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Transportation Businesses

VW Engineers Have Admitted Manipulating CO2 Emissions Data (reuters.com) 201

An anonymous reader writes: According to a report in German newspaper Bild am Sonntag several Volkswagen engineers have come forward and admitted manipulating carbon dioxide emissions data, blaming the overly ambitious goals set by former Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn. Reuters reports: "The paper said VW engineers tampered with tyre pressure and mixed diesel with their motor oil to make them use less fuel, a deception that began in 2013 and carried on until the spring of this year. 'Employees have indicated in an internal investigation that there were irregularities in ascertaining fuel consumption data. How this happened is subject to ongoing proceedings,' a Volkswagen spokesman said, declining to comment on the Bild report."
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VW Engineers Have Admitted Manipulating CO2 Emissions Data

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  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @10:54AM (#50887587) Homepage

    "Accurate communication is possible only in a non-punishing situation."

    The Chief Executive set unrealistic goals and planned punishments for anyone who failed. So, the engineers did what was rational, and now they're going to get the blame for the whole thing. The executives, as usual, will get off scot-free and even if fired, will come out smelling like roses.

    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @11:08AM (#50887639)

      The Chief Executive set unrealistic goals and planned punishments for anyone who failed. So, the engineers did what was rational, and now they're going to get the blame for the whole thing.

      If the engineers did something that they knew was wrong then they deserve to be blamed and punished for what they did. If someone asks you to commit a crime the answer should be an unequivocal "NO". This was not a complicated ethical situation. This is kindergarten stuff. Just because someone told you to commit a crime doesn't make it acceptable for you to go ahead and actually do it.

      Nobody at VW involved in this fiasco was under any illusions that what they were doing was legal or even in a gray area. Any engineers who were involved in this fraud should be taken to court and punished in a manner commensurate with their crime. Same with any management that was in charge. They knew or should have known what was going on and deserve to be punished for this crime.

      And let's not pretend that the executives didn't know what was happening. This is a company that is renowned for their centralized control and micro-managing. Any pretense that the management was not aware of this fraud is almost certainly untrue. It might not go all the way to the top but I can't imaging how some folks pretty high up the food chain didn't authorize this.

      • by chill ( 34294 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @11:28AM (#50887707) Journal

        So take that up one level. The governments set CO2 emissions requirements for vehicles that, it seems, were impossible to meet given the current technology. After expending a large effort and resources on improving the technology, it was still impossible.

        Those companies will then be punished by the government for failing to do the impossible. Should not the various governments who set the emission levels be held accountable? They essentially set the bar at an impossible level, given the time and resource constraints, and then threatened the livelihoods of all the participants who were guaranteed to fail.

        • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @11:33AM (#50887729) Journal

          The governments set CO2 emissions requirements for vehicles that, it seems, were impossible to meet given the current technology.

          Except they weren't impossible to meet given the current technology, were they?

        • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @11:44AM (#50887799)

          The governments set CO2 emissions requirements for vehicles that, it seems, were impossible to meet given the current technology.

          The emissions targets are demonstrably possible. There are cars driving on the road today which substantially exceed the CO2 emissions requirements under CAFE and similar legislation. Car companies might have to stop selling the ones that don't but that is a Good Thing.

          After expending a large effort and resources on improving the technology, it was still impossible.

          WRONG. The technology required for VW to meet emissions standards already exists and was available to them. They made a purely economic decision to not implement that technology in order to save money while fraudulently claiming that they had solved the problem. This was fraud in pursuit of money. Nothing more.

      • by scamper_22 ( 1073470 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @01:23PM (#50888259)

        But there lies the problem.

        You can relatively easily prosecute the engineers because well... they were the ones to implement it and would know what impact things would have.

        The hard part is in getting management because at the end of the day, they typically apply pressure and can claim ignorance.

        They should really have a serious clause in there along the lines of negligence whereby management can be held to account for applying undue pressure and not taking enough due diligence to make sure it was not impacting quality.

        And it should be a harsh punishment.

        Like it or not, engineers just don't have the same kind of clout as doctors or lawyers or other regulated professions.

        It's kind of sad when you hear people talk to software developers and say they're not real engineers who are held to account...

        I've worked in some engineering oriented firms. I'd say you face the same issue you do as a developer. Your 'boss' is a corporation or venture capital firm out to make money. You are just an employee.

        Now engineers do some some areas where they have more independence. Normally in fields like power, civil engineering... often in cases where they have strong bodies.

        But for a corporate and product company like VW... there's not much difference.

        • You can relatively easily prosecute the engineers because well... they were the ones to implement it and would know what impact things would have.

          They cannot easily prosecute the engineers if they never commit the crime in the first place. All the engineers had to do was refuse to commit fraud and both the company and the engineers would be better off for it. If the engineers knew what they were doing was a crime (and they almost certainly did) then they could easily have refused to do it. These are not people without options. The worst the company could do to them is fire them and then they find a job elsewhere. Much better than being hauled in

          • Any system that relies on the super-morality of people is bound to fail. History can attest to that.

            No group of people be it engineers, priests, scientists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, police officers. politicians... are 'good' enough to be some kind of moral vanguard.

            Can an individual be a standout? Of course. On both the positive or negative side.

            The best you can do is make sure the conditions people operate it are good enough and the consequences bad enough that a reasonable person would choose to do the

            • Any system that relies on the super-morality of people is bound to fail. History can attest to that.

              And any system that doesn't have separation of duties [wikipedia.org] and other internal controls [wikipedia.org] is also bound to fail. As a group it doesn't shock me that some of them behaved badly but then they should expect no sympathy after the fact. If there weren't adequate internal controls then that is the fault of management but it doesn't excuse the engineers from what they did.

              If these engineers were complicit in committing this fraud then they deserve whatever punishment awaits them. I have little sympathy for people who c

          • If the engineers knew what they were doing was a crime (and they almost certainly did) then they could easily have refused to do it.

            Knowing something is immoral is not the same as knowing something is a crime. And knowing something is a crime is not the same as knowing it is a provable crime, and that after reporting it courts would side with you rather than your megacorporation employer.

            The worst the company could do to them is fire them

            The worst? If that wasn't already a bad enough outcome in this economy...

            and then they find a job elsewhere.

            It's not if there are hundreds of other car manufacturers around to hire you. And with the few that are around, chances are the managers are golfing partners with each other, and t

      • If someone asks you to commit a crime the answer should be an unequivocal "NO".

        Except German engineers aren't under US jurisdiction, and how likely is it they even KNOW what US laws are. Or more directly, engineers aren't legal experts. How likely is it that they know the intricacies of any (even German) laws on pollution?

        A corporation has armies of lawyers specifically to advise their various employees, and I imagine most engineers don't speak with them directly, either. So they would have gotten their

      • If the engineers did something that they knew was wrong then they deserve to be blamed and punished for what they did.

        The interesting thing is most software these days is abstracted out. If you're working on a big, enterprise level project, you won't get asked to draw a big picture: you'll be given a module you need to create that takes a given range of inputs and transforms them to a given level of outputs on a specific platform.

        It's very possible that this wasn't something the whole engineering department would've known about. You could very easily have a number of different "modes" and then just have one guy link the

    • By this logic, Hitler was not to blame for the holocaust 'cause he only ordered the Jews gone and didn't check how it's done.

      If you condemn Hitler, you have to condemn managers.

    • "Accurate communication is possible only in a non-punishing situation."

      You don't understand German labour laws do you. The engineers were in about the most non-punishing situation you can get and breaking the law for their company was not a rational choice. They deserve equal blame and they are implicated in this.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Blaming the messenger is quite common in Germany as well. Labor laws do not help one bit when you suddenly find yourself assigned only to projects that are in bas shape, cut out from anything important and factually become excluded from promotion. This situation was extremely punishing and only somebody completely naive with regards to how things work in the real world would claim otherwise.

        • This situation was extremely punishing and only somebody completely naive with regards to how things work in the real world would claim otherwise.

          Really? The works council may have something to say about that. German workers are effectively mostly unionised in ways industrial blue-collar America could only dream of.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      I completely agree. And creating that non-punishing situation is the duty and responsibility of the CEO in this case. He failed to get basic sane management practices right and deserves _all_ blame and punishment.

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @11:38AM (#50887755)
    So just one week or so after the CO2 emissions scandal came to light we already have rank-and-file employees admitting fault. Contrast that with their NOx emissions scandal that has dragged on for over a month with no hints from VW about the perpetrators - that should tell you the blame there lies with executives.
  • by nickweller ( 4108905 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @03:36PM (#50888873)
    "Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi’s chief engineer, and Wolfgang Hatz .. were put in charge of research and development [wsj.com] at the Volkswagen group shortly after Martin Winterkorn became chief executive in January 2007."

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