VW Accused Of Using Software To Fool Emissions Tests: Welcome To The Internet Of Cheating Things

from the is-that-domestic-appliance-lying-to-you? dept

There have been a number of stories on Techdirt recently about the increasing use of software in cars, and the issues that this raises. For example, back in April, Mike wrote about GM asserting that while you may own the car, the company still owns the software that runs it. You might expect GM to come out against allowing you to modify that software, but very recently we reported that it had received support from a surprising quarter: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA had a particular concern that engine control software might be tampered with, causing cars to breach emissions regulations. We've just found out that the EPA was right to worry about this, but not for the reason it mentioned, as the The New York Times explains:

The Environmental Protection Agency issued [the German car manufacturer Volkswagen] a notice of violation and accused the company of breaking the law by installing software known as a "defeat device" in 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from model years 2009-15. The device is programmed to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and to only turn on full emissions control systems during that testing. Those controls are turned off during normal driving situations, when the vehicles pollute far more heavily than reported by the manufacturer, the E.P.A. said.
So, just as the EPA feared, software that regulates the emissions control system was indeed tampered with, though not by reckless users, but by the cars' manufacturer, Volkswagen (VW), which must now recall nearly half a million cars, and faces the prospect of some pretty big fines -- Reuters speaks of "up to $18 billion". The EPA's Notice Of Violation (pdf) spells out the details of what it calls the software "switch":
The "switch" senses whether the vehicle is being tested or not based on various inputs including the position of the steering wheel, vehicle speed, the duration of the engine's operation, and barometric pressure. These inputs precisely track the parameters of the federal test procedure used for emission testing for EPA certification purposes. During EPA emission testing, the vehicles' ECM [electronic control module] ran software which produced compliant emission results under an ECM calibration that VW referred to as the "dyno calibration" (referring to the equipment used in emission testing, called a dynamometer). At all other times during normal vehicle operation, the "switch" was activated and the vehicle ECM software ran a separate "road calibration" which reduced the effectiveness of the emission control system (specifically the selective catalytic reduction or the lean NOx [nitrous oxides] trap.) As a result, emission of NOx increased by a factor of 10 to 40 times above the EPA compliant levels, depending on the type of drive cycle (e.g. city, highway).
That trick was discovered by the West Virginia University's Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines & Emissions when studying the VW vehicles. Initially, VW claimed that the increased emissions were due to "technical issues" and "unexpected in-use conditions." But further tests confirmed the problem, and eventually VW admitted "it had designed and installed a defeat device in these vehicles in the form of a sophisticated software algorithm that detected when a vehicle was undergoing emissions testing."

It's significant that the trick was discovered through extensive mechanical testing. Assuming some form of DRM was employed, it would not have been possible to spot the cheating algorithm of the emissions control code because it would have been illegal to circumvent the software protection. This emphasizes once more the folly of allowing the DMCA to apply to such systems, where problems could be found much earlier by inspecting the software, rather than waiting for them to emerge in use, possibly years later.

The revelation about VW's behavior once more concerns code in cars, but there is a much larger issue here. As software starts to appear routinely in an ever-wider range of everyday objects, so the possibility arises for them to exhibit different behaviors in different situations. Thanks to programming, these objects no longer have a single, fixed set of features, but are malleable, which makes checking their conformance to legal standards much more problematic. When the VW story broke last week, Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, tweeted that this was an example of "The Internet of cheating things." I'm not sure whether she coined that phrase -- I'd not seen it before – but it encapsulates neatly a key feature of the world we are beginning to enter.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: dmca, emissions, epa, hacking, recall, software
Companies: volkswagen, vw


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  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 2:59am

    Makes one wonder that had the idiotic law not been in place just how much sooner the VW scandal would have been uncovered.

    Also makes one wonder how many other cars are using the cheat.

    Guess the EPA has its hands full now.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 2:17pm

      Re:

      Maybe some Mexican-manufactured models from GM. There are some rental car companies in Southern California that have a few compact models not normally seen in the U.S. You can rent a Chevrolet Optra or a Chevrolet Aveo in Southern Calfornia, both Mexican-made models. These are two models you will not find at your local Chevrolet dealership.

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  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:09am

    While there is a lot of arm waving about this subject (and plenty of articles, the EPA press people have worked overtime since Friday), there is still one question:

    Is it in fact illegal, or just immoral?

    As an example, GM has been famous for their "forced shift" manuals that go from 1st to 4th gear under the exact loading conditions for the EPA test, thus improving fuel mileage and reducing some emissions as a result. The resulting difference in fuel mileage was enough to save cars like the Corvette from paying a gas guzzler tax.

    Further, since the EPA test is a well know set of steps, speeds, and operations, other car companies have done similar things to meet the various standards, often by playing games with throttle position settings, fuel mix, and the like under certain types of loads. While they don't disable these things when not in test mode, the average consumer is also very unlikely to ever drive in a manner by which they would be using such engine maps.

    VW's only difference in reality is that they were blatant about it, having software which actively loads a different set of engine maps and controls only during testing. Since the car pasts the test, the EPA may have to be careful how hard they push on the subject. It could easily be turned to show that their easily replicated testing encourages such behavior.

    http://www.news24.com/Green/News/Hyundai-Kia-100m-fine-for-fake-fuel-economy-20141103

    Just an example... you can easily find stories all the way back to the 90s on the same subjects.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Howard, 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:59am

      Re: #2

      It's absolutely a thing that manufacturers have been tuning vehicles specifically to do well in emissions and fuel consumption testing.

      However, the difference is that the vehicle would maintain that characteristic; in this case the performance is choked solely for the testing.

      It reminds me somewhat of the trick air restrictor on the 1995 Toyota Celica rally cars - although that was a strictly mechanical device - the same jubilee clips that held the air restrictor in place also held open an illegal bypass channel; when a scrutineer loosened the clips to remove the restrictor for inspection, the bypass channel would close, making the restrictor appear to be compliant.

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    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:07am

      Re:

      Unless I'm missing something big, I'm guessing both.

      From what it sounds like, the system is designed specifically to spot when it's being put through emissions testing, and to change how it operates in order to pass testing. Not only that, but the difference between 'testing' mode and 'regular driving' mode is apparently huge, to the tune of '10 to 40 times above the EPA compliant levels', far in excess of the limits the EPA set for vehicles to be road-legal, making it clear that the vehicles would never pass testing if running normally during it.

      Designing the system to give fraudulent info during a required test, with the result of massively more emissions than allowed? Yeah, illegal and immoral sounds about right.

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      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:21am

        fraudulent info

        It's not giving fraudulent information. The information it's giving while in this "test mode" is correct, and meets the EPA requirements.

        As soon as you unplug the OBDII connector, the computer shifts from "test mode" to "driving mode", which (apparently, with that 10-40x increase) does *not* meet EPA requirements.

        Basically, they're forcing the system to perform to meet spec *only* when it's under testing conditions.

        Immoral? Maybe. Illegal? I'd have to read the actual law, but I suspect it's not illegal.

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        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:54am

          Re: fraudulent info

          Fraudulent with regards to the testing and the intent behind it, not so much with regards to how the car is running right that moment.

          The system is set up to give data that is not representative of how it operates during normal driving, and since the testing is intended to find out how the car performs in general, not just under testing conditions, I'd consider the data produced to be not only fraudulent, but intentionally so. It's set up to give data that does not represent real-world running conditions, solely in order to trick the testing equipment into thinking that it runs differently than it actually does when in use.

          If something like that isn't illegal, then it not only should be, but until it is, then emissions tests, and any similar tests, are completely and utterly useless. If you can game the test in order to provide passing results, even if those results have nothing to do with what the results would have been had the test been honest, then there's no point in even having the test.

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          • icon
            Bamboo Harvester (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 6:22am

            Re: Re: fraudulent info

            "Fraudulent with regards to the testing and the intent behind it"

            Do you apply Intent against Letter of the Law on *all* matters?

            I haven't read the law, so I can't quote Letter, but I suspect this is a loophole, fully legal.

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            • icon
              That One Guy (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 6:46am

              Re: Re: Re: fraudulent info

              Do you apply Intent against Letter of the Law on *all* matters?

              If the intent of a law differs significantly from the letter of the law, and/or how the law is applied in practice, then that's a sign of either a poorly written law or someone basically making up laws as they go along via 'creative interpretation'.

              In this case however I somehow doubt that the intent was simply to see how the vehicles performed under testing conditions, with no interest in how they performed under real-world use conditions. No, the intent was to make sure that the vehicles would meet certain standards during use, and the tests were simply the way of determining that. Gaming the test with bogus data that does not accurately represent how the vehicle operates during real use is not meeting the intent, and if it does meet the letter, then the law clearly needs to be fine-tuned.

              I haven't read the law, so I can't quote Letter, but I suspect this is a loophole, fully legal.

              Legal loopholes do not result in multi-billion dollar fines, and half a million recalled vehicles, so I'm thinking no, it almost certainly isn't legal.

              As I noted above, if it is indeed a legal loophole, then the testing is completely and utterly useless and needs to be tossed out as a waste of time and money for all involved. Drop the charade that cars need to be able to pass emissions testing to be street legal and save everyone a lot of work.

              If companies are allowed to fine-tune their product to give one result when under testing that is vastly different than the result under normal use, then any testing related to the product is meaningless, because it's only determining how well the product does when being tested, not how it does when in use.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 7:15am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: fraudulent info

                If the intent of a law differs significantly from the letter of the law, and/or how the law is applied in practice, then that's a sign of either a poorly written law or someone basically making up laws as they go along via 'creative interpretation'.

                It just depends on which type of Judge you have. People have been screwed over by both the letter and the intent of the law. And yes some people have been released by the same as well.

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              • icon
                Eldakka (profile), 23 Sep 2015 @ 11:18pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: fraudulent info

                If the intent of a law differs significantly from the letter of the law, and/or how the law is applied in practice, then that's a sign of either a poorly written law or someone basically making up laws as they go along via 'creative interpretation'.
                Exactly like 75% of the other laws on the books? So business as usual.
                Legal loopholes do not result in multi-billion dollar fines
                Neither has this. No jury has rendered a verdict, no judge has ruled. As far as I can tell no charges or case has been filed with any court yet. All we have is legal d**ck waving by the EPA making press releases. Sure they might be right, but at least wait until we have a court filing detailing the crimes/breeches and the requested penalties first.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 2:10pm

          Re: fraudulent info

          Illegal: yes
          Immmoral: No

          This is one of those instances where the moral compass and legal compass go the opposite way. It is illegal, but it is not immoral.

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          • icon
            nasch (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:07pm

            Re: Re: fraudulent info

            It is illegal, but it is not immoral.

            It's not immoral to break the rules in a way that advantages you over your competitors and shifts costs from your customers onto the entire society? You have a strange morality.

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            • icon
              Eldakka (profile), 23 Sep 2015 @ 11:19pm

              Re: Re: Re: fraudulent info

              shifts costs from your customers onto the entire society?
              How do you reach this conclusion?

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              • icon
                nasch (profile), 24 Sep 2015 @ 6:58am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: fraudulent info

                If VW followed the rules, the cost of pollution control would be borne by VW customers, by buying cars that have the properly functioning equipment on board. By cheating, the pollution control is no longer taking place, which means everyone bears the cost of greater pollution.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2015 @ 12:35pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: fraudulent info

                The phrase you are looking for is "tragedy of the commons", and it is a deprecated view in modern econ. There is no tragedy of the commons, in that the commons are now have spread sheets and can do the math themselves in fairly short order. The "tragedy", is now a calculable number in almost every industrialized field.

                This is really small potatoes from a national perspective though. The U.S. will need 3 times the heavy rail we currently have in 50 years to remain competitive on the world stage. It will take 50 years to build it. The steel mills in Detroit SHOULD be running 3 shifts right now. Instead you've got an aristocratic mo-town CEO pimp-fest whining to the EPA that VW cheated, so they can fight over the same declining market.

                Economically this is like the slow death of the textiles industry in England. You can't extend a market with corruption and exploitation indefinately. Obviously they plan on trying though.

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                • icon
                  nasch (profile), 25 Sep 2015 @ 7:10am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: fraudulent info

                  The phrase you are looking for is "tragedy of the commons", and it is a deprecated view in modern econ.

                  I think you're mistaken; the 2009 Nobel prize in economics was awarded for research on the subject. Unless by "modern" you mean "in the past five years", in which case I would like to see a reference.

                  There is no tragedy of the commons, in that the commons are now have spread sheets and can do the math themselves in fairly short order.

                  Huh??

                  The "tragedy", is now a calculable number in almost every industrialized field.

                  Just because the harms can be quantified doesn't mean it isn't a real phenomenon. If that's what you're trying to say, which I'm not at all sure it is.

                  I have no idea what railroads and steel production have to do with VW's emissions testing.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 12:44pm

        Re: Re:

        The engine also uses more fuel when it's burning "clean"... so it is a less efficient vehicle and requires more diesel fuel to run. What is less moral - using more oil, or producing more NOx? Apparently there's a tradeoff here, and VW wanted the best of both worlds for their cars ;)

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    • icon
      techflaws (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:57am

      Re:

      Funny that you of all people seem to see some grey are here.

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      • icon
        Roger Strong (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 8:01am

        Re: Re:

        That's just experience. Things that are clearly illegal when you or I do it, routinely become grey areas when corporations do it. Especially regarding fraud.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 12:46pm

        Re: Re:

        The "grey" is that VW did this so that during normal driving the engine would use less fuel and get a higher MPG...

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    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 7:26am

      Re:

      Is it in fact illegal, or just immoral?

      I'm more interested in this question when applied to the car owners: Many will try to refuse the performance-reducing software update, ordering the dealer not to apply it during future maintenance. Illegal, or just immoral?

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      • icon
        Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 3:48pm

        Re: Re:

        The law states that you're not allowed to drive a vehicle out of code. If a cop finds your vehicle is out of code (broken lights, broken windshield, spewing black smoke...), you get fined and probably your car gets towed.

        So, yes, it would be illegal and immoral. The question is would they catch you doing it. Probably not as the garage would have to check software version numbers and they more than likely don't have that ability.

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    • icon
      nasch (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 12:54pm

      Re:

      As an example, GM has been famous for their "forced shift" manuals that go from 1st to 4th gear under the exact loading conditions for the EPA test, thus improving fuel mileage and reducing some emissions as a result.

      Those cars do that all the time, not just when it's being tested, and it isn't just "under the exact loading conditions for the EPA test", it's pretty much any light throttle acceleration. Naturally this means that if you want to enjoy driving your car, you'll open the throttle way up to avoid the lockout, thus resulting in worse fuel consumption and emissions than if the feature were absent.

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  • identicon
    james, 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:25am

    What I don't understand is why you wouldn't reduce emissions all the time if you have the capability to do so?

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:28am

      Re:

      There must be some angle they were profiting from be it monetary, political or other.

      Unless of course the cars cannot handle having the emissions reduced all the time. Which could be called out as false advertising of a faulty product by hiding the fact it does not do what it is sold as.

      Pretty sure there are laws against that.

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    • icon
      scotts13 (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:31am

      Re:

      Probably because the engine runs better or more economically in "normal" mode. I had a Ford that was the same way; you had to set a certain switch for emissions testing; difference was the testing stations (and presumably the EPA) knew about it.

      This case is so blatant I figure we're not hearing the whole story. Gigantic multinational companies don't admit wrongdoing so easily. Either things are not what they seem, or the company believed what they were doing was legal through some loophole.

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    • identicon
      Thrudd, 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:35am

      Response to: james on Sep 21st, 2015 @ 4:25am

      The same reason that the only diesel they sell here.
      The American market wants gas power, horse power and acceleration like they are driving mosport.
      Look at a more competitive and regulated market like the EU and then ask yourself, while already knowing the answer, why things are different there.

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      • identicon
        Thrudd, 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:39am

        Re: Response to: james on Sep 21st, 2015 @ 4:25am

        Phone interface snipped my first statement.

        ..... is exclusive to the American market. Our diesel is not much removed from bunker sea crude in comparison to what is mandated as fuel oil in other parts of the world.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 12:48pm

        Re: Response to: james on Sep 21st, 2015 @ 4:25am

        Actually, the VWs in question get BETTER MPG when running in normal mode - but generate higher levels of NOx as a tradeoff.

        Apparently fuel-efficiency != lower emissions in every case

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        • icon
          nasch (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 12:56pm

          Re: Re: Response to: james on Sep 21st, 2015 @ 4:25am

          Apparently fuel-efficiency != lower emissions in every case

          When you're talking about NOx and particulates and such, true. For carbon, I think it's pretty much one-to-one with fuel consumption.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 1:36pm

            Re: Re: Re: Response to: james on Sep 21st, 2015 @ 4:25am

            And the emissions "cheat" in question is to reduce NOx emissions within the EPA required range...

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            • icon
              nasch (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:33pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Response to: james on Sep 21st, 2015 @ 4:25am

              And the emissions "cheat" in question is to reduce NOx emissions within the EPA required range...

              Exactly. And consumers can't tell they're emitting too much NOx but they can certainly tell how much fuel the car is using, so if the tradeoff was fuel efficiency vs. NOx emissions it's clear why they did it.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 6:49pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Response to: james on Sep 21st, 2015 @ 4:25am

                Ah - I get your point now - if they were "playing by the rules", consumers would be able to make a better-informed choice regarding environmentally-friendly car purchase.

                On the other hand, I wonder which is actually worse for the environment - higher CO2 (and soot), or higher NOx.

                I'd probably err on higher CO2 myself - proving your point.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:43am

      Re:

      Well, you do! Reduce emissions to 0. Walk

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:59am

        Re: Re:

        Humans do produce a fair amount of CO2, small amounts of methane, some sulphur dioxide, etc so not 0 emissions at all.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:06am

          Re: Re: Re:

          They do it regardless if they walk or drive, but you should know it already.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            nasch (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 12:57pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            They do it regardless if they walk or drive, but you should know it already.

            You'll produce more CO2 walking than sitting. Far less than your car of course.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:43am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Exhaling CO2 gas after inhaling CO2 gas" is not the same thing as "producing CO2".

          Human breathing moves gaseous CO2 around, but does not actually add any carbon to the atmosphere; fossil fuel combustion releases CO2 into the atmosphere from stable, non-gaseous states. Different things.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 6:32am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Humans burn food producing CO2 and water as major by products. This requires oxygen, which is why they can drown, be strangles or smothered, all of which cut off the oxygen supply.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              orbitalinsertion (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 7:19am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Is someone really having this conversation? Hilarious.

              That food humans burn? Carbon dioxide taken from the air to build biomass by primary producers in our food chains. We don't just create carbon ex nihilo. We aren't adding anything to the system by respiring.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 11:50am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                When we breathe, oxygen from the air enters our bloodstream and is used to "burn" (oxidize) stored fuel. This produces CO2, which is cleansed from our blood by the lungs.

                In other words, with each breathe, more CO2 comes out than went in. Which is why you will die if you put a plastic bag over your head and seal it closed.

                Now without the use of fossil fuels in the production of food, the whole cycle would be "carbon neutral", with the CO2 being converted back to "fuel" and oxygen by plants. But we're not talking about the whole cycle, just respiration.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 11:57am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Is someone really having this conversation? Hilarious.

                That gasoline cars burn? Carbon dioxide taken from the air to build biomass by primary producers in ancient food chains. We don't just create carbon ex nihilo. We aren't adding anything to the system by driving.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 11:16am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              The main reason for exhalation is to rid the body of carbon dioxide, which is the waste product of gas exchange in humans.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 12:49pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Someone failed biology...

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 9:58pm

          Walking is not a big CO2 producer.

          Even the high-end of the human resource consumption, CO2 production spectrum is orders of magnitude lower than how much a car produces.

          Motorized traffic is the biggest categorical producer of greenhouse gasses, usually attributed to tourism and motorized freight. Combustion engines are hungry, hungry beasts.

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          • icon
            Eldakka (profile), 23 Sep 2015 @ 11:42pm

            Re: Walking is not a big CO2 producer.

            I ride a motorbike ~16km to work in about 15 minutes, and likewise another ~16km back home again.

            If I was fit enough, and could actually run at that speed (64km/h), how much CO2 would I emit in running ~32km in 30 minutes? How would that compare to the amount of CO2 my motorbike releases?

            I am genuinely curious.

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            • icon
              Uriel-238 (profile), 24 Sep 2015 @ 2:48am

              Walking vs. Motorbiking.

              I found this in the middle of the night right before bedtime. There's probably better more accurate information, but it gives a general idea.

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              • icon
                Uriel-238 (profile), 24 Sep 2015 @ 2:52am

                Re: Walking vs. Motorbiking.

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              • icon
                nasch (profile), 24 Sep 2015 @ 7:10am

                Re: Walking vs. Motorbiking.

                That indicates that a pedestrian or bicyclist emits less than a gram of CO2 per km. This plus some math indicates someone working hard (like riding a bike fast for example) might emit something like 43 grams of CO2 per hour. At 30 kph, that would be about 1.4 grams of CO2 per kilometer. Though it's worth repeating that this is not a net production of CO2, while using fossil fuel is.

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      • icon
        Arthur Arre (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 3:49pm

        Re: Re:

        Human body is known to produce carbon dioxide emissions as well as Volatile Organic Compounds;especially when exercising .

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    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:24am

      Re:

      Because under compliance, the car probably has a top speed of 20mph and gets 4mpg.

      Pollution control devices eat a lot of horsepower.

      VW bugs disappeared in the US for about 30 years. They were still being made in South America, and were very popular everywhere except the US. Because to reduce their emissions to meet EPA regs made the cars stall out. The same goes for a lot of the super-high-efficiency European cars - they're practically small lawnmower engines, and if you add the anti-pollution devices required by the EPA, the engines can't even start, much less run.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Al Hoove, 22 Sep 2015 @ 7:48am

      Re:

      Because engine power. The cars in question can barely get out of their own way with the emissions workaround cheat. During emissions testing they're completely gutless.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AJ, 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:42am

    I recall quite a bit of hand wringing over a minority of consumers tweaking the software in the cars recently. I recall terms like amateur, dangerous, and irresponsible being tossed out. I even did a bit of research and found that car manufacturers wanted to keep people out of their software so bad that they were prepared to utilize the DMCA. They even specifically pointed at "emissions control" systems over-rides as a reason (see link below).

    Now it comes out that a major manufacturer is tweaking their software to cheat the consumer, environment, and the government. Not only do I question their motives behind not allowing people to tweak the software in their own cars, I would go so far as to say the main reason for them doing so is to hide the fact that they want to game the system without the worry of Joe-backyard-mechanic catching and outing them.

    I worry very little about some kid blowing his motor on the highway and causing an accident. I worry quite a bit about being able to breath and clean drinking water. I think the small amount of risk involved with a few backyard mechanics tweaking their software is not worth the loss of freedoms. The real focus should be on the manufacturers who can impact hundreds of thousands of automobiles and have real financial gains in mind when doing so.

    http://www.autoblog.com/2015/05/20/general-motors-says-owns-your-car-software/

    http://gas2.org/201 5/04/24/automakers-want-to-make-home-car-repair-illegal/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 11:03am

      Re:

      I'm not a tuner or modder by any stretch of the imagination. However, I'd be very disturbed owning a car that wouldn't let me plug a laptop into the OBDII port to see & change anything or everything I choose. For $50K, I want to own what I own.

      To invert an old analogy of Neal Stephenson's: if you have an expensive, sleek high-performance coupe that won't let you put the hood up, you might as well drive a Mac.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:54am

    EPA? Aren't those the guys complaining that if you can fiddle with the software of your own car it's risky (and copyrights)?

    Well, it seems that the most dangerous subject that can fiddle with the software of the car is the aforementioned "owner" or the software of the car.


    Just as a note: if they cheat EPA with the emissions, just think about the ways they are cheating their customers. Such as, for example, software that gives wrong diagnostics or software that is configured so the car gets broken easier?

    Could that be possible?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:59am

    Someone near or at the top of VW had to approve this

    I wonder if criminal charges might be pressed as someone very near or at the top of VW had to approve this. They spent time, money and manpower to develop, test and deploy this cheat. That kind of approval had to come from the top. But considering almost no corporate heads ever have charges pressed much less see the inside of a jail; I guess there is much personal risk to making this kind of call.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:14am

    teaching to the test are we?  not just vw.  all of 'em.

    yesseree, bob, bring on them self-driving wonderments.  we know how well this will be implemented.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:15am

    They say they need to modernise/update surveillance/copyright/patent law to take the internet into account, in this more modern age, but wheres the bloody calls to update/modernise or simply FOLLOW the current human rights laws, they say they want balance, nah, nope they dont, they want overload that motherfucking balance, and not in the good way

    Seems like the only way this is gonna get better, is for it to get so much worse, that the average joe cant ignore it or s'plain it away lucy

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:17am

    the computer is the best thing that ever happened to the desk and the worst thing that ever happened to the car.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 1:17pm

      Re:

      the computer is the best thing that ever happened to the desk and the worst thing that ever happened to the car.

      Oh yes, we should get rid of stability control and antilock brakes, and go back to carburetors. That would be much better.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 2:07pm

        Re: Re:

        carburators are something to have if you are going to be, say, driving in Mexico. These newer cars cannot be repaired there, and you have to get it shipped back the USA, if you have a breakdown.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 6:46pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          However - having been the owner of one of the last carbureted Honda Civic models - I would NEVER want to repair one of those either. The million vacuum hoses were a nightmare to navigate and diagnose when there was an issue.

          When it comes down to it - unless it's a pre-80s carbureted engine, the computer-controlled fuel-injection cars tend to be a hell of a lot easier to diagnose and repair as long as the computer itself is not screwed up and you have the parts available to you.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 9:57pm

      Re:

      It is a tool, which can be used and abused depending on who sits behind the controls. Thankfully we haven't seen calls for people banning them based solely on how many lives they can screw up when abused.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:17am

    Man, what a cup of cold, left over the weekend with a cigarette in it, coffee this is to start the week with.

    A re-written mish-mash that proves GM, EPA, and me right that car software should be locked down. Nothing to do but commend you for undermining yourself!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dan (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:42am

      Re: Man, what a cup of cold, left over the weekend with a cigarette in it, coffee this is to start the week with.

      Please explain how locking down the car software would have prevented VW from doing what they're said to have done.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 6:04am

        Simple really

        #1: Problems only exist when people are aware of them.
        #2: Had the testing involved the software, and had the software been infected with DRM, no testing could have taken place.
        #3: Assuming the 'flaw' hadn't been discovered via mechanical means, as was the case here, no testing would have meant no discovery of the flaw.
        #4: As #1 demonstrates, if people don't know about it, it's not a problem.

        Conclusion: Therefore, keeping people from being able to modify and examine the code related to their vehicles keeps them from knowing about the 'flaws' such as this, and therefor keeps them from creating problems that weren't there before(because no-one knew about them).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 7:09am

      Re: Man, what a cup of cold, left over the weekend with a cigarette in it, coffee this is to start the week with.

      Quite the contrary - this proves that car software should be required to be open source. The ones with the most to gain from hiding things are the manufacturers as this story proves - the same manufacturers that want their software DRM'd and unable to be audited.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 7:35am

      Re: Man, what a cup of cold, left over the weekend with a cigarette in it, coffee this is to start the week with.

      and this guy is probably either bob or average joe

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 7:35am

      Re: Man, what a cup of cold, left over the weekend with a cigarette in it, coffee this is to start the week with.

      and this guy is probably either bob or average joe

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 8:57am

      Re: Man, what a cup of cold, left over the weekend with a cigarette in it, coffee this is to start the week with.

      Bawk!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Capt ICE Enforcer (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:19am

    Fear Razor and Ink

    What I am concerned about is when car manufactures start to tweak software to make their parts fail after so many miles. and then require special parts to replace them. Typically 60 miles beyond the warranty. Add insult to injury. I read that EPSON and HP have done this with their printers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:53am

    One has to wonder how many other car manufactures are doing this , I'd bet all fossil fueled vehicles have the same functions installed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ed Allen, 21 Sep 2015 @ 6:40am

    Keep everybody but the manufacturer out

    This points out how futile the FCC wanting to lock down any software which
    controls the transmitter in devices in preventing abuses.

    Open source mandates would expose those cheats quickly and no question of guilt.

    Copyright does not insist on secrecy so each would own copyright on their own code.

    Complaints about "trade secrets" and such would be answered with
    "Everybody must, stay out of the market if you don't like it."

    If company A copies source code from company B then it is easier for
    everybody to see.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 7:30am

      Re: Keep everybody but the manufacturer out

      If company A copies source code from company B then it is easier for everybody to see.
      And if B's code had some great environmental benefit, why shouldn't we let anyone use it and improve on it? The earth is more important than corporate profits.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 11:16am

        Re: Re: Keep everybody but the manufacturer out

        The earth is more important than corporate profits.

        Heretic! Communist!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 7:26am

    Apology straight from the top

    I sincerely regret that we at VW have violated the public's trust.

    I ask for your forgiveness and pledge that in the future we will not get caught doing anything like this ever again.

    I am deeply sorry that bad judgment and poor choices of actions resulted in personal embarrassment for myself and those who assisted in committing these terrible crimes. We will cooperate with investigators to determine what low level person to blame this on.

    I take full responsibility for my negligence and lack of diligent care to ensure that we would not get caught. You have my personal assurance that all of us at VW will be more careful next time.

    To all of those who were harmed by our deceptive, selfish and thoughtless actions I would like to humbly offer my sincerest indifference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Thrudd, 21 Sep 2015 @ 7:31am

    something smells - it must be freedom once again

    Reading the statement from VWs CEO one can't help but wonder just how fast and loose the US aka north American office has been playing.
    They cut down consumers choices on what you can buy in the states and reduced that even further for the Canadian market.
    Try and import a US or even worse a European built model and see just how bad they will screw you.
    I have learned that if you can't get a good answer is to skip the (censored) US office and speak with the real head office. It will do wonders.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ArkieGuy (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 7:51am

    CFAA Violation

    I wonder if VW is going to try to press CFAA charges against the EPA for reverse engineering their Copyrighted software?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    liar, 21 Sep 2015 @ 8:04am

    So is this V.W.'s fault for performing to the test, or E.P.A's fault for making a bad testing regimen? E.P.A set up the tests, right? If they hadn't used the onboard computer for the test, they wouldn't have had an exploitable path. For a tailpipe test, V.W. wouldn't have known whether the car was on a rack or a highway; it wasn't until E.P.A started tapping the onboard computer that they were available to manipulation.The OBDII was the weak link here, I think. It doesn't belong to the E.P.A, so they should have been wary of it. Or not trusted it at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 8:45am

      Re:

      The "switch" senses whether the vehicle is being tested or not based on various inputs including the position of the steering wheel, vehicle speed, the duration of the engine's operation, and barometric pressure.

      Nothing to do with OBDII, but rather no changes to the controls, with probably the steering wheel being the prime input, as it the car sits on a rolling road.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 1:55pm

        Re: Re:

        'The "switch" senses whether the vehicle is being tested or not based on various inputs'

        The car detects it is being tested because devices such as the anti-collision systems have to be turned off when it is in the laboratory.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PRMan, 21 Sep 2015 @ 8:11am

    I just think it's funny

    WV busted VW.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 9:28am

      Re: I just think it's funny

      "WV busted VW"

      No kidding. Here's the transcript of messages between EPA & VW:

      EPA2VW: Achtung! We've been discovered by some nerds in WV (they have engineers in WV??). Even though we helped you construct this "cheat", EPA can't handle a scandal right now, so you guys are going to have to take the fall.

      VW2EPA: But *everyone* is doing it -- GM, Ford, BMW!

      EPA2VW: Yes, but we're coming down on diesels, because the US carcos don't make diesels any more. Better get your fall guys/gals ready for orange jumpsuits.

      Also, don't act surprised when nearly every other carco comes out with a firmware "update" in the next several weeks. That will have *nothing* to do with your scandal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 9:51am

    The automotive industry has been gaming the EPA's tests (as well as D.O.T. and NHTSA tests) going back over 40 years. This is just the first time any company has been caught doing it via a secret, separate, software mode. It's the electronic equivalent some old hot-rodder tricks like installing a muffler bypass valve with a secret on/off switch hidden under the dashboard.

    It's a great idea, and a great cost-saver compared to forcing owners to re-chip their car's ECU, at a cost of hundreds of dollars, in order to get better performance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 1:24pm

      Re:

      It's a great idea, and a great cost-saver compared to forcing owners to re-chip their car's ECU, at a cost of hundreds of dollars, in order to get better performance.

      I doubt it was an $18 billion idea. Presumably future VW buyers will be footing the bill.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 11:17am

    Volkswagen (VW), which must now recall nearly half a million cars, and faces the prospect of some pretty big fines -- Reuters speaks of "up to $18 billion".
    Huh. Maybe the EPA should have been put in charge of the subprime mortgage crisis investigation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 12:26pm

      Re:

      "Maybe the EPA should have been put in charge of the subprime mortgage crisis investigation"

      Perhaps not:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Gold_King_Mine_waste_water_spill

      The 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill is a 2015 environmental disaster at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado.

      The EPA has taken responsibility for the incident.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Leit, 22 Sep 2015 @ 12:20am

        Re: Re:

        "has taken responsibility"

        Honestly, it's rare enough that a government agency takes responsibility for a screw-up. All this points out is that they're more willing to face up to their screw-ups than, say, the DOJ, ATF, FBI...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 12:04pm

    Annual state emissions testing

    This has implications for state testing regimes. Many states include emissions testing in annual "safety inspection" tests. For example, Texas does in counties that have trouble meeting EPA air quality targets.

    States should consider modifying their inspection process to detect such "cheating" vehicles.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 12:24pm

      A test is not

      States should consider modifying their inspection process to detect such "cheating" vehicles.

      What AC said. We're going to have to create more comprehensive tests, especially for products that include software that might detect for test conditions and modify their performance accordingly.

      For cars that are marketed to environmentally-minded hipsters, a car that monitored and logged its own output would be a sweet thing, even if it's just for the driver's peace of mind, though it could also detect symptoms of some kinds of engine trouble. But that would be a good step towards battling non-point-source-pollution.

      Pretty much non-point-source-anything is doomed to make for a tragic commons.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Simon, 21 Sep 2015 @ 1:37pm

    Reminds me of what the the GPU manufacturers got up to...

    A few years ago the GPU manufacturers were found to be issuing drivers that increased frame rate at the expense of quality when certain popular benchmarking programs were used.

    http://www.geek.com/games/futuremark-confirms-nvidia-is-cheating-in-benchmark-553361/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Sep 2015 @ 2:04pm

    When automakers have to take desperate steps like that to sell their cars in America, it shows that the EPA is killing innovation and needs to be abolished.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:05pm

      Re:

      When automakers have to take desperate steps like that to sell their cars in America, it shows that the EPA is killing innovation and needs to be abolished.

      No, it shows that Europe is choosing to have more smog than the US.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 5:26pm

      Maybe you don't have Los Angeles.

      In LA we had (may still have) smog alerts where all that soot and carbon monoxide (and when I was a kid, lead) hung in the air and gave a new meaning to second-hand smoke.

      I, for one, lived in the foothills and really had to hike home from school. I suppose if it were in the unpopulated rurals, such a daily trek might have been good for me. Not in LA. When the smog was thick and hung low and brown and stank in the air, I had to wheeze my way up that infernal hill anyway.

      So I say we should abolish cars that run on fossil fuels instead Myself, I'd rather be able to breathe.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    rebrad (profile), 21 Sep 2015 @ 4:00pm

    Are the Bad Ones Still Available

    Can I still get one of the offending vehicles? No wonder they have such power and get good mileage. Everything these enviro gestapo groups touch turns to so much fecal matter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glen Cavers, 21 Sep 2015 @ 6:50pm

    VW emissions cheating

    So EPA will get 18 billion, and all the VW diesel owners will get nothing. No resale value, likely less power and lower mileage (if it can be fixed). EPA certified this car so they should take some responsibility for their outdated testing procedures that allowed the defeat software to work. EPA, use that money to reimburse the owners. I don't want to drive an emasculated car. Disapointed 2009 Jetta TDI owner.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 22 Sep 2015 @ 6:32am

      Re: VW emissions cheating

      When someone cheats on a test, do you blame the one who cheated, or the one who gave the test?

      VW is the one who gamed the test to give bogus data, not the EPA. While it's unfortunate that this will affect those that bought from VW, the proper entity to go after is not the EPA, it's the one that sold you cars that aren't actually road-legal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 22 Sep 2015 @ 6:48am

      Re: VW emissions cheating

      I don't see how the EPA did anything wrong here. VW is the one who engaged in fraud.

      Since VW defrauded you by misrepresenting the car's characteristics, I think you have an excellent case for a lawsuit against them to recover your damages. I'm not sure how the amount would be computed, but if it's a low enough amount ($3,000-$15,000, depending on your state) you could even do it in small claims court.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2015 @ 7:30am

    Just another shake down

    Everybody does it. Nobody cares. The only reason it is in the news is to drum up support for a shake down.

    The fine will probably be funneled into GM by way of a DOE grant so GM can use VW's money to develop a competing product. Either that or GM will use VW's money to corrupt domestic officials into passing anti-diesel legislation.

    This isn't unprecedented. See the documentary: "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

    So the unholy trinity of propaganda is dutifully fulfilling it familial obligations to the Detroit mob. And everybody is falling for it. Again. Just like they do once a decade, every decade, like clockwork.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2015 @ 4:35pm

    VW cars are getting slammed so bad,

    you might have thought Hitler had designed them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Larry Robinson, 23 Sep 2015 @ 5:39pm

    Isn't the EPA cheating too?

    Isn't the EPA cheating too?

    - They pull numbers out of hats for the new standards without regard to how expensive it will be to meet those goals.

    - They believe in climate change without any proof (except the temperature measurements that can't be used to prove the existence of global warming).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    vornez (profile), 8 Oct 2015 @ 11:23am

    VW emissions cheating

    It seems the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) havn't been doing their job properly. They're regulating a billion dollar industry to prevent pollution. Anyone with expertise in testing ECU's and diagnostic data should have picked up on this trick mod to the ECU - the numbers won't add up. My car has "warm up" mode - get the engine hot and "limp home" mode something's wrong, they just added another mode - fool the dyno machine mode its the emissions police. Any fool who puts a car on a dyno machine and expects that emission data to reflect real life driving characteristics should get some level of scrutiny too. They fell for it with their flawed testing apparatus.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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