothing.

According to Reuters, Volkswagen in Germany didn’t comment on the report.

The German newspaper said the department took a “Schweigegelübde,” or “vow of silence” to protect themselves during the investigation because that’s just a nightmare for Volkswagen.

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54 Comments on “Report: Many Volkswagen Managers Knew About ‘Defeat Device’...”


  • avatar

    The hidden scandal is that the EU practically facilitated Volkswagen (and perhaps more car makers) to “cheat on their exams”. It’s going to become messy. A special EU parliamentary commission will investigate if signals from researchers who suspected that tricks were being used were deliberately ignored by the EU. Remember that the ball started rolling by researchers bringing this to the attention of the EPA and the CARB.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      That’s different. It just means the tests in Europe are full of loopholes so everyone gets a higher score than they should – but improvements are generally real because test results can (to an extent) be compared to each other. It’s similar to have CAFE requires a certain mileage that’s measured by an old test that gives higher results than the current EPA test.

      Engineers should be expected to maximize their results within the constraints of the regulations. The diesel emissions defeat clearly went beyond that.

    • 0 avatar
      FrankAtlanta

      In other news – water is wet…

  • avatar
    VCplayer

    Well this is one theory that had been proposed, Winterkorn’s pressure on the engineering group forced them into an improvised “solution” that upper management was largely ignorant of. There are still some questions though. Someone further up the chain should have been asking questions about how they were managing to do all of this. I suppose its possible that the engineers fooled them, but it will be interesting to see how this shakes out.

    This whole mess is just such a stereotype of German cooperate culture. When they make a movie about this It’ll be super-easy to write.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    Everyone at a corporation reports to someone so I find it hard to believe that it stopped at the engineers. Also, if creating a emissions compliant diesel was such a worrisome and sought after mandate from the board such that everyone was concerned for their job and created the cheat device, I find it hard to believe that when the engine was presented that nobody bothered to ask “how did you do it” among all the back patting and congratulatory banter.

    More likely was-

    -Board: “Hey engineers, go create a small diesel engine that will comply with strict US emissions standards at all costs, it is imperative for the future of the company”

    -Engineers: “Well we have this urea injector thingy that would make our engines compliant for a few thousand dollars in parts”

    -Board: “When I said at all costs, I didn’t mean use real money dammit, go find a way to make it happen or your fired”

    -Engineers: “We found a way to make it work….iiiiits not exactly totally, 100% legit but should do the trick, see what we did was…..”

    -Board: “We’ve heard all we need to hear, not another word, get lost…. go find a way to add to our bottom line by further de-contenting North American interiors peasant!”

    I think it works best if you are imagining Clark Griswold’s boss from Christmas vacation yelling it across a long boardroom table.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “-Board: “Hey engineers, go create a small diesel engine that will comply with strict US emissions standards at all costs, it is imperative for the future of the company””

      No, because they didn’t have “all costs.” it appears they were given the contrasting mandates to make their diesels pass EPA regulations, and make it cheap enough so VW could chase sales volume to become #1 in the world.

      It’s not that it wasn’t possible to make a diesel pass, it just wasn’t feasible to do under the cost constraints they were given.

      “I find it hard to believe that when the engine was presented that nobody bothered to ask “how did you do it” among all the back patting and congratulatory banter.”

      I subscribe to Bob Lutz’s take on the situation. Ferdinand Piëch probably said “You will make this engine pass the test, and if you cannot I will replace you with people who can.”

      http://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/a27197/bob-lutz-vw-diesel-fiasco/

      “I’ll give you the recipe. I called all the body engineers, stamping people, manufacturing, and executives into my conference room. And I said, ‘I am tired of all these lousy body fits. You have six weeks to achieve world-class body fits. I have all your names. If we do not have good body fits in six weeks, I will replace all of you. Thank you for your time today.’ “

      • 0 avatar
        thegamper

        I get it, that’s why the board demanded they not use real money and threatened to fire the engineers in my hypothetical lol, just sort of my take on how ridiculous it would be for people higher up to know absolutely nothing about the situation.

        • 0 avatar

          Don’t discount arrogant incompetence.
          It’s possible that upper levels have no engineers in their ranks,so they wouldn’t know know what’s going on,combined w/the assumption “OUR engineers are the best in the world,so of course they can do something no one else can.”

          • 0 avatar
            JMII

            I can see that exact scenario taking place. They were so drunk on the Kool Aid they start to believe in miracles themselves.

            The real shame is diesel was just starting to make inroads with mainstream vehicles. Now nobody will trust it and the stereotype of diesel being “dirty” has been confirmed. The uphill battle went from steep, to steep AND icy.

          • 0 avatar
            outback_ute

            I don’t think this would be the case at VW.

            To pass the emissions must have been a large, difficult project and it is inconceivable that nobody asked “so, how did you do it?”

      • 0 avatar
        NickS

        @JimZ — even if it can be made conceivable that higher-ups didn’t know (unbelievable that it is), that still does not answer the issue of other engineers not inquiring at least in private deliberations and circles, how their colleagues met their target. This happens all the time in engineering — no-one can achieve some pie-in-the-sky target without at least their closer colleagues wanting to know more about how they did it. It’s not like the parts catalog of the gen 1 TDIs was restricted from view of anyone else.

        And once some colleagues know, you can be assured that eventually there will be lots of winks and nudges that everyone will understand there is something fundamentally fishy about the “breakthrough”. These types of allegations have a way of leaking out to partners, competitors, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        Ol Shel

        And that’s a slick way to get others to break laws, insulating yourself. If you have power over others, you dictate the terms. “Make it happen or lose your ability to provide for your family” isn’t illegal, but 9 times out of 10, it’ll get that worker to break the law. And it leaves the manager or CEO in the clear.

        I’ve been in an upper level meeting when decisions were made to hide a dangerous product from regulators. I was too stupid to blow the whistle myself. I can easily see how these things happen.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    This crisis/scandal has killed the VW secret cold fusion motor project, where execs instructed VW engineers to design/build cold fusion motor powered vehicles, and the engineers, afraid of adverse consequences had they stated it was not possible, told the execs they would meet the deadline and project parameters.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    No big surprises here.

    Bosch doesn’t write calibrations for the automakers and if they did they wouldn’t be stupid enough to do a cheat like this.

    Of course almost all, if not all of the people who had any significant part in the development of the engines in question along with the management of those progjects had to know that they were cheating. Maybe they didn’t know the specific details but they claimed to pull of the impossible so the managers would want to know how it was done, and if any of it was patent-able.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Of course they knew they were cheating. It’s an open secret that manufacturers cheat on EU tests (taped-down body seams, high tire pressures, no mirrors, equipment removed), so it’s inconceivable that they didn’t know cheating was going-on with the EPA test. It’s just pure arrogance and incompetence that led them to believe that they would not get caught.

      • 0 avatar
        wmba

        And they would tape the doors and inflate the tires beyond normal for an NOx test on a rolling road?

        What you equate as common knowledge and repeated here on TTAC by Cole endlessly with no solid evidence I’m aware of, might be applicable for a fuel consumption test by some shady type approval private outfit, and there are indeed some of those – Mosley uses them.

        But since the EPA test for emissions splits up the cycle into three parts, is run on a rolling road dynamometer and collects the emitted gases for analysis, I’d suggest your imagination is in overdrive. Sealing the doors shut is useless in an indoor lab – they apply correction factors for aerodynamics. The only way to get low NOx emissions is to put in the software cheat.

        Here’s an actual reputable lab testing in the UK:

        http://www.smmt.co.uk/2014/09/myth-busting-nedc-fuel-consumption-test-cycle/

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          You are correct that taping the seams doesn’t do any good on the dyno. As you noted they apply correction factors for aerodynamics. THat is not true they apply a correction factor for total drag. So not only aero but also the mechanical drag. How do they do that? By coast down tests, where those taped over body seams and over inflated tires do make a difference. So they apply a fictitious drag correction to cheat that test.

          You are also incorrect in your assertion that the only way to get low NOx is to put in the software cheat. No the only way to get the power and fuel economy in the real world is to put in the software cheat. The cars do pass emissions when the computer senses that it is operating in test conditions. The rest of the time they choose not to use the emissions control components.

          There is a reason why it is common for TDI owners to report significantly better than EPA estimates as real world mileage.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          VW TDIs are just missing the brodozer’s ability to roll coal.

          Except of course for the “test cycle”, TDIs run a hot off-road tuner/programmer or “chip”, no different that what diesel pickups are known to run, with impressive hp/tq gains, while simultaneously getting dramatically improved fuel economy. Yes at the expense of exponentially dirtier emissions.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          wmba,

          You refer to NEDC and EPA tests interchangeably. The EPA has repeatedly cracked-down on companies that fudge correction factors (for air/rolling resistance, and weight), whereas the EU has not.

          My point was that VW and other manufacturers are used to “teaching to the test” in the EU, because it’s such an important factor in their competitive positioning (lower CO2 means lower registration fees, more fleet sales, etc).
          VW executives (and everyone else) knew this was going on with NEDC tests, therefore they knew that optimizations were used to pass stricter EPA tests. The misunderstanding is the fact that such optimizations (aka cheating) is not tolerated in the US.

          Arguably, it really was a cultural misunderstanding, and one more example of how VW has misunderstood the US for decades.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Taping the doors, etc. for the EU fuel economy tests isn’t cheating. Those gimmicks are allowed.

        Activist groups have been grousing about EU fuel economy testing for many years. The numbers are grossly exaggerated, presumably because fuel economy plays a significant role in determining registration fees, etc. as well as compliance with the EU’s own CAFE-style fuel economy standards.

        It seems that the US has found the solution to this: Report one set of fairly realistic numbers for the consumer window sticker, and a second higher set of numbers that the consumer never sees for CAFE purposes.

        None of that has anything to do with the defeat devices. Defeat devices are related to NOx, not to fuel economy, and those devices are illegal in the US. Installing them is a violation of federal law, period.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The NOx levels and fuel economy are tied together because in general they follow each other. Run high EGR rates to control, or help control NOx and MPG goes down.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Defeat devices are illegal. Prepping a car to produce better results on a European fuel economy test is not.

            The two issues are completely different. VAG violated US federal law. In the EU, the fuel economy test produces horribly optimistic results for every OEM yet such results are legal.

    • 0 avatar
      TheDoctorIsOut

      One of the most common practices in the auto industry occurs when a manufacturer releases a new car and their competitors immediately buy a few to do a complete tear down to the last fender washer to uncover the secrets. Usually this is to figure out where they took the costs out of the car, in this case I suspect BMW and Mercedes did it to figure out how VW was able to sneak one past the regulatory goalies without the high cost of the urea injection. My feeling is their engineers have been laughing their asses off ever since they analyzed VW’s “magic canister” to find its secrets and how they found a way around the AdBlue and found instead the engineering equivalent of Three Card Monte going on in there. As an engineer although in another discipline I admit to slyly admiring VW’s chutzpah of an engineering solution, if it hadn’t been for a couple of academics probably no one would have ever found this out and been none the wiser for it.

      • 0 avatar
        grinchsmate

        In sch a situation do Merc engineers keep their mouth shut out of some kind of professional solidarity, expectation of some quid pro quo, shared joy of fooling authority, or are they just playing out the rope, a million car recall being more damaging than a thousand car recall?

        Also how did VW engineers know that Merc engineers wouldn’t say anything?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Cue Sgt Schultz.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Over the weekend I may spend the time on Custom Ink to do my VW inspired t-shirt:

    CREAN DIESER?

    HA HA!

    -Toyota

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Anyone with a brain has known that the Few Rogue Engineers story was a load of c*** from the get go. Nothing happens on this scale without a large number of people being explicitly aware of it, and an even larger number of people making sure that they don’t ask questions.

    VW’s corporate culture has been revealed as deeply corrupt.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    The company I used to work for had a very autocratic past. The technical staff were not college educated engineers. They were bright union shop people given non-union, quasi-engineering positions. If one of them displeased management, he was busted back to his old job in the shop.

    Management assigned the engineers a major project with a short deadline and an inadequate budget. Because no one dared tell management, the engineers conspired with the shop to secretly mis-allocate labor and materials from other projects to this one. Management never caught on. The subterfuge did come back to bite the engineers. Management was so pleased with how well this project turned out that they ordered the engineers to build two more like it with the same budget and deadline.

    Given what I have read about the VW culture, I can well believe engineers did what they had to in order to keep their jobs and kept it secret from top management. There are times when it’s appropriate for a top manager to tell his subordinates that, if they can’t do their jobs, he will replace them with someone who can. However, it’s incumbent on the manager to know whether an assigned task is feasible or just a pipe dream. Since VW engineers seemed to have accomplished what none of the competition could, it was management’s responsibility to understand how they did it just to prevent a predicament like the current one.

    • 0 avatar
      NickS

      I have only worked with bona fide engineers so I can’t comment on the dynamic you describe, but regarding this:
      “it was management’s responsibility to understand how they did it just to prevent a predicament”

      it is only one of many motivations that forces managers to understand the details of the breakthrough. In any normal product dev effort involving engineers, there is a lot of due diligence by other engineers (via internal and external reviews), lawyers who will go after new tech with reckless abandon to make sure it doesn’t violte any laws, copyright, etc. And even more importantly, any breakthrough like a low cost way to scrub nox will have the IP team swoop in to lock in the innovation and carve out a monopoly in the segment or secure a potential licensing revenue stream.

      There is either massive collusion going on, or maybe something like you describe, whereby neanderthals are put in charge of managing well-educated highly skilled professonals. I only had this once early on in my career and half of my colleagues found new jobs in 2 weeks.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      I have assumed from the start that the top brass instructed the engineers to get it done with a production budget per unit that was inadequate to pay for the emissions hardware that was needed to get it done. The underlings would have been set up to fail.

      The messenger who tells management that the goal is impossible is the messenger who gets shot. So it’s easier to fake it with software (which essentially costs nothing to install once the code is written) and hope for the best.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    And in other news, Takata added to their body count today.

    http://www.leftlanenews.com/ford-airbag-death-prompts-another-takata-recall-expansion-90816.html

    • 0 avatar
      RazorTM

      And VW hasn’t killed anyone…

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        What gave you the idea that pollution doesn’t kill people?

        • 0 avatar
          RazorTM

          What gave you the idea that Volkswagen’s diesels are more than a drop of water in a swimming pool?

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Just a hint: If you are ever accused of murdering someone, it won’t help to claim that it was acceptable because you killed only one guy on a planet with seven billion others.

            We have pollution standards because pollution makes people sick and shortens their lives. You may not know or care, but there are others who have more influence who do.

        • 0 avatar
          RideHeight

          “What gave you the idea that pollution doesn’t kill people?”

          Doesn’t kill them like this (very graphic):

          http://tinyurl.com/zlqdqgt

          Sure, prosecute VW to the fullest but the Takata disaster needs a whole different level of response. It amounts to loose munitions snuck into private property.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            An acceptable defect rate for airbags is about one per million. Takata’s was supposedly as high as 80 per million. So instead of a failure rate of 0.0001%, Takata’s was 0.008%.

            No excuses for Takata, but cars with its defective airbags were probably safer than the same cars with no airbags at all.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            “it won’t help to claim that it was acceptable because you killed only one guy on a planet with seven billion others.”

            +

            “An acceptable defect rate for airbags is about one per million.”

            =

            Airbags are over 7 thousand times more licensed to kill than is the average person.

          • 0 avatar
            grinchsmate

            I didn’t look because I assume it is shrapnel to the face and who wants to see that, but it’s still more pleasant than some kind of lung disease.

  • avatar
    Mathias

    I don’t get this morbid fascination in the press — German and American — with who knew what when.

    Whether the company is cheating from the top down or whether cheating occurs because the top sets unrealistic expectations and then doesn’t realize when the engineers cheat — it comes to the same thing.

    VW management owns the whole thing and will have to see it through either way.

    This isn’t eight grade.

    What impresses me is how long this information was kept from leaking out. German engineers are a breed apart, it would seem. I can’t see this sort of thing staying secret at Ford or GM for three months.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “I don’t get this morbid fascination in the press — German and American — with who knew what when.”

      “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    • 0 avatar
      NickS

      Some people have enough intellectual curiosity about this to want to know who knew what, when. Given most people’s corp and engineering experience something about the VW case doesn’t add up. It is only natural to want to know more about what went wrong in case it uncovers similar shortcomings elsewhere. Every CEO out there worries about some fiasco like this hiding inside one of their popular products. Every engineer would like to know if the incentive structure or management practice in place played any role. Heck, some lawmakers might be interested in enacting some new rules and regulations.

      This is not a VW problem only. Every corp would love to have cases of malfeasance treated as an internal matter.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        German Tour Guide: You vill find more on Germany’s contributions to ze arts in ze pamphlets ve have provided.

        Brian : Yeah, about your pamphlet… uh, I’m not seeing anything about German history between 1939 and 1945. There’s just a big gap.

        Tour guide: Everyone vas on vacation! On your left is Munich’s first city hall, erected in 15…

        Brian : Wait, what are you talking about? Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and…

        Tour Guide: We were invited. Punch vas served. Check vit Poland.

        Brian : You can’t just ignore those years. Thomas Mann fled to America because of Nazism’s stranglehold on Germany.

        Tour guide: Nope, nope. He left to manage a Dairy Queen.

        Brian : A Dairy Queen? That’s preposterous.

        Tour guide: I vill hear no more insinuations about the German people! Nothing bad happened! Sie werden sich hinsetzen! Sie werden ruhig sein! Sie werden nicht beleidigen Deutschland!

        Brian : Uh, is that a beer hall?

        Tour guide: (Snapping out of it) Oh yes, Munich is renowned for its historic beer halls.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    I’ve said this in other threads, but it bears repeating here: this is a classic example of a corporate culture that does not provide space for healthy, reasonable questioning and pushback on the executive team on the part of the people doing the work.

    As I tell my team on a regular basis: I never have a problem with you giving me a solid, rational argument why something cannot be accomplished on the schedule and budget assigned; but we will have major issues if you obfuscate, outright lie, or lie through omission.

    The classic story of Piech’s demands for 3mm panel gaps (as told by Bob Lutz) and how he accomplished said goal in the ’90s is really all you need to know.

    And while I agree that this all reeks of a classic example of how German corporations operate, the stories of both the shuttles Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 carry similar lessons, as well as stories about how large investment banks and mortgage brokers were run in the lead up to the financial crisis in late 2007-2008.

    Not unique to Volkswagen, but the case studies that will be written in the coming years will be pretty darned interesting reads, no doubt.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      hreardon,
      I agree with you totally in your analysis of how most and institutionalised organisation works.

      It isn’t just industry that operates in this manner or just the Germans, but all, globally from poor African nations to large political parties, government, religion, etc. The outcome here will be quite predictable. The lowest possible (believable) denominator/s involved with this scandal become the scapegoat.

      We call it “damage control”. Every institution will have it’s own culture, but the basics are the same or very similar in how we as humans operate in large groups.

      You can almost flowchart the outcome by using the following tenets of how institutional culture works.

      1. The institution comes first and must be protected at all costs, if the institution dies, so does all surrounding it, (in VW’s case much money will be lost affecting millions of people)

      2. the Chain of Command starting at the top must be protected, if the CoC is broken and distrust occurs, then those below will lack direction, (again a financial plus a leadership issue in maintaining the institution) and

      3. once the above has been protected, we then move to the outcome, the victim or violator will only be given enough protection to not interfere with the minimisaton of fallout. This will ensure the best possible protection of the institution and CoC. Again, in VW’s case the least possible financial cost.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    This link makes for some very interesting reading with some startling claims.

    I wonder if the US motor vehicle industry is any better than the EU? Especially with some pollutant emissions that would not pass a 1993 emissions test.

    Have a read.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/business-35363264

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      EU emissions are as much a joke to EU car makers as they are to EU emissions officials. Clearly the US fleet of cars is close to full compliance for the year they sold new. Of course Europe never required catalytic converters before 1992!

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @ Big Al from OZ
      From the Which test there are vastly more Petrol cars on the roads, so they are a huge risk. Not only N0x,(10%)but the majority CO, the last pollutant, extremely dangerous
      “In our tests, 95% of diesel cars, along with 10% of petrol cars, pump out more NOx than EU limits allow. The majority of petrol cars we’ve tested also exceed carbon monoxide (CO) limits – and some hybrid cars are not as innocent as claimed.”

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        RobertRyan,
        In the big scheme of things I think the US and EU systems for measuring FE and emissions are as corruptable as each other.

        The reality is the figures used by the EPA are done within a lab like environment. Yes they do measure emissions and FE. But the results hardly reflect reality.

        Take a Pentastar powered Ram, from what I’ve read most are only getting between 17-18mpg. How much more noxious emissions is this vehicle spewing out in comparison to the EPA test results?

        Take the aluminium F-150 2.7 EcoThirst with it’s fantastic retro V8 FE of 15.6mpg (that’s average!). What is it spewing out of it’s exhaust as well.

        It’s well and good to be critical of VW, they did do the wrong thing. The diesel VWs where only emitting 30 times above what was set as the minnimum standard.

        There are currently GDI engines out there emitting up to 1 000 time the particulates that a “legal” diesel is emitting. Sort of makes the VW with it’s defeat software look clean.

        The US system is as dopey as the EU system. The manufacturers have way too much input into the design of these standards and regulations.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Heavy vehicles, especially with small engines, can easily drop way below the EPA average FE if not driven gingerly. What’s your point? The EPA tests can be “gamed” no doubt, but nothing like EU “testing” letting OEMs slide through with a wink and a nod.

          And it’s this EU influence and “one world” thinking that pressures US OEMs into too small of engines for their respective loads. This compounds the gaming here in the US.

          So it is possible to match EPA averages depending on how easy you are on the pedal, but meeting the European test averages would be an absolute joke! You’re looking a small cars that can theoretically match the FE of Mopeds!!

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    Give VW execs credit for consistency.

    They aren’t afraid to keep lying.

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