Wednesday, April 6, 2016

VW Says: Thank You Sir! May I have Another? - by Eric Peters

So why did VW “cheat”? Uncle?
That question hasn’t been asked enough. It ought to be.
Now we have the answer – confirmation of what I suspected and wrote about earlier when this “scandal” broke last year.
VW “cheated” because it had to.
Because “cheating” was the only way to keep on selling diesel engines that delivered the mileage buyers expected at a cost that made economic sense to them.
Satisfying Uncle – passing his Rube Goldberg-esque emissions tests, which among other defects don’t measure the totality of a vehicle’s output – grams per mile –  but rather sample parts per million (PPM) with the vehicle in a stationary test rig, would have entailed a noticeable reduction in fuel efficiency and a very noticeable uptick in the cost of the vehicle. Or rather, the cost of the additional hardware necessary to placate Uncle.
Now there’s proof of this.
European Uncles have discovered that diesel-powered VW vehicles “fixed” to comply with the tests use more fuel now – which is a problem over there because European Uncles also regulate carbon dioxide (C02), which is classified as a “pollutant” because Global Warming (whoops, Climate Change).
The more fuel used, the more C02 produced. You see the problem.
Which isn’t the displeasure of the European Uncles.
It’s the fact that you can’t have your affordable/high-mileage diesel cake and eat your making-Uncle-happy, too. There is a reason why there are no modestly priced diesel-powered cars available in the United States … now that VW’s cars are off the market.
VW was the only automaker selling them – and now, they’re not.
And not likely to, ever again.
You can make a diesel that makes Uncle happy. But you can’t make one that makes Uncle happy and which is also affordable to buy and delivers mileage high enough to offset the always-higher price of buying a diesel car vs. the equivalent gas-powered version of the same car.
This is why all the diesel-powered cars you can still buy in this country are expensive cars.
All of them well over $30,000 – which renders moot considerations of economy. People buy Audi, BMW and Mercedes diesels for other reasons, such as abundant low-speed torque and the ability to go 600 miles on a tank of fuel. But it’s ridiculous to talk of “economy” when the car itself costs so much that any savings you realize by driving it are negated by the cost of purchasing it.
It is worth a mention in this vein that GM has quietly stopped selling the diesel-powered version of the Chevy Cruze sedan.
Though it cost significantly more than its VW analog – the $21,640 Jetta TDI – the 2015 Cruze diesel’s MSRP of $25,660 was still plausibly affordable.
As Inspector Clouseau used to say – not anymore.
Not at all, actually.
The Cruze diesel sleeps with the fishes. And it’s not just because the car has been redesigned for 2016. GM is still selling the 2015 Cruze – leftover last year’s models – as the 2016 Cruze Limited.
But not with the diesel engine.
Because Uncle.
That leaves… no one.
VW’s out. GM – which had its toe in the water – has pulled out. Mazda, which had planned to bring diesels to the U.S. – isn’t coming in at all.
And still, no one in the industry will say what needs to be said. That Uncle has made it impossible to sell affordable diesels by imposing tailpipe emissions standards – and tests – that are unreasonable and which cannot be complied with without watering down the main reasons most people consider buying a diesel-powered car.
The cars are not “dirty,” first of all.
The “up to 40 times” stuff you’ve been hearing the crows in the media squawk about is never put into context, never defined. “Up to 40 times” is a scare term, fundamentally dishonest – because it implies that the output is in fact “40 times” rather than “up to“… which is a hell of a spread.
What if the actual output of objectionable-to-Uncle stuff is just 2-3 times? And what if that “2-3” times more represents a fraction of a percent?
Why can’t – why won’t – anyone in the car business call Uncle’s bluff and bluster on this? Explain the fact that the tailpipe emissions of news cars (all of them) are nearly emissions-free?
The feigned wailing and gnashing of teeth is over percents of a percent … 95-plus percent of any new car’s exhaust stream having been rendered “clean” years ago. VW is accused of “cheating” on a percent of the remaining 3 or so percent of the exhaust stream that could – theoretically- be further “cleaned.”
The problem now is one of cost vs. gains.
To get at that remaining 20 percent of 1 percent (to toss out a number, or a fraction of a number) will not be inexpensive – or easy. The question that must be asked if we are not to leap over the cliff like out-of-our-minds lemmings is, simply:
Is it worth doing?   
By any sane standard, the answer is – no!
There comes a point called diminishing returns. It is the point at which people who aren’t crazy begin to throttle back, pursue more effective gains elsewhere.
For example, if we’re really sweating these minuscule emissions, why not relax the federal “safety” mandates that have made cars so got-damned heavy that even subcompacts now weigh on average 2,500 pounds?
Yes, they are “safer” to be in, if you happen to run into a tree. But they are also heavy and that means more engine to lug them around and that means you use more fuel and – wait for it – the resultant total emissions output of the car (grams per mile) will be higher, even if the PPM is low on the test stand.
All else being equal, an 1,800 pound car with a 1 liter  diesel that averages 60 MPG will produce less of everything (including CO2, Captain Planet) than a 2,400 pound car that needs a 2 liter engine to heave its bulk and so only averages 40 MPG.    
But we live in an insane – and cowardly era.
Despite the cruel experience of the past several months – absolutely no mercy having been shown, the company kicked in the guts like a cur dog as it writhes on the floor –  VW is begging for more.   
It caves to every ridiculous demand. Challenges nothing Uncle says. Leaves the impression that Uncle was right, that VW deserves to be kicked in the guts like a cur dog for trying to build cars that would be what buyers were interested in rather than what Uncle was demanding they be.
The likely result of this will be the ruin of VW, which maybe VW deserves – though not for reason of “cheating” Uncle.
Rather, for not having the balls to tell Uncle to pound sand…
And for not going to bat for us – the people who buy the cars.