If Corporations Were People, VW Would be Bernie Madoff

Auto emissons

No, seriously, I can pass the emissions test, just put me on the machine. I’m a Volkswagen clean diesel, for crying out loud.

Volkswagen has just perpetrated on the United States and possibly the world an act of criminality that is stunning for its scale, depravity, and lack of a payoff. The company — the whole company, not just a few proverbial bad apples — has been caught designing its diesel cars (The Jetta, Passat and the BMW X5) to control their emissions when being tested, but to remove those controls when being driven normally. As a result, for six years about half a million diesel autos have been emitting 40 times the nitrous oxide, a smog precursor, allowed by law. The cars that did this were marketed as “clean diesels.”

In an article headlined “Pure Evil, VW Edition,” a website called Reality Based Community explained what the company did:

Code was written into the engine-control software to detect the pattern of pedal and steering operations characteristic of an emissions test. Then, and only then, the car’s emissions-control machinery would kick in. Once the test was over, the software noticed that, too, and returned to normal – that is to say, illegally and dangerously dirty – operations. That meant emitting about 40x the permitted -and advertised – level of nitrous oxide, which makes smog.

A couple of clean-air advocacy groups, struck by some discrepancies in European emissions testing on the vehicles, decided to do some rigorous tests in the United States, whose emissions controls are tougher than Europe’s. They engaged a West Virginia University research center that had developed a device for testing emissions while driving, not on a stationary emissions tester.

When the EPA was presented with the astonishing results, it immediately (in May of last year) opened an investigation. VW responded by announcing that it had found the problem; that it was devising a software patch; and was recalling half a million cars to “fix” them. Problem was, tests of the fixed cars yielded the same elevated emissions (although they easily passed the standard emissions tests).

VW suggested more tinkering. It was then that regulators observed that, lacking an actual fix, Volkswagen’s diesel cars would not be certified for sale in the United States in 2016.

Ouch. VW was desperate to revive its flagging US sales, and had chosen to do so by emphasizing its “clean diesel” cars rather than, say, hybrid or electric vehicles. Faced with losing the ability to sell any diesels in American, VW promptly admitted to the entire, six-years-long scam. The stock market immediately vaporized nearly one-quarter of VW’s share value (proving yet again that it is possible to make a hyena gag). The company is facing fines that will amount to billions of dollars, and the possibility of criminal prosecution of executives.

Even if we’ve become jaded by the callous venality of Big Business, one aspect of this case, in addition to its scale, is mind boggling: VW impaired the health of millions of people, probably contributing to the premature death of some of them, in a criminal conspiracy involving hundreds, maybe thousands of their employees for no apparent measurable return. The only benefit of turning off all emissions controls was a slightly peppier acceleration. For this they risked their company? And going to jail?

It is well,” wrote Scott Peck, “that evil is so stupid.” Maybe so, but when evil is industrial sized, too big to jail, its stupidity makes it even more dangerous. Just when you congratulate yourself that it’s the dinosaurs that are going extinct, not you, one of them falls on you.


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10 Responses to If Corporations Were People, VW Would be Bernie Madoff

  1. Tom says:

    i guess they took their business model from Monsanto which is actively trying, by way of genetic engineering of plants, to kill us all by poisoning us with their “food crops.”

    i don’t get it, but i’m no corporate big-wig.

    It seems that corporations should have been outlawed and banned before they became popular. Too late now, as it is for humanity at this point.

    • daniel reich says:

      Tom, yes I believe you’re right. If I’m not mistaken, I think corporations were originally entities that were given a temporary charter in order to fulfill a specific public project, such as building a bridge, dam or perhaps a road. After completion of said project the charter was then revoked and the incorporated entity dissolved. Forgive me if I’m mistaken but I believe this is so.

  2. Tom says:


    VW rocked by emissions scandal as prosecutors come calling


    VW shares closed at a nearly three-year low of 133.70 euros.

    VW, facing as much as $18 billion in fines, halted U.S. sales of the affected vehicles and pledged to cooperate with regulators after finally acknowledging its scheme on Sept. 3, Purchia said.

    The EPA warned VW Friday that in addition to corporate fines of up to $37,500 per vehicle, individuals could be fined $3,750 per violation of the Clean Air Act, which could theoretically add up to nearly $1.9 billion, given the number of cars involved.

    [astoundingly dumb move by VW to allow this to happen by being shady]

  3. Arnie says:

    I’d go slow on this one. It may be that almost all the mfg. have to do the same to get reasonable performance. Just because the bureaucrats say do something, it may be impossible.

    • daniel reich says:

      To Arnie, I heard there is an ongoing investigation into allegations that VW sold the software to other car mfg’s.

    • daniel reich says:

      I am unsympathetic. People don’t need to be running around in high performance vehicles. They drive too damned fast anyway. Our highways are literally paved in the blood of millions. And what about the sheer criminal waste of the last of our most valuable resource. People should be running around on mopeds and scooters, not race cars. There aren’t words enough to express the level of lunacy here.

      • I’ve been driving diesel cars for nearly three decades and it’s not at all about the performance, it’s about the fuel economy. If you want to rant about people driving more car (or more engine) than they need, go medieval on the assholes in Escalades and 300 horsepower Acura coupes.

  4. daddio7 says:

    Around here people just rechip their diesel’s computer. You ever seen a dually burn rubber?