As Predicted Here 2 Years Ago, More Diesel Emissions Cheating Alleged

Back in November of 2015 I wrote:

I would be stunned if the Volkswagen emissions cheating is limited to Volkswagen.  Volkswagen is not unique -- Cat and I think Cummins were busted a while back for the same thing.  US automakers don't have a lot of exposure to diesels (except for pickup trucks) but my guess is that something similar was ubiquitous.

My thinking was that the Cat, Cummins, and VW cheating incidents all demonstrated that automakers had hit a wall on diesel emissions compliance -- the regulations had gone beyond what automakers could comply with and still provide consumers with an acceptable level of performance.

Since then Fiat-Chrysler has been accused of the same behavior, and now GM is accused as well, though only in  a civil suit.

A class-action lawsuit accuses General Motors of rigging emission-control systems on 2011–2016 Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD pickups with GM’s Duramax turbo-diesel 6.6-liter V-8 engine. If the allegations are proved true, the environmental damage from these 705,000 trucks, which the lawsuit said emit two to five times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in typical driving conditions, could easily exceed that of Volkswagen’s emission-test-cheating TDI engines.

Of course, people can say any thing they want in a civil suit, so this needs to be proved, but I think it probably is true.

A while back a reader with some inside knowledge explained what was going on.

  • C078342

    I keep waiting for someone to quantify the "excess" NOx emissions, Until someone does, no one can assess whether this is a mountain or a molehill.

  • Roy_Lofquist

    My brother worked for Cummins for many years. According to him it's to the point now that replacing an engine costs about $25,000 and a new muffler (exhaust system) is actually a little more than that.

  • ErikTheRed

    The regulations are stupid, but what's even dumber is the auto and heavy equipment manufacturers cheating in order to play ball. I mean, where did they think this was going to wind up?!?? They could have been the "victims" and taken a short-term hit, but instead they get to be the bad guys and get thoroughly reamed. I guess it's sort of a prisoners' dilemma thing, but unlike the prisoners' dilemma there is no release in the long run for staying quiet. Sooner or later you're going to get caught. I'm taking it as a given that everyone important knew what was going on, and apparently nobody had the brains / guts / latitude to say or do anything about it. In my view that is indicative of an industry that's ripe for extreme disruption.

  • sean2829

    I also think its appropriate to mention that there are two NOx reduction technologies. The cheaper of the two (used by VW) uses tuning and back end emissions clean up to the exhaust to make the vehicle compliant. The second technology uses urea injection into the exhaust to generate ammonia and convert NOx to nitrogen (Urea-SCR systems). It is more expensive to pull off because you've got to properly atomize and mix the urea-water solution with the exhaust gases and make sure you the ammonia is properly proportioned to the NOx emission in real time. I don't think companies that use this technology are in as much trouble with the EPA as the companies that use the cheaper system but they are all getting a close look by the regulatory bodies.

  • Matthew Slyfield

    The more the government regulators make a fuss about this, the more likely it is to be a molehill rather than a mountain.

  • JOe - the non scientist

    Marginal cost vs marginal benefit

    Do the regulators realy believed they have repealed the law of diminishing returns.

    Maybe the regulators can get the US Congress to pass a law repealing the law of diminishing returns

  • C078342

    I worked for a major aircraft engine manufacturer, base in Conn, for 40 years, mostly doing emissions reduction work. In 1995 I was involved in the certification of a 90,000 lb thrust engine -- we squeaked by a few percentage points of NOx. 20 years later, before I retired, the NOx standards had been reduced by tens of percent, but we had developed, with NASA's assistance, viable combustor designs that produced levels to a quarter of the new regs. Some are flying people today. The point is, the market drove these designs, particularly in Europe. I can recall on operator that told us we didn't have to have the lowest NOx, we just could not have the highest. NOx regs are set by ICAO, and UN organization, which, surprisingly, respects what technology can achieve. The EPA mandates without this cognizance -- witness the mileage standards imposed by 0bama.

  • Don

    This comes immediately to mind:

    “Did you really think we want those laws observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against... We're after power and we mean it... There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Reardon, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with.”

    ― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

  • DirtyJobsGuy

    NOX (Nitrogen Oxides) has been an exercise in fictitious controls for years. Since it is a transportable pollutant (moved relatively long distances by the wind) large areas around the big cities have elevated concentrations. The EPA sets generally unreachable standards and then declares large sections of the country out of compliance. The states are responsible for taking action to meet these targets. If you are in a non-compliant zone there are lots of hoops to jump through to build any thing that emits additional NOX. This means any buildings or power plants must find offsets, real or fictitious . The states in theory are supposed to suppress vehicle emissions by imposing car sharing or other nonsense. It's all a shell game. The reduced NOX emissions in the beginning really made improvements in health and safety, but the new ones are way past that point. Now the carbon dioxide limits that favor diesel efficiency will be in conflict with NOX limits. The usual green chasing their tails while some smart operator cashes in.

  • Matthew Slyfield

    "Do the regulators realy believed they have repealed the law of diminishing returns."

    Of course not, to believe that they have repealed it would require that they believed it existed in the first place.

  • Bistro

    "this ole thing? it's hardly at all radio-active. Nothing to worry your pretty little head about."

    Srsly, I can't imagine the loser that thought that the dirtiest burning engines somehow cleaned up just because VW was selling them. And yet they say, a sucker is born every minute. Lsrs.

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  • CC

    My friend works for an auto company doing emissions work. He says you can tune the engine to give good fuel economy, or power, or good emissions, but not all three. But EPA demands all three in violation of entropy and combustion physics. Even within emissions classes there are tradeoffs. Current EPA does not understand tradeoffs or that some things are simply impossible.

  • Bram

    Yep - my assumption is that any diesel engine without a urea kit is probably not compliant once it leaves the dealership.

  • Jaedo Drax

    You can also assume that any engine with a urea kit will not be continually compliant.

  • C078342

    Off course they understand, but they are bureaucrats and are not interested in reality, only power. As I said elsewhere, aircraft engine emissions are regulated by a NATO organization, and have to take into account technology, need, and economics. Who would have thought the UN could be this reasonable? I have recently read reports that suggest that lighter cars with better gas mileage are more dangerous than heavier cars. So the EPA and 0bama have blood on their hands.

  • progenitive

    I agree that we see very little on the actual magnitude of the problem. At the following link is an attempt at quantifying the problem, using extra deaths due to VW's noncompliance:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/06/science/volkswagen-emissions-scandal-air-pollution-deaths.html?_r=0

    I don't know how much trust I'd put in the estimate, but at least it's an effort to put a magnitude on the problem. I also don't really know how to evaluate a particular number of extra deaths, without a LOT more context. And if 1200 people die 'prematurely', how much sooner are they dying? Seems like a better metric would be how many years of life are lost. Why did they not use that metric?

    It says there that VW cars could emit 4x the standard (in Europe), while I hear often that in the US it's 40x. I think European standards are significantly less restrictive than the US standard, but it's hard to believe it's by a factor of 10.

    In any case the whole thing is muddied and unclear, and it's nearly impossible to find trustworthy, informative reporting on this. I don't think many people care. Some people like to rail about evil corporations, and the "40x the limit" sounds great for them (no need to know how likely that is, or at what duty factor it occurs). Others immediately side with VW (mainly people who own one of the diesel vehicles, as I do, and like them, as I do) and have roughly the same disinterest in meaningful information about the scandal.

    I'm going to very likely take the buyout, since I don't know how the vehicle's value with "the fix" will be affected. Interestingly, though, no fix has yet been identified/offered for my vehicle (2012 Jetta SportWagen TDI), nearly 2 years later, and I have over a year yet to decide what to do. Apparently the excess emissions are not so tragic as to have officials worry too much about all the cars out there still doing it.

  • Dan Wendlick

    It's a classic case of a rational response to an irrational set of conditions. If we don't cheat, we will lose market share to a company that does. If we do cheat, there's a chance we won't get caught. If we do get caught, there's a chance we can bargain down to a slap-on-the-wrist penalty. If we do cheat and don't get caught, we make a lot of money.

    It to me brings to mind how GE almost bankrupted itself chasing riskier and riskier strategies trying to match the returns that Enron was claiming to be generating, or the hedge funds that busted out trying to match Bernie Madoff. Once one player starts to cheat, the only rational response is to cheat as well, hoping the entire table never gets busted.

  • Dan Wendlick

    Will the engine shut down when it runs out of "exhaust juice"? And even if so, are there YouTube videos available on how to override that sensor?

  • Jaedo Drax

    The juice lasts about 10k miles, and if you run out, you go into limp home mode, which limits the power. I don't know if there are an videos on disabling it, or using liquids other than DEF.

    What is usually left out is the process increase the amount of CO2 produced at the first step, giving CO2 and NH4 as it products.

  • ErikTheRed

    You do realize that the law of diminishing returns applies longest, hardest, and deepest to "things that try to restrain government."

  • ErikTheRed

    In the short term, yes, absolutely. In the long run it's often a "bet the company" decision.

  • 学习是人前进的助力,认真拜读咯!

  • Dan Wendlick

    While I was curious about the specific answers, I was making the meta-point that if it is advantageous for the manufacturers to cheat, would it be equally or more advantageous, with more or less the same incentives in place, for an individual to chat even if the systems were in place, properly designed and working optimally?

    I see plenty of diesels "running coal" in town already.

  • Jaedo Drax

    You mean use an aftermarket tuning tool to make adjustments to fuel tables, to bypass the urea systems, to use various methods to increase performance or fuel economy? absolutely, the tools are out there, and cost no more than about $500 at the top end.

  • Zachriel

    Your implication is that modern cars cannot have better fuel economy, greater effective power, and lower emissions, than cars built in the 1950s or the 1920s. (Note, by making the car lighter, such as by using plastics or aluminum rather than steel, can result in a car with better fuel economy, greater effective power, and lower emissions.)

  • Zachriel

    Modern cars are safer than cars from previous generations; due to crumple zones, safety cages, seat belts, air bags, and other design features. So it is possible to have cars that have better fuel economy, greater effective power, lower emissions, and still be safer for the occupants.

  • CC

    I am not comparing cars now to the 1920s, I am comparing cars now, which already have plastics etc with what EPA is demanding. That is, cars are pretty much at their efficiency/safety/pollution/gas mileage tradeoff limit. An SUV with 50mpg mileage and low pollution etc is not going to happen. The auto companies have been under pressure to deliver this for 50 years and if they could have done it they would have.

  • Zachriel

    CC: That is, cars are pretty much at their efficiency/safety/pollution/gas mileage tradeoff limit.

    As they were in the 1920s.

    CC: An SUV with 50mpg mileage and low pollution etc is not going to happen.

    Electric SUVs are due in about 2020.

  • glenn.griffin3

    Modern cars are MUCH safer than previous cars. At the expense of weight (fuel economy) and cost. How many $250 airbags does your current car have in it? Plus sensors, plus computer, plus engineering and testing for crumple zones and cabin space strengthening. Not that these are bad things, but they all come at a tradeoff cost. TANSTAAFL

  • C078342

    Never suggested that today's cars are not the safest ever. But a small car today is NOT as safe as a larger car today. It is beyond my pay grade to adjudicate the trade between reduced emissions and human life. But that trade exists and can be quantified.

  • Zachriel

    You said the "EPA and Obama have blood on their hands" based on smaller cars being less safe than larger cars. Yet cars are safer now.

  • Zachriel

    glenn.griffin3: At the expense of weight (fuel economy) and cost.

    Modern cars are safer and have better fuel economy.

    glenn.griffin3: TANSTAAFL

    Technology often renders old trade-offs obsolete, so that modern cars can be better at all the old trade-offs. We can reasonably expect that newer cars will be able to push through old barriers.

  • CC

    We were talking about gas mileage and pollution, not electric cars. My claim is that cars have pretty much reached their thermodynamic limits as gasoline vehicles. And I will believe the 2020 date for electric SUVs when I see it.

  • Zachriel

    CC: My claim is that cars have pretty much reached their thermodynamic limits as gasoline vehicles.

    Gas engines work at about 25%-35% efficiency, so there is some room for improvement. Also, new materials may result in lighter vehicles.

    CC: We were talking about gas mileage and pollution, not electric cars.

    It's all about innovation.

  • Joe

    Air bags actually do very little to save lifes.

    several studies show that seat belts save approx 42-43% of lifes of otherwise fatal crashes. Air bags plus seat belts only increase that percentage by approx 2-3%. As I recall, the seat belts alone save more lives that air bags alone.

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