WOLFSBURG, GERMANY - MARCH 13, 2014: Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
WOLFSBURG, GERMANY - MARCH 13, 2014: Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

My apologies to Rev. Wright for paraphrasing his infamous, “… chickens come home to roost,” comment.

In case you haven’t heard, Volkswagen, one of the world’s most respected automobile manufacturers, has been caught cheating on their environmental emissions reporting. And it’s no accident.

They apparently set out to deliberately cheat from the get-go. And they’ve been doing it for the past seven years.

What Is AdBlue?

In order to meet emission standards most manufacturers use a system that insures unburned fuel does not end up in the automobiles exhaust thus raising the emission limits.

AdBlue is a urea-injection system that introduces a chemical catalyst to keep emissions within acceptable limits by eliminating any unburned fuel in the exhaust.

VW claimed they could meet emission regulations without adding the extra cost of the AdBlue system to their diesel vehicles both in the US and Europe.

And no one really questioned them when their vehicles all passed emission tests. Until someone looked further.

What Did They Do?

In two words, they “cut costs.” How did they do that? By using a simple computer-sensing trick. The “Switch.”

Gas emission testing is usually done in a laboratory by hooking the automobile up to various computer-measuring devices.

The car’s wheels are on rollers keeping the car in place during the test allowing various speeds to be tested and emissions recorded.

The misleading Volkswagen emission system computer looked at several things that would tell the system if the car was on the road or in a lab.

For example, the position of the steering wheel would indicate if the car was actually being driven, vehicle speed changes indicating travel from neighborhoods to freeways, length of time the engine is on, and barometric pressure were all sensed by the VW onboard computer.

If the computer sensed that the car was in the lab then it turned on temporary emission controls and the cars passed the tests.

If the computer thought the car was being driven on the road it changed the emission calibrations and turned emission controls off.

This made the car more attractive to potential green buyers and more competitive in the marketplace because of the missing AdBlue system not being used.

How Did They Get Caught?

There was no real indication that VW was violating anything — so how did they get caught?

Like many scams on the public this one was found because a testing company wanted to confirm, not challenge, Volkswagen’s emission claims.

They were looking for a clean diesel car. And Volkswagen seemed to be the ideal poster child.

However, a 4,000-kilometer driving test by a clean-air advocacy group, The International Council on Clean Transportation, found dramatic differences between emissions in the lab and emissions while driving the vehicles on roads and streets.

Those tests confirmed that Volkswagen was not entirely on the up-and-up.

Some Final Thoughts

As a result of the investigation the CEO has resigned — under pressure no doubt. VW will be facing huge fines as well as 11 million vehicles probably being recalled.

It is estimated that the 482,000 cars in the US released between 10,392 and 41,571 tons of nitrous oxide into the air. The allowable EPA standard for this number of cars would be 1,039 tons.

The emissions of the 11 million cars Volkswagen sold in Europe are almost too much to accurately calculate. Volkswagen could be looking at a fine of $18 billion dollars or more.

What does the famous Volkswagen “Fahrvergnügen” marketing phrase mean? In German: Fahren means, "to drive" and Vergnügen, means "pleasure."

I doubt the bean counters at Volkswagen are experiencing much driving pleasure this Monday morning as they watch their stock in free fall.

I think they’ll be taking the bus to work for a while.

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