Ep 19 Dieselgate - Volkswagen Emissions Scandal
The episode begins with a special segment on Women in Engineering to celebrate International Women`s Day (March 9th) and National Engineering Month in Canada. This week’s segment covers Engineers Canada’s 30 by 30 Initiative to increase the number of women in engineering (0:00)
This week`s engineering failure is the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal; AKA Dieselgate. Using a defeat device (6:35), Volkwagen’s TDI diesel vehicles altered engine performance to cheat emissions tests. They almost got away with it, until a Canadian Air Resource Board study, including test results from a West Virginia test (7:35) exposed their device. Since being exposed, Volkswagen has faced consequences (10:05) and received backlash from countries and consumers around the world.
Women in Engineering - https://engineerscanada.ca/diversity/women-in-engineering/30-by-30
National Engineering Month Events - http://nemontario.ca/events/
Volkswagen Emissions Scandal - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_emissions_scandal
Hi and welcome to Failurology, a podcast about engineering failures. I'm your host Nicole, and I'm from Calgary, Alberta.
In parts one and two of the women in engineering segment I talked about statistics, limiting factors and ways we can make the industry more inclusive. In today's segment, I'm going to talk about Engineers Canada's 30 by 30 initiative to raise the number of female licensed engineers to 30% by 2030. The current number of newly licensed engineers that are female is about 14 to 17% country wide, and that's been the case for the last three years. While 30% might seem like a low goal, it's double the current statistic. And 30% is seen as the tipping point for sustainable change. As of 2021, the number of female engineering students is 23.4%, which is higher than ever before. The 30 by 30 initiative is one of the top four priorities in Engineers Canada's 2019 to 2021 strategic plan, and it focuses on recruitment, retention, and professional development of women in engineering. And I'm going to expand on each of those in today's segment. There's also a link in the show notes for more information on this initiative.
So let's start with recruitment. We need to show young girls even at the elementary school age, the possibilities of a career in engineering, the wide variety of disciplines that can be learned and the impact engineering can have on our communities. Engineers Canada has outlined a few different ways we can do this. They have a K to 12 outreach Guide; which provides a curriculum to help program leaders determine where and how they can improve their youth engineering programs. Exploreengineering.ca is a resource showcasing engineering disciplines and work. National engineering month of Ontario has virtual kids events for the month of March. And I've been mentioning those events throughout the segments. I've been attending various events on topics that I find interesting or I've been to a few women in engineering panels. So that's definitely a great resource. Unfortunately, that's only until the end of March. So that isn't something that runs year round. Girl Guides Canada and Engineers Canada have partnered to develop an engineering crest that guides can earn for completing engineering related tasks. This program helps girls gain a better understanding of how things work, sparking their interest in engineering. There's a future city competition for grades six, seven and eight, to develop a future city that tackles an engineered solution to a sustainability issue. Go ENG girl is an annual event for girls grade seven to 11 featuring hands on activities and exhibits to learn more about engineering. And of course, there are a number of scholarships and grants available specifically for young women in engineering education.
Now onto retention. A 2011 study called Stemming The Tide found that 40% of women engineers who participated in the study had left engineering and many who were still an engineering had expressed intentions of leaving. 1/3 of women who left engineering for another field rose to executive positions within five years of leaving. Half of those who left had issues with working conditions, too much stress, lack of advancement, low salary. 30% left due to organizational culture, and 25% wanted more time with family. In most cases, it was a combination of more than one item. The study also provided a list of recommendations and some of these are going to be an overlap to the recommendations I listed in the last episode. Transparent password advancement, invest in training and professional development, communicate goals and tasks to accomplish the big picture, improved structural, cultural and behavioral climate to improve our workplace. a culture that respects all was zero tolerance, a culture that values employees contributions, fostering supportive networks for colleagues, supervisors and mentors, provide formal and informal mentoring, and work life initiatives that support family cultures. We also need to do better at managing transitions before, during and after maternity leave.
And lastly, professional development. We need to improve the understanding of diversity. In many cases, men are allies, and they're crucial to an inclusive environment. And it has to be that way. It's a male dominated field. If you don't have the support of men for an inclusive environment, it's not going to happen. Ensure women can access the same levels of professional development as men. I talked about last week providing professional development programs that are specifically tailored to women; just providing them a safe space to be collaborative and explore and learn. That's definitely one way also making sure that professional development is just as inclusive. Is it the time of day that it's offered? Is it their workload that doesn't allow them to attend? How do we make sure that everybody has access to the same levels of professional development. As I mentioned earlier, national engineering month, Ontario has been hosting virtual events every day, covering a variety of topics. I've attended at least five or six events, some on inclusivity some on topics I thought were interesting. Also, by providing professional development targeted specifically to women, it shows a commitment to address barriers. There are also a number of conferences that you can attend. There's a conference of diversity. There's technical conferences. There's a global marathon conference, which includes online webcasts to empower women and engineering around the world. You can find the list of those on Engineers Canada's website that I've linked in the show notes. I recommend following your local engineering board Engineers Canada or anyone else in Engineering Leadership or development on social media. This is where I find out about a lot of events. So with that, I end the third segment on women in engineering. I hope that these segments have helped to generate a conversation and hopefully offered an alternative perspective. Next week will be the final segment on women in engineering. It'll be our last episode for the month of March. And then I'll go back to my regularly scheduled programming of engineering news at the beginning of each episode, but I do hope you guys have been enjoying these and that they are starting a conversation. Alright, let's get into the engineering failure. What the heck was Volkswagen doing?
Now on to this week's engineering failure, Volkswagens emission scandal, also known as dieselgate, or emission scape. What does that mean exactly? What did Volkswagen do? Certain Audi and Volkswagen Turbocharged Direct Injection or TDI diesel engine models had a piece of software code labeled “acoustic condition” in the engine control unit, which is the car's computer that would detect when the vehicle was being tested and switch from good fuel economy and high nitrous oxide emissions to the low emissions compliant mode to pass the test. So essentially, the car would detect when it was being tested and it would switch its performance just to meet the test. This is referred to as a defeat device. Nitrous oxide emissions during the test had met the US standards, but they were 40 times more in real world driving. They did this to compete with other vehicle manufacturers in the diesel market and increase sales. While research as early as 1998 had showed problems and potential risks with the testing systems for nitrous oxide emissions, it wasn't until the California Air Resource Board did an in depth study in 2014 that everything fell apart for Volkswagen. The California Air Resources Board did a study on emission discrepancies between European and us models from the International Council on clean transportation. They pulled data from three sources on 15 vehicles. One of those data sources was a West Virginia University study which detected additional emissions during live road tests. They tested three vehicles a Passat, a Jetta, both of which are Volkswagen and a BMW X5. All three vehicles had been tested at the California Air Resources Board facility before the road testing took place. The test procedure used a portable emissions measurement system, which collected real world driving data to compare to dyno testing. The Jetta and X5 traveled 2400 kilometers each. The Passat traveled 3200 kilometers after they drove it from Los Angeles to Seattle and back. The X5 was at or below the US standard except for rural up and downhill conditions which was within reason. However, the Jetta exceeded US emission limits by a factor of 15 to 35, and the facade exceeded the emissions by a factor of 5 to 20. Following the study and investigation found that the defeat device was present in 2009 to 2016 Volkswagen and Audi models impacting 11 million cars worldwide. The models impacted from the Audi line were the A1, A3, A6, A7, A8, Q5, and Q7, and from Volkswagen, the Beetle, Golf, Jetta, Passat and Toureg.
A magazine article published in 2015 states that at least 30 people in management knew about the device for years. However, Volkswagen denied this. I don't know who knew what but it seems nearly impossible for only the people at the top to know about the defeat device. Someone had to write the code for the engine control unit, and I highly doubt the engine design team wasn't at least curious how the engine they develop passed the emissions testing. After all this came out Volkswagen stock price fell by a third and regulators in multiple countries started to investigate further. Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned after this made news headlines. He was charged with fraud and conspiracy on May 3 2018. The Volkswagen head of brand development and both the Audi and Porsche research and development heads are all suspended.
So what are the consequences of high nitrous oxide emissions? Why were the increased emission so bad? First and foremost, there's a higher risk of death. Peer Reviewed study published in the Environmental Research Letters estimated that 59 premature deaths were caused by excess pollution produced between 2008 and 2015 from vehicles with the defeat device in the US. By making the vehicles emissions compliant by the end of 2016, the study also found that an additional 130 early deaths could be prevented. Earlier non peer reviewed studies published in media sources quoted estimates ranging from 10 to 350 deaths in the US. To my knowledge none of these deaths are linked specifically to the Volkswagen defeat device vehicles, these are all based on a variety of assumptions, but there is data to show that high levels of nitric oxide emissions are a risk to public health.Nitrous oxide is also a precursor to ground level ozone and increases risk of asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. It also amplifies the effect of fine particulate matter soot, which can cause heart problems. This form of pollution kills an estimated 50,000 people in the US every year. Nitrous oxide also contributes to acid rain, brown clouds and smog.
And of course, there's the financial consequences. In April 2016, Volkswagen spent $16.2 billion euro to fix the emissions issues. Most of this money was spent on their recall campaign. In January 2017, Volkswagen pled guilty to criminal charges and signed and agreed statement of facts, which confirmed that their engineers developed defeat devices and that their diesel models couldn't pass us emissions tests otherwise, and that they deliberately sought to conceal the device. In April 2017, a US federal judge ordered Volkswagen to pay up to $2.8 billion criminal fines for rigging diesel powered vehicles to cheat on government emissions test. As of almost a year ago on June 1st 2020, Volkswagens cost was $33.3 billion in fines, penalties, financial settlements and buyback costs. The investigations and civil lawsuits are still ongoing with many governments in the US and European Union. There's been many questions about making the software open source so that the public have an opportunity to view it.
Let's take a step back. What laws were the emissions breaking. The US Environmental Protection Agency started the Clean Air Act in 1963, which was designed to control air pollution at the federal level and influence modern environmental laws. It was one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world. And the federal program within the US public health service allowed them to authorize research into techniques for monitoring and controlling air pollution. The European Union had similar regulations although not as strict as the US requirements. Euro five which covers 2009 to 2014 models has a limit a little more than four times the US regulation and euro six which covers 2015 models was double the US regulation. In London, England diesel road traffic is responsible for 40% of nitrous oxide emissions, and air pollution contributes to over 3000 deaths a year.
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel urged complete transparency and noted that their Transport Minister was in ongoing communication with Volkswagen, France’s Finance Minister called for investigation of diesel powered vehicles across Europe. An England Member of the European Parliament called for radical overhaul to prevent car makers from breaking the rules. London assembly member said that diesel vehicles should either be banned or face stringent tests before entering London's low emission zone. But the Deputy Mayor for the environment said that those measures could lead to serious economic problems. The European Commission passed legislation allowing the car industry more time to comply and allowing vehicles to emit more than the legal limit of nitrous oxide for a period of time until they could comply. When they did this, they put the interest of carmakers ahead of public health. If the start of COVID lockdown when no one was traveling or moving around taught us anything is that we the humans are poisoning the planet. There are many factors here that I'm not privy to, and certainly more than are covered on this episode, but it's highly suspect when governments choose corporations over public health.
In September 2015 Environment Canada investigated to see if defeat devices were installed to bypass emission control tests in Canada. In December of 2016, an agreement between the Government of Canada and Volkswagen was put in place to allow buybacks or trade ins based on the September 2015 market value; the value before all of this news came out. Or Volkswagen had the ability to install an approved emissions modification. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change in Ontario has charged Volkswagen under the Environmental Protection Act alleging they did not comply with emission standards. Although this hasn't been proven in court. For those who don't know you have to get your car emission tested every two years to be able to register the vehicle and drive it on the road in Ontario. In December 2019, Volkswagen was charged with 60 counts of contravening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Volkswagen pled guilty to those charges in January 2020, and they were fined $196 million Canadian.
In Australia while they did fine Volkswagen in 2019 for $125 million for misleading compliance with emission standards, they initially decided not to investigate Volkswagen, based on the claim that emissions would not be a deciding factor for consumers. That said Volkswagen issued a voluntary recall in 2016 for software and hardware updates. There are also many other countries that were impacted Brazil, China, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, amongst many others.
Several major car manufacturers released statements claiming their vehicles complied with the testing and that issues with the defeat device were related to quote “just one company” and did not affect the whole industry. Studies have shown that under normal driving conditions, diesel vehicles by other manufacturers are exceeding European emissions limits for nitrous oxide. Elon musk of Tesla is quoted saying “what Volkswagen is really showing is that we've reached the limit on what's possible with diesel and petrol vehicles. The time has come to move to a new generation of technology”. A group of business and environmental leaders wrote an open letter to the California Air Resources Board, asking to absolve Volkswagen of the 85,000 vehicle recall to allocate those resources into an accelerated rollout of zero emissions vehicles. The letter states that the number of defeat device diesels on the road is insignificant when compared to the total number of vehicles and to the greater long term reduction in pollutant emissions. People from Germany in the US were surveyed. The majority of Germans still had great faith in Volkswagen and thought that they were a great builder of excellent cars. They also thought that other manufacturers were just as guilty of manipulation. After this came out, some us people didn't trust Volkswagen but others still had a positive view. Researchers are calling for better test procedures to better reflect real world driving conditions, including the use of portable emissions measurement systems. This came into force in 2017, in some jurisdictions; even though car manufacturers lobbied against this for years due to high costs of meeting stricter environmental controls. The scandal has led to increased scrutiny on all combustion engines, and they are all guilty of polluting more than they're allowed.
In January 2018, it became known that Volkswagen had experimented on monkeys in May 2015, to show that diesel exhaust fumes aren't harmful to primates. This has been referred to as monkey gate. But get this, the test car they used for testing was a beetle with a defeat device that produced far less emissions during these tests than on the road. So their tests which attempted to prove that their exhaust fumes were not harmful, didn't even use the levels that their vehicles were producing during everyday driving. I mean, you can't make this stuff up.
So there you have it. dieselgate how Volkswagen cheated emissions tests around the world and almost got away with it. Ethics are an integral part of engineering. In order to get licensed in Canada, and I'm sure other places around the world, you need to take an ethics exam. You don't take a technical exam, as part of the certification; technical criteria are based on your post secondary transcripts. But you have to take an ethics exam. And that's because people's lives are at stake. Engineers have a duty to the public, to protect their health and safety report done by the Automotive Research Association of India called the defeat device, quote, “not a product failure, but a clear case of cheating”. And I agree with that, but also a violation of engineering ethics is in itself an engineering failure. I find it extremely concerning that not only one or two engineers, but an entire team of engineers would cheat. Surprising. Not really. But concerning, nonetheless. Corporations are inherently unethical. In my experience, they only really care about making money. Even when they do good things, it's often to improve or save their public image. Even Volkswagens recall program came after months of denial and after fines and immense pressure from governments to correct the mess they made. But the engineers should have known better, I hold them to a higher standard. They have a duty to protect the public, and they didn't here. I guess what I'm saying is don't be like Volkswagen, don't compromise yourself and your ethics, especially not for profits.
For photos and sources from this week's episode head to failurology.ca there's a link in the show notes. I've also included links to the Engineers Canada 30 by 30 initiative, and the National Engineering Month event calendar that I mentioned earlier. If you're enjoying what you're hearing, please rate review and subscribe to Failurology so more people can find it. If you want to chat with me, my Twitter handle is @Failurology, you can email me at theFailurologypodcast@gmail.com, or you can connect with me on LinkedIn. Check out the show notes for links to all of these. Thanks everyone for listening. Next week is Episode 20. Every 10th episode I'm going to do a special on an engineering marvel. Even the most advanced engineering designs aren't without problems. Next week special is about the Channel Tunnel, also known as the channel. It's a 50 kilometer train tunnel connecting the island of Great Britain to France. But more on that next week. Bye everyone. Talk soon!