Back stories related to Volkswagen emissions scandal


An Oct. 15, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Volkswagen ordered to recall 2.4 million vehicles in Germany with emissions-evading software.”

An Oct. 13, 2015 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “After VW: Ethical business and the question of honesty.”

An online journal article, of relevance with regard to the concept of ethical business, is entitled: “Rationality, morality and Joel Bakan’s The Corporation.”

[End of updates]


The VW emissions scandal makes for fun reading.

By that I mean that the research – an anecdotal observations – indicate that our brains are wired to attend closely to news of scandalous happenings. Of course, we also have the choice of focusing on good news stories about the world, but that is another story.

I am reminded of a comment by Manuel Castells asserting scandal is the epitome of politics; I’ve written about the latter author’s work at a June 18, 2013 post entitled: The concept of a networked society is appealing but has limitations. In quoting Castells, I am not implying that I agree with everything that the latter author has concluded about the features of political life.

I have, as well, added the links that follow below, about the VW scandal, as updates to a previous post entitled: Japan: A Concise History (2015) critiques narratives related to humanity’s impact upon the environment.

The latter post includes a reference to still another, earlier post about the history of neoliberalism:

Masters of the Universe (2012) focuses upon the analysis of neoliberalism, from the perspective of the available historical sources

A related topic concerns the role of instrumental reason in contemporary society. The link in the previous sentence provides links to previous posts that address instrumental reason, which can be used for good or for ill.

By way of bringing attention to the links, related to the VW emissions narrative, I’ve created the post that you are now reading.

Links related to VW emissions scandal

A Sept. 23, 2015 New York Times article, of interest with regard to climate change, is entitled: “A Car Scandal Shoves Berlin Off High Ground.”

A Sept. 25, 2015 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “I bought the lie, now VW will pay.”

A Sept. 23, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “Volkswagen C.E.O. Martin Winterkorn Resigns Amid Emissions Scandal.”

An Oct. 4, 2015 Foreign Affairs article is entitled: “The End of the People’s Car: How Volkswagen Lost Its Corporate Soul.” The article notes:

“In all this, the strange thing is how out of proportion the reaction in the United States has been to Volkswagen’s actual commercial position. Although the company’s market share has hovered below four percent for decades, its name retains strong cultural resonance due to memories of the legendary Beetle. Small, indestructible, unconventional, cute – these are the attributes that the American middle-class remembers decades after the original automobile disappeared from dealerships. The ‘bug’ gained these positive associations in the United States despite its unsavory origins in the Third Reich, where Adolf Hitler had commissioned automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche to develop an economical and sturdy vehicle that would motorize Nazi Germany. Never put into mass production before 1945, the small rounded vehicle designed in the late 1930s became an international bestseller during the postwar boom of the 1950s and 1960s. In an American auto market dominated by lavish vehicles with two-tone pastel paint jobs, high horsepower, ample amounts of chrome and tail fins, the diminutive import proved attractive for middle-class families in the expanding suburbs who needed an inexpensive and dependable second car for everyday chores.”

[End of excerpt]

Era of cheating software; $51-million in tax subsidies

A Sept. 23, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “Volkswagen and the Era of Cheating Software.”

The opening paragraphs read:

“For the past six years, Volkswagen has been advertising a lie: “top-notch clean diesel” cars — fuel efficient, powerful and compliant with emissions standards for pollutants. It turns out the cars weren’t so clean. They were cheating.

“The vehicles used software that cleverly put a lid on emissions during testing, but only then. The rest of the time, the cars spewed up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide emissions. The federal government even paid up to $51 million in tax subsidies to some car owners on the false assumption of environmental friendliness.

“In a world where more and more objects are run by software, we need to have better ways to catch such cheaters. As the Volkswagen case demonstrates, a smart object can lie and cheat. It can tell when it’s being tested, and it can beat the test.”

[End of excerpt]

The article adds: “Had it not been for the diligence of researchers in two small labs, one in Germany and one in the United States, they might have gone on cheating without notice.”

[End of excerpt]

Brief history of automotive scandals

A Sept. 22, 2015 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “A brief history of automotive scandals.”

An excerpt reads:

“Airbags are supposed to save your life, but not these. Some airbags made by the Japanese supplier Takata could send shrapnel flying through the cabin. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated 19.2 million cars were involved in resulting recalls. In 2014, The New York Times claimed Takata knew the airbags were faulty long before the story got out, but Takata strongly denied the allegations.”

[End of excerpt]

A Sept. 23, 2015 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “How a minor emissions experiment put Volkswagen in hot water.”

An Oct. 9, 2015 Guardian article is entitled: “Four more carmakers join diesel emissions row.”


A Sept. 28, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “An Unreliable Germany and the Volkswagen Debacle.”

Joel Bakan (2004)

The VW story bring to mind: The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (2004). A more recent study by Joel Bakan (his father Paul Bakan taught a psychology course that I much enjoyed, at Simon Fraser University, in the late 1960s or early 1970s) is entitled: Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children (2011).

Focusing upon the evidence, a Columbia University law professor makes a difference

A Sept. 22, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “Volkswagen’s Diesel Fraud Makes Critic of Secret Code a Prophet.”

The opening paragraphs read:

“A Columbia University law professor stood in a hotel lobby one morning and noticed a sign apologizing for an elevator that was out of order. It had dropped unexpectedly three stories a few days earlier. The professor, Eben Moglen, tried to imagine what the world would be like if elevators were not built so that people could inspect them.

“Mr. Moglen was on his way to give a talk about the dangers of secret code, known as proprietary software, that controls more and more devices every day.

“’Proprietary software is an unsafe building material,’ Mr. Moglen had said. “You can’t inspect it.'”

[End of excerpt]

The latter article adds, with reference to road-testing by engineers at West Virginia University of VW cars that had passed emissions inspections:

“This cheating was not discovered by the E.P.A., which sets emissions standards but tests only 10 to 15 percent of new cars annually, relying instead on ‘self certification’ by auto manufacturers. The scam came to light when engineers at West Virginia University road-tested Volkswagen cars that had passed emission inspections. The cars, the engineers discovered, actually pumped out more pollutants when they were in the real world. Far from trying to make trouble for Volkswagen, the engineers had been hired by the International Council on Clean Transportation, a clean-air advocacy group that hoped to use Volkswagens to show European regulators how efficiently diesel cars could meet the strict emissions limits set by the United States.”

[End of excerpt]

Also of interest is a Sept. 23, 2014 New York Times article entitled: “Volkswagen Test Rigging Follows a Long Auto Industry Pattern.” I don’t have the link as I’ve used up my 10 free articles a month from the New York Times website. I know about the article because I bought a print copy of the New York Times at a newsstand at Cloverdale Mall.

A Sept. 24, 2015 New Yorker article is entitled: “The Environmental Legacy of the Volkswagen Scandal.” “This is one of the more remarkable corporate scandals in history,” the article asserts, “and by the time it’s over the company, which at the moment is the world’s largest automaker, is likely to be a shadow of its past self.” The article adds that, in effect, “the cars Volkswagen said it was selling were not the cars it actually sold.”

Control over information – price of gas

A Sept. 25, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “Why is NRC’s fuel price report suspended during election? Want to know why pump prices are still high? It has to do with refinery margins.”

The value of evidence

The broader topic with regard to these matters concerns the value of evidence.

Click here to access previous posts concerning the value of evidence >

Click here for previous posts about evidence-based practice >

Included among the latter posts is one entitled:

Evidence-based practice and the eradication of science

I’ve been reading (as time permits) a great book that rounds out some of the stories connected to the current federal election:

Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know (2015)

The Toronto Public Library says it’s published in 2014 but the copy I’m reading is published in 2015. Good book, well researched, well written.

With regard to the distinction between rhetoric and reality, the fair trade concept is of related interest – as is the topic of scams and scamming.


2 replies
  1. graeme decarie
    graeme decarie says:

    Great! I can use this one.
    The current election races scare me. The Canadian campaign is not dealing with any, real issues. That’s normal in a campaign. Most people have no idea what the issues are – and just mentioning they exist will scare voters off. We’re getting a taste of that in Quebec as Harper is drawing on bigotry and fear to argue against Muslim women with a veil taking the oath of citizenship. Even if it were a legitimate issue (which I don’t think it is), it’s not one that government should rise or fall on.

    The American Republican race is quite insane. It’s running on pure fear and hysteria.

    The reality is that democracy no longer exists in the U.S. It’s gone years ago That’s no exaggeration. Whoever wins, either republican or democrat, will be owned by big money.

    And we’re on the edge of seeing the end of it in Canada.. Harper’s election would see to that.

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    I’m pleased you enjoy the VW story. It’s a story that will be around, at least for a while.

    I’ve been reading (as time permits) a great book that rounds out some of the stories connected to the current election:

    Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know (2015)

    The Toronto Public Library says it’s published in 2014 but the copy I’m reading is published in 2015. Good book, well researched, well written.

    Also of interest regarding similar themes: Unaccountable: Truth and Lies on Parliament Hill (2015).


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