As I Predicted, Another Diesel Emissions Shoe Drops

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 GM has been accused as well, though only in  a civil suit.

Now, most recently, Daimler is being accused of the same behavior

Daimler has been under suspicion of cheating on US emissions tests for quite a while now -- in 2016, a number of customers even sued the automaker, claiming their cars had sneaky software made to trick testers similar to Volkswagen's. Now, according to German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, US authorities investigating the Mercedes maker have discovered that its vehicles are equipped with illegal software to help them pass United States' stringent emission tests. Citing confidential documents, the publication said Daimler's employees doubted their vehicles would be able meet US standards even before Volkswagen's diesel scandal blew up. Internal testing apparently revealed that some Mercedes models emit ten times the country's nitrogen oxide limit.

Daimler reportedly developed software with several functions to be able to trick US regulators. One called "Bit 15" was designed to switch off emissions cleaning after 16 miles of driving, while another called "Slipguard" can detect if the car is being tested based on speed and acceleration. Bild am Sonntag said it found emails from Daimler engineers questioning whether those functions were legal.

To this day, I wonder how much European officials knew about all this as it was happening.  European officials really went all-in on promoting diesel years ago as an approach to combating climate change.  This has, by the way, turned out to be a great example of the danger of government picking winners, as diesel has really turned out to be one of the worst approaches for reducing emissions in transportation vehicles, both economically and environmentally.  Never-the-less, given the big commitment by European regulators in promoting diesel as a key part of their climate change plans, I wonder how much they were looking the other way through all of this -- such that their current "shock" at all this cheating might be equivalent to Reynault's shock that there was gambling going on in Rick's Cafe in Casablanca.

  • Roy_Lofquist

    My brother was in the diesel business for many years, IH, Cummins. He covered the Northwest and Alaska training dealer mechanics. Per him: A new engine for a big rig costs $25,000. So does a new muffler.

  • SamWah

    Round up the usual suspects.

  • sean2829

    Mercedes will be interesting to follow as their technology is quite different than VW. The Mercedes BluTec engine injects a water-urea mix to react with NOx compounds. The system is complex as it has to measure NOx levels and inject the correct amount of urea to balance the chemistry VW just tried to tune the emissions out of the system. The VW system was found out by driving the car around with emmissions equipment monitoring NOx in the trunk. Has anyone done that with Mercedes diesel?

  • cc

    I had a conversation with an engineer who works on emissions. He said you can tweek the engine for one pollutant or the other or performance but can't get all at the same time. Yep, hit the wall. Regulators who live in a world of words and concepts simply don't understand that there are thermodynamic limits to everything. Transmission lines lose juice, car mileage can't go to 50mgp, pollution can't go to zero.

  • CapitalistRoader

    Diesels are banned in Tokyo. Walking around there is a breath of fresh air compared to the big EU cities and the other big Asian cities. US cities are in the middle. While our private cars and taxis are gasoline, buses and delivery vehicles are diesel. It gets pretty stinky with diesel fumes in Manhattan and downtown Chicago but not nearly as bad as, say, London or Hong Kong.

  • Elam Bend

    think about the moves that have been made in Europe in the last 20 years: de-activation of nuclear, in favor of clean tech; a ramp up of coal mining/burning and wood chip burning due to poor base load production from clean tech, a big push for diesel. It's no wonder that Europe never meets their climate targets...and yes, I can't believe that powers to be didn't know what was up

  • Sam P

    I have to wonder why this was a key part of their policy. I suspect the difference now is under 10% and probably closer to 5%. (In terms of CO2 emitted per distance).

  • The_Big_W

    Legislator: Laws of thermodynamics!??! We should repeal those!!!

  • WhoStruckJohn

    Actually, the Generation III diesels from VW starting in 2015 use similar technology - selective catalytic reduction, it's called - but it wasn't good enough to meet EPA requirements without a fix to the urea injection rates. Annnddd ... Mercedes just got caught too:

  • markm

    Diesels are low-emission compared to gasoline engines if carbon dioxide is included in "emissions". My VW Jetta gets 50 mpg at freeway speeds, and I doubt any gasoline car of similar seating and luggage capacity could break 30 in real-world driving. There's a similar ratio for city driving. That's a big difference in CO2 emissions. I also have the impression that refining oil to gasoline requires more cracking and a much input than refining diesel fuel, so diesel has an even bigger advantage in overall CO2 emissions than the mileage difference indicates.

    To me, the US standards that make small diesel engines almost impossible are another example of how elite leftists are basically unserious about climate change, except as a club for bashing capitalism. If they really thought cutting CO2 was critically important, they'd have rewrote the emissions standards to strongly encourage diesel in everything bigger than a lawnmower.

    As for the actual pollutants, Europe long ago established different standards for diesels vs gasoline engines - .tighter for partially-burned fuel and easier on NOx and particulates They've always been overly dependent on imported oil and so mileage was always more important to them than in the US, even in the OPEC panic of the 1970's. They may be re-thinking that somewhat now, due to the rather bad air quality in many of their cities. (Remember that European cities are much denser than almost anywhere in the US.) I expect that with better particulate filters and diesel emissions fluid (urea) reactors, big diesel engines can be as clean as they want, but getting the price of these for little engines down low enough to go into a VW sedan would be quite a feat of engineering.

  • J K Brown

    It gets better with Volkswagen. Gassing monkeys.