September 24, 2015 § Leave a comment
Remember the days when you took your car to a “Mechanic” instead of an “Automotive Technician” ?
Those were the days when you could just go to the garage, buy a 20 cent light bulb and replace the blown one in your internal light. These days…..you have to take your vehicle to the dealership where some bloke with a bit of factory training plugs it into the “diagnostic unit” and tells you that the Pulse Width Modulation module that allows your internal light to dim (instead of just turn off) has blown. It will take a week to get a new module from Melbourne and half a day to fit and will cost $585. “Would you like to book a detail for when you bring your car in?”
They call this progress.
So…how the hell did Volkswagen end up in this mess? How did it all go so horribly wrong?
Having had a bit of software and technology development experience (yes, we even have computers underground), I can tell you how it happens. See…when you start introducing computers and software to stuff, you have an enormous amount of flexibility. Things aren’t so black and white anymore. I would doubt that anyone actually set out to defraud the public.
The reliability and power of microprocessors has increased exponentially over the last couple of decades. As we all know, the little buggers have found their way into our cars and are used for everything from saving your life to dimming the internal light. Microprocessors greatly reduce the amount of wiring in cars as you can have little ones distributed everywhere through the vehicle rather than having all of the wires going back to one point.
The very second that you put software into anything is the point in time that you can change things quickly, easily and cheaply. And… because you can…..you do.
So why do the VWs have a “Dyno Mode” ? Because on a dyno, you may only have your front or back wheels driving. The others are completely stationary and often strapped down. This is a completely alien situation for a stability control computer that is sitting there trying to detect abnormalities in the driving dynamics of the vehicles. This is a real pain when you are doing something a little different.
Honda Hairpin at Phillip Island is the classic example….when you are cruising in there at a couple of hundred K and there is a car braking in front of you, the computer in my Merc assumes that I am about to have a massive prang and wrenches the crap out of the seatbelt to try to save my life. It hurts!. The car doesn’t know you are racing and that it is perfectly normal to have another car just in front of you at that speed. I’d love to have that function turned off in “Race Mode”, but the boys at AMG won’t let that happen.
Given that you have to have a “Dyno Mode”, you suddenly know when the vehicle is on the test stand. There is nothing wrong, unethical or illegal about this. It’s just a fact of life for modern cars. So, because you are already changing a few settings for “Dyno Mode” , it doesn’t take much to change a few other settings……like the engine mapping.
This idea could have started with just a programmer or two and gradually ballooned thinking they weren’t doing anything wrong. Change a parameter from .57 to .58 here, .78 to .79 there….not much. What they had discovered was an ability to meet the emissions standards while also increasing economy and power a bit. At some stage (and this is pure speculation) someone higher up found out about this ability and went completely overboard. At that stage, they had crossed the line between a “tweak” and fraud….a system that is so far from the original mapping that it produces vastly different emissions between the “Dyno Modes” and normal modes…..and you know it’s happening. It is entirely possible that only a group of three or four people ever knew about this. The fact that there were so many vehicles out there with this software mod would indicate that it was almost impossible to pick up without sensitive instruments and a stringent test regime.
Here’s where things get interesting…..
An organisation know as “The international Council on Clean Transportation” funded some Uni students to measure the highway emissions of a BMW and a couple of VWs and gave them the sensitive instrumentation required to catch VW out. Why did they choose these cars??? Who knows. They had some pretty hi-tech gear to do the testing…
They found that the VWs were emitting higher than stated emissions…..and the world fell apart for VW.
Who is The international Council on Clean Transportation ? They are group principally funded by Climate Works who are a climate change mob who themselves are funded by a bunch of foundations including those of Mr Hewlett and Mr Packard.
Did they know what they were going to find? I don’t know, but I have a feeling they did. No doubt, there are a bunch of European car manufacturers checking their software tonight.