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Volkswagen Sued For Violating State Environmental Statutes With Dieselgate (theverge.com) 123

The attorneys general of New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland are suing Volkswagen for violating state environmental regulations with its diesel emissions cheating scandal. The states say that the car company has violated their air quality laws, combined with some sort of anti-fraud measure for the defeat mechanisms to bypass emissions testing. The move comes after many states agreed to a $14.7 billion settlement for violating consumer protection and EPA and California state environmental regulations. The Verge reports: "Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche defrauded thousands of Massachusetts consumers, polluted our air, and damaged our environment and then, to make matters worse, plotted a massive cover-up to mislead environmental regulators," said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a statement. This was echoed by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who released his own statement saying "the allegations against Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche reveal a culture of deeply-rooted corporate arrogance, combined with a conscious disregard for the rule of law and the protection of public health and the environment."
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Volkswagen Sued For Violating State Environmental Statutes With Dieselgate

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  • The thing I haven't seen explained well is if the software detects the car is being tested and emits only the allowed level of pollutants, why not just an update that runs in that mode all the time? Does something overheat and catch fire or what?

    • by hwstar ( 35834 )

      The car in test mode probably has a reduced level of performance. The way to combat this is to test performance against the performance specs on a random sample of 1-2 year old vehicles at the smog test station using a dynamometer.

      • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2016 @01:05PM (#52541661) Journal

        It detects that it's running on the dynamometer. You'd have to somehow run it on an actual street to get the non-test-mode results.

        • The test equipment for mobile operation is probably pretty expensive and if you wanted to test many cars it would need to be moved from car to car to get a representative sample.

          I haven't seen how the system actually knows the car is being tested on a dynamometer. Does the system know the rear wheels aren't turning? That might be easy for a 4-wheel drive car but I'm guessing the VWs are front wheel drive only. Using GPS would also be unreliable. Anybody know?
        • It detects that it's running on the dynamometer. You'd have to somehow run it on an actual street to get the non-test-mode results.

          Unless you use a four-wheel dyno, and then exceed the test procedure, in which case it doesn't do any such thing and then you get real results. TFLCar did this, see Youtube.

        • No it doesn't. This is a common misconception. If you put it on a dyno and drove it the way normal people drive instead of the highly artificial way the testing procedure does, you'd get correct (i.e. dirty) results. If you somehow managed to drive it around on the street precisely within the testing envelope, you'd get clean results.

      • The car in test mode probably has a reduced level of performance. The way to combat this is to test performance against the performance specs on a random sample of 1-2 year old vehicles at the smog test station using a dynamometer.

        There's no "probably" about it; that's the whole cause of this mess; the emissions controls in test mode absolutely have lower performance. And all the news is that any fix is going to shoot the performance. So, anyway, back to my question: why isn't the fix just to change the software instead of this talk of modifications to the physical emissions controls? There must be some reason, but I haven't figured it out yet.

    • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2016 @01:55PM (#52542107) Journal
      The test mode cuts the performance about 20%. IOW, the poor bastards bought a real POS.
      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        So basically the test mode is exactly what is in my Mitsubishi Outlander when I press the eco-mode button. Which I normally leave it in 99.99% of the time (I have run with it off to test the difference, once, it is quite noticeable). Question is, is the vehicle also more fuel efficient in this mode and thus can it be forced to be active all of the time for the customers who choose that. Likely the engine management system kicks in this mode when the vehicle sustains revs with a specific range of revs for a

    • I remember a commercial back a few years from VW. Advertising their Clean Diesel cars.
      Two guys doing house work, one rather nice looking and the other kinda Dorky. The nice looking guy had the VW and the Dorky guy had a Prius.
      In general the point was the VW had nearly the same gas milage as the Prius with all the extra power of a Diesel.

      However turning on this test mode reduces efficiency. So to get the same mileages they will need less power or keep the power for less gas mileage. So in general that Dorky

    • The test mode does have reduced levels of performance, but the bigger issue is the durability of the emissions control system. To lower costs, VW designed the emissions components to survive for the life of the vehicle (semis have parts which are easy to access and replace, but are expensive). In cheat mode, the emissions controls are cycled more frequently and the components will most likely fail before the end of the life of the vehicle. Replacing some of them costs upwards of $6k, and they're required by
      • The test mode does have reduced levels of performance

        I think it might be more accurate to say that the "road" mode had better performance. I believe that both the MPG figures and the emissions figures are based on the test mode. The ads hinted that, unlike other cars, real-world ("road" mode) MPG was better than the quoted MPG, unlike other cars.

        Road mode wasn't engaged unless the ECU was sure the car wasn't running on a dyno -- in other words, test mode was the default.

    • by eepok ( 545733 )
      Because people want their Lotto tickets. A recent survey showed that a majority of VW owners don't want the problem fixed; they want full refunds for the original prices of their vehicles. They're hoping to strike it big with a class action lawsuit and get a new car out of it despite them consciously experiencing harm.

      It's the American way.
  • by hwstar ( 35834 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2016 @12:51PM (#52541511)

    For blatant environmental disregard such as this, the corporation should not offer protection to the officers and directors. The corporate veil should be pierced, and the state should go after the officers and directors both criminally and civilly. The corporate protection from liability should just be there to protect against legal action arising from unforeseen circumstances in the evolution of a company. In this case, the emissions rules were purposefully disregarded and, there should be a heavy price to pay for that.

    • Agreed. Although since they act on behalf of the share holders, maybe they need to be liable too.

      Put some responsibility back in to the corporate world

      • The shareholders will be, at least in the short term, as the stock will take an inevitable hit. If VW is sufficiently pummeled in the courts, then the shareholders are likely to lose their entire investment.

        • True, but this is downright criminal. And jail time is the only punishment that's going cause any real change...

          • You can't hold people responsible who had nothing to do with the crime. Shareholders have no direct power over most corporate decisions. The Board and management could potentially be held liable, to be sure, because they actually have governance and decision-making roles.

            • They are the "owners" they ARE responsible.

              • You do understand that for a criminal prosecution to proceed, intent has to be demonstrated. Since most shareholders are not in a position to make any significant decisions, there's no intent, and thus no prosecution possible. You can't go after people just because they own some stock.

                • Negligence can be a crime, as can conspiracy to hide a crime. Make the shareholders more responsible for knowing what goes on in a company they invest in. Their dollars make it possible, so they ARE responsible.

                  • In both cases you would still need to prove intent, not to mention means. Just because someone owns shares in a business doesn't mean they are in any position to be held criminally responsible. It would be like prosecuting the members of a church because the deacon is a child molester, for the apparent crime of attending that church.

                    • If you lend your car to someone, and they kill/damage someone or their property, YOU can be held responsible for damages as owner of the car. Shareholders are Owners of the business, therefore, they are responsible for it and its actions

        • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

          You do realize that the shareholders can sue VW as well. They lost value in their investment due to fraudulent actions of the company.

      • You realize VW is largely owned by a German state (and the Porsche family)? Good luck with that, you'll be suing them in their own courtroom.

        • You realize VW is largely owned by a German state....

          Commonly-believed urban legend. Volkswagen AG's only governmental holder is the State of Lower Saxony, at 12.7% of the shares.

          Claiming VW is owned by the German federal government is like saying ExxonMobil is owned by the United States of America because CalPers holds shares of it in their pension fund.

        • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

          No, suit was filed in Albany, NY. You don't need to file where the company is owned.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by sittingnut ( 88521 )

      iow you are saying, since this particular crime(unlike say crimes that led to financial crisis) is offends against western elite's(herds's) morality, it should be punished severely, ignoring due process, disregarding long established precedents and case law (all of which have solid well argued rationales), and with total disregard for obvious consequence of arbitrarily removing immunity of directors(collapse of the one of the greatest inventions of west, limited liability company ).

      short sighted much?

      • No, I don't think anyone said that the flagrant level of wrongdoing here should be treated unlike other formulaically similar situations, which are off-topic, but nonetheless also had parties fully deserving of being prosecuted directly as individuals, who also still largely have not faced justice. I don't think anyone is saying that at all. You may be confused because they're not talking about stuff that is off topic.

      • What's so great about immunity of directors? As we see here, it encourages violation of the law. If they get caught, they don't suffer any consequences, so why not take risks to maximise profits?

        • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

          This is why there's a difference between negligence and criminal negligence. Intentions matter. And criminal negligence needs to be punished by prison terms.

    • Limited liability should never cover employees, board members, or activist owners.

  • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2016 @12:54PM (#52541529) Journal

    Shortly after this started, someone reported that GM, Chrysler, and Ford performed substantially-similar to Volkswagen, with the caveat that Volkswagen was more efficient: everyone's vehicles are tuned to hit emissions standards in testing conditions, and quickly increase their output as you leave those standards; Volkswagen happened to enter a different mode of behavior under testing conditions, instead of playing the wink-and-nudge.

    Someone accused everyone involved of protectionism, trying to push foreign companies out in order to strengthen local manufacture. I think it's more that people are more forgiving of villains who twirl their moustaches at you while you interact, as they feel they've gotten a fairer deal when someone violates the spirit of the rules than if the terms were hammered out and the other guy just bluntly cheated. Same outcome, but one of these pisses people off.

    Those of us who are more level-headed (read: introverts [wikipedia.org]) tend to miss the group-think and not care as much about the other guy being a dick (because of a lack of investment in squishy feelings of companionship), and so are a little less misgiving about the guy who brazenly cheated, and a little more concerned with the rules being set up such that cheating and playing by the rules are essentially the same thing, since this implies that the rules don't work (why have them at all if breaking them doesn't actually change anything?).

    So my understanding is there is a larger problem here in which everyone gets to cheat, but most people do so in an acceptable way, and this is all a bunch of feel-good measure being taken to quell people's personal feelings of unfairness, and has actually no material impact on the world. That is to say: all the stuff about polluting your air and defrauding consumers is bullshit by way of literally every alternative being both acceptable and functionally identical.

    • This is pretty smart. I wish I had mod points for you today.

      • It sounds smart; my grasp on the situation is ... approximate. I'm probably more-correct on the manner of thinking that goes into the larger social reflexes (i.e. the concept that things like looming terrorism or pollution with murderous intent are believed by all these nutjobs on the basis of group hysteria rather than malicious politics), and less-correct on the specific details (to which my exposure has been thin). In emerging situations, I can mostly only repeat what I've heard (that's technically tr

    • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

      I've had this argument with my wife (a double MBA) several times, regarding businesses skirting the laws. Her stance is that a practice is either legal or it's not. And, if it's legal, then business has an obligation to take advantage of any legal way to maximize profits. I don't personally agree with it, but understand it. There shouldn't be grey area, but there typically is, and business will take advantage of it, just like all these companies moving their financial assets outside of the US to avoid p

      • That's poor business theory. It stems from an invalid hypothesis that businesses have an obligation to maximize the benefit to all stakeholders (shareholders, employees, and customers), and that the benefit to all stakeholders can't be known, and thus a business should maximize profits because stakeholders will cause a reduction in profits if the business is doing something against the interests of its customers or employees.

        That said, I also don't believe the tax issues are important (the impact is min

  • Cash Grab (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Tuesday July 19, 2016 @12:54PM (#52541531)

    Sure, what VW did was flaky, bad, evill, and so on. But now we are getting into the "obligitory" cash grab, none of these law suites will result in resources to address "climate change" or give VW owners more than a cupon for a Big Mac.

    • Re:Cash Grab (Score:4, Insightful)

      by swb ( 14022 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2016 @01:04PM (#52541643)

      Fast-forward to some future election...

      "When I was the attorney general, I stood up to crooked multinationals like Volkswagen and I made them pay for the environmental damage they did and their illegal business practices. I have always put the interests of this state first and I always will."

      After the election...

      "Amalgamated Mining, Pipelines and Smelting has been a bedrock of this state's economy for years, and I won't allow the environmental bureaucrats at the EPA to undermine the jobs and economy of this state. Their needless regulation runs counter to the economic security of our state."

    • Actually, if done right, VW should be made to buy these cars back at original price and then allow that to be applied towards an EV from the company, OR they get the value of the vehicle PRIOR to knowing what was wrong.
    • Re:Cash Grab (Score:5, Informative)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2016 @02:18PM (#52542375) Homepage Journal

      But now we are getting into the "obligitory" cash grab, none of these law suites will result in resources to address "climate change" or give VW owners more than a cupon for a Big Mac.

      Well, if you'd been following this story you'd know that owners' claims have already been dealt with as part of a fifteen billion (or put another way 6% of the company's annual revenues) settlement. So VW owners' interests are no longer at issue. The same settlement included 2 dollars for clean car research -- although technically that's not a fine, since the products of that research would belong to VW. It also included 2.7 million dollars to the EPA for violating US Federal law. That does NOT settle claims by US States for violating their laws.

      Before I continue, let's put these numbers in context: 10.2 in owner compensation + 2.7 in Federal fines. The context is this: Volkwagen Group has annual revenues of 234 billion dollars and normally keeps over twenty billion dollars in cash on hand. It's enough money to hurt, but it's still pocket change.

      Now in the US states are separate legal entities who can make and enforce their own laws. And this wasn't just a case of the company acting sloppily, or an individual rogue actor, or some weird arcane rule that could be easily overlooked. It was clearly a deliberate company strategy to commit consumer and regulatory fraud in order to gain a market advantage over its law-abiding competitors. It got caught, so now the company has to run the gantlet and take it's wrist slaps from every jurisdiction it broke the law in. If it dies of acute wrist trauma, well it's not as if the company didn't know what it was doing. It took the risk that it could get away with it and it lost. End of story. If they go out of business it's hardly an excessive result given their baldly criminal intentions.

      • Well, if you'd been following this story you'd know that owners' claims have already been dealt with as part of a fifteen billion (or put another way 6% of the company's annual revenues) settlement.

        Last I heard, they were offering owners a fraction of the lost value, and they were under no obligation to accept. Is that not still the case?

    • I'm from NY and I *guarantee* this is all about the state getting a few more $$$ under the guise of "environment". Wouldn't surprise me if it was basically Schumer.

    • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

      I'd typically agree with you, but then I just got a check in the mail for the class action suit on DRAM. It was only about $90, but I doubt that I'd lost that much originally.

  • With All the Governments piling on, will VW be able to survive? One of the biggest auto companies failing? Is VW "too big to fail"? (It's bigger than GM was at the time of its failure.) 100Ks of employees (VW, dealers, suppliers, etc.) out of work? This is a really big catastrophe in the making. BTW, I would be interested in one of the originally coded diesel engines with higher mpg than the "test code"/EPA dehanced diesel engines that are coming. I'll bet there are plenty of people who want one.
    • That's why you go after the Board of Directors and CEO that was on watch when this all went down.

    • Since Volkswagen is *not* an American company, they're immune to bailout protection.

  • Dear Editors (Score:5, Informative)

    by Digital Mage ( 124845 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2016 @01:03PM (#52541623)

    Please stop using the word "-gate" on any story that has some sort of scandal. Watergate was over 40 years ago....LET IT GO! and just use the word scandal.

    • So, you are complaining about gate-gate? But wait, I am complaining about your complaint.

      Does that make me a gate-gate-gater? :D

    • over 40 years ago

      I'd wager that most of our other words are even older. And really, why use a borrowed French word like "scandal" when there is the perfectly good English word "wrongdoing"? The Norman invasion was almost 1000 years ago! Let it go.

    • The reason why this new word usage takes favor is because of computer search.

      The most correct way to track discussion topics across multiple mediums would be to create a centralized database and then you request an identifier whenever you want to discuss a new topic. And you use that new ID in your tweets and posts. Because IDs are unique, it is easy to track the beginning and end of the discussion -- just Google for AA536410-7827-4F4A-8F84-F33EE892D9E4 and all those discussions will come right up.

      Of course

    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      I am going to refer to the scandal you just started at gategate.

  • The aim should be to ensure that the managers responsible for the decision get prison time - fed an air flow of their car's diesel fumes naturally. Anything else is window dressing - but sadly I don't see it happening. Merely extracting money from a company is to damage its shareholders, most of whom are not culpable for the criminal acts done in their name.

  • When you get your NY State Emissions test on your vehicle....does the inspector somehow trigger the software to activate? How has this gone unnoticed when every vehicle gets tested annually?
    • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2016 @01:54PM (#52542101) Homepage

      The test is different - run on a specimen model of vehicle - and the pollution monitored. It's highly prescribed in terms of how it's run. This happens, then that happens, then that happens.

      The software is built to detect this series of unusual speeds, consistent runs, in a predictable order, and modify its parameters.

      It's the most disgusting kind of "cheat the test" mechanic, which is why they're being screwed to the wall for it. It's not a question of anything being activated, or the software going into a certain mode automatically. It's literally designed to detect the test sequence and then cut its performance on detection so that it passes the test. There is no other reason for that code to exist, and it NEVER activates during normal driving (so the test is entirely useless, yes, but also it's been gamed quite deliberately).

      It goes unnoticed because there's been no retesting of vehicles after the initial certification, except your normal emissions test, which is designed to take account of older, more polluting cars. Nobody is saying the car itself isn't legal to pass emissions tests - they just committed deliberate fraud to get it classed as lower emissions vehicle than it EVER could be in normal use.

      New out of the factory, it's more polluting than it ever is tested to be, even on the regular emissions tests (which are incredibly short-lived anyway), and will only get worse with time and by the time it does fail tests, you are out of warranty and they can just say it's because of how you used the vehicle or bad luck.

      But on the road, under normal usage, it's giving out 20-30 times what it does on the regular emissions tests or on the specimen model tests when the model is generally assessed for taxation, etc. based on its pollution.

    • by edman007 ( 1097925 ) on Tuesday July 19, 2016 @01:59PM (#52542161)

      In most states, including NY, the check is simply an ODBII test. This test simply asks the car for a list of components that need to work to meet emissions and a yes/no/maybe answer for if it's working. If all things work then the car must pass emissions. This is known to be true because the EPA requires that the manufacturer write up a report that proves they tested the emissions and it meets the standards when the emissions components are working and that the computer detects and reports when the emissions components don't work.

      VW's problem is they lied on the report which and actual emissions are not tested for each car.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There, I said it. VW does not deserve to continue as a going concern. It should be liquidated and its assets sold to pay for the untold environmental damage they have caused, which is completely immeasurable except to say that it is immense.

    Things like this are precisely why we need to elect Jill Stein. She's the ONLY candidate that gives any concern to the environment we live in, and she would never let companies get away with this as our current government has.

    Jill Stein 2016!

  • They simply have to do what everyone else does to get around emissions -- classify their vehicles as trucks. *EVERY* pick-up and SUV is a "truck" in the eyes of federal law, and therefore don't need to meet the strict emissions guidelines for passenger automobiles.

    Take the Golf, Jetta, Passat and every other Diesel car and have them reclassified as a truck. You'll probably have to make some "campaign donations" to some senators and congressmen, but it's probably far cheaper than this scandal.

    And that's it.

    • When people purchase these they should be treated as trucks as well. Which means:
      1. Commercial license plates (here in NY you have the option to not get commercial plates on them)
      2. The higher toll on toll roads (heavier vehicles cause more wear and tear)
      3. Restricted from parkways, the Brooklyn bridge, the car lanes of the NJ Turnpike, the "no trucks" lanes on regular highways, etc

      I'd imagine you'd have a lot fewer people buying giant SUVs... "crossover" models would probably still fit under the 'car' emi

      • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

        1. The license plates are determined by the USAGE of the vehicle in addition to the TYPE of vehicle. If an SUV is not being used commercially, why on earth should it have commercial plates? That makes as much sense as saying all Town Cars should be required to have T&LC plates.

        2. Pressure is what causes road wear. Tire inflation pressures for SUVs and pickups is about the same as for cars. Therefore, the pressure on the road is also about the same.

        3. Road restrictirons are because the roads have lan

        • Have you seen some of these SUVs? Chevy Suburban might as well be a bus. The "heavy duty" pickups like the Ford F350 and Ram 3500 might as well be tractor-trailer cab units. Some of these pickups have four rear wheels.

          There's also visibility issues with the heights of these vehicles if you are behind them. Since you can't see what's going on in front of them you have to leave more space.

          • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

            The maximum width (which is what matters for lane size) of a commercial vehicle (ie real truck or bus) is 102 inches. The largest Suburban tops out at 80 inches. For reference, a Camaro is 74.5 inches. So a Suburban is slightly wider than a car, and a whole lot narrower than a truck.

            The maximum height (which is what matters for overpass restrictions) of a commercial vehicle is 168 inches. The maximum height of a Suburban is 74 inches. You could stack 2 Suburbans on top of each other and not be as high

  • "Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche defrauded thousands of Massachusetts consumers, polluted our air, and damaged our environment and then, to make matters worse, plotted a massive cover-up to mislead environmental regulators," said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey


    She then got in to her Cadillac Escalade and drove away.
  • "the allegations against Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche reveal a culture of deeply-rooted corporate arrogance, combined with a conscious disregard for the rule of law and the protection of public health and the environment."

    "the allegations against top US political parties and leaders reveal a culture of deeply-rooted political arrogance & corruption, combined with a conscious disregard for the rule of law and the protection of public Rights, freedom. and the Rule of Law."

    Strat

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