Climate change politics and the Volkswagen scandal

Posted: September 26, 2015 by oldbrew in climate, Politics

Image problem for VW

Image problem for VW

Clive Crook at Bloomberg says there are several scandals linked to the VW diesel debacle. Here we’ll focus on one of them, related to so-called climate policies. Was the ‘dash for diesel’ ever a rational policy?

A third scandal, even more costly than the first two, also needs to be noticed and examined. It concerns the economic and environmental policies that first set European car manufacturers and consumers on course to this pile-up.

Remember that “clean diesel” was a government-led initiative, brought to you courtesy of Europe’s taxpayers. And, by the way, the policy had proved a massively expensive failure on its own terms even before the VW scandal broke.

It’s this scandal that teaches the most important lessons.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, mindful of their commitments to cut carbon emissions, Europe’s governments embarked on a prolonged drive to convert their car fleets from gasoline to diesel. With generous use of tax preferences, they succeeded. In the European Union as a whole, diesel vehicles now account for more than half of the market. In France, the first country to cross that threshold, diesel now accounts for roughly 80 percent of motor-fuel consumption.

What was the reasoning? Diesel contains more carbon than gasoline, but diesel engines burn less fuel: Net, switching to diesel ought to give you lower emissions of greenhouse gases. However, there’s a penalty in higher emissions of other pollutants, including particulates and nitrogen oxides, or NOx. Curbing those emissions requires expensive modifications to cars’ exhaust systems.

To facilitate the switch, Europe made its emission standards for these other pollutants less stringent for diesel engines than for gasoline engines. The priority, after all, was to cut greenhouse gases.

Except that the switch to diesel probably didn’t cut greenhouse gases. Making diesel cheaper by taxing it at a preferential rate encouraged people to drive more. And emissions of GHGs higher up the fuel-supply chain are worse for diesel than for gasoline. (Increasing demand for diesel drew in more supplies from Russia; producing and moving those supplies caused more emissions.) Treating diesel to lower its sulfur content adds yet another carbon penalty.

At best, the clean-diesel strategy lowered carbon emissions much less than hoped, and at ridiculous cost; at worst, as one study concludes, the policy added to global warming.

No matter: Europe’s car makers, flying the banner of environmental virtue, committed themselves to the strategy — and none more so than VW, which even attempted to bring it to the U.S. That, one might conclude, was its biggest mistake: U.S. regulators aren’t so understanding, and its government hasn’t bet the industry on diesel.

Europe, meanwhile, has an economically and environmentally misaligned car industry; a reputational crisis of unsurpassed scale centered on its biggest manufacturer; a NOx-induced public-health emergency in many of its cities; and quite possibly less than nothing to show for the effort when it comes to climate change.

VW may have perpetrated one of the biggest frauds in corporate history. Europe’s clean-diesel strategy, which set the scene for that fraud, may be the most expensive mistake in the history of environmental policy. As I say, an embarrassment of riches.

Full report: Climate-Change Politics and the Volkswagen Scandal

The linked study is an eye-opener:
Critical evaluation of the European diesel car boom – global comparison, environmental effects and various national strategies

Telegraph cartoon

  1. ivan says:

    I have ti say that Josh has a very good comment cartoon that puts this in a nut shell.

  2. We are left with options of further development of battery power and hybrids – Just like Japan and the US did after 1997 Kyoto. Only 5% of cars in the states are diesel – though that’s more to do with the fact of that government’s low taxation of petrol.
    The average Joe is more interested in cost of motoring – steering toward EU governments’ making diesel the cheapest option. Until Joe cares about the environment more and/ or is taxed out of his vehicle nothing will change…

  3. Joe Public says:

    ” …. commitments to cut carbon emissions”

    One of the rare instances where that erxpression is used correctly.

  4. Ben Palmer says:

    But no government admits its own faults; it’s easier to blame others.
    And don’t forget that VW is a main competitor for the US automobile industry – how convenient!

  5. Petrossa says:

    it’s not a fraud as such. The regulatiosn stipulate a car has to emit X at Y conditions. So VW made a car that did just that. Nowhere in the regulations it sad same should apply for daily use.

  6. oldbrew says:

    Switzerland has put the brakes on VW diesel sales while they investigate.

    So far the UK doesn’t seem bothered if people are buying new cars under false pretences.

  7. Petrossa says:

    Reblogged this on Petrossa's Blog and commented:
    VW didn’t commit fraud at all. It just made sure the test results as prescribed came as necessary. Nowhere is it stipulated testresults should reflect daily use. Which anyway is impossible because it depends mostly on drive style.

  8. Roger Gough says:

    Prima facie a conspiracy has been operated from the VW HQ. It should be treated as a crime scene and a Police investigation should be instigated immediately. Odds on this happening?

  9. The scientific (not to mention the clearly and long observable, in the trucking industry) case against diesel–although this has been grossly distorted and even overwhelmed, in the last 25 years, by the campaign to focus on “greenhouse gases”–has always been its “black carbon” particulate emissions, not gaseous emissions (especially the non-existent “greenhouse gases”–because there IS no “greenhouse effect” due to them–but even the NOx, which are notably volatile and simply don’t last in the wider, global, atmosphere–away from urban centers–to the extent the fine particle aerosols do). I don’t expect this current scandal to get to that bottom line, of course, with all of the politically-correct attention focused exclusively on the arch-villain CO2 (officially, “legally”, declared a pollutant, to black carbon’s great amusement). I speak on the basis of my own experience as a research associate, in the early 1990s, analyzing fine particulate data from remote aerosols (from the federally funded IMPROVE network of remote sites in the US, at national parks and such), and my own analyses as published in Atmospheric Environment, Vol. 30-1, Jan. 1996.

  10. p.g.sharrow says:

    The way of bureaucrats to fix problems is the change the paperwork, software, and problem solved! VW just did the same thing. Government demanded solutions the the laws of physics do not allow, so change the observation of bureaucratic edicts in a government way. Change the software. This happens more then you think as paper pushers demand solutions that can’t be met.
    Or stop all activities!
    Bureaucrats must control, they must add regulation, it is what they do until everything collapses and the people eradicate them. It is them or us. We don’t need them…pg

  11. Kon Deealer says:

    Isn’t the problem with diesels their NOx emissions in cities?

    A small tweak to the “Defeat Device” could put the car in “Test Mode” for city driving and cut pollution at a stoke, whilst retaining performance and economy for extra-urban driving.

    Problem solved- now if VW will just send me some of the £billions I’ve just saved them:-)

  12. Petrossa says:

    obviously the idiotic regulators who came up with the silly rules view this as cheating. But formally they ddin’t. The car performed according to specs under test conditions. Which is all it needed to do. That regulators were to obsessed with adhering to non existant ‘dangers’ of for example PM 2.5 rather then writing regulations that make sense is not VW’s fault.

  13. oldbrew says:

    BBC4 in the UK just ran a program about diesel, finishing by saying 94% of global trade is powered by diesel (airlines do a lot of the rest).

    So anyone hoping to get rid of diesel is going to need a lot of alternative fuel for trucks, ships etc. Road-based public transport is mostly diesel too.

  14. Don’t forget that STOR – the last resort to keep the lights on – is based on diesel generators:

  15. oldbrew says:

    ‘Some say successive governments here and in Brussels have been too slow to grasp air quality issues in pursuit of CO2 reductions.’ – Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation

    VW scandal: ‘Cover-up’ of British tests that showed diesel fume cheating

    ‘The Government knew diesel cars were emitting deadly pollutants at levels four times greater than the official safety limits – and yet ministers continue to offer tax incentives promoting diesel cars’

  16. Oldbrew diesel has many advantages look at the list here Not CO in combustion, no benzene or aromatics in the fuel (petrol is more toxic) In Australia aborigines have died petrol siffing. The fuel is cheaper to produce, the engines are more efficiency (Diesel cycle vs Otto cycle), the engines last longer. I have seen pumps (continuously operated for over 55 years driven by diesel engines out of world war 2 submarines. ie close to 500,000 hrs of operation. I know of diesel trucks that have done 1 Million Kms. The greens should love them as they can run on renewable biodiesel (although that is not viable onpresent and likely future oil prices). If oil runs out diesel is a easy product to recover from coal to liquids plants. -Diesel is cleaner, safer and healthier than petrol.

  17. oldbrew says:

    Shib Niggurath: ‘If Volkswagen had put a fraction of the ingenuity that went into its supposed defeat devices into questioning the basis for the CO2 rule it tried to rigorously adhere to, it wouldn’t have found itself in the pickle it is currently in.’


    cementafriend: ‘ studies, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), showed that on average diesel cars emitted four times the legal limit of dangerous NOx gases.’ – Telegraph

    I used to drive a diesel for economic reasons but don’t do much mileage now. Watch a diesel accelerate hard – black soot everywhere. Doesn’t look clean to me 😦

  18. oldmanK says:

    Did anyone know, especially Brussels, what they were talking about when it concerned emissions from diesel engines? Especially large capacity engines.

    It was said that “if you push the engineers enough, they’ll come up with the answers’. Sure they did, since it did not matter to anyone, especially Brussels, what they came up with. That piece of science, circumventing the rule, was developed more than 20years ago. And admit it, we were all very happy with the results -on paper—–no not the emissions analysis chart.

    Diesels are good and efficient work-horses, but not in the wrong hands.

  19. oldmanK says:

    I see cementafriend has overtaken me on this. I concur.

  20. oldmanK says:

    @ oldbrew

    Two shortcomings of diesel engines:
    1 NOx. The high efficiency of the diesel coms from high temp burn of fuel. But so does NOx production. It needs nox abatement, one that works. can do.

    2. Particulate emission. Do not accelerate hard, especially if your fuel pump is delivering more than can be burnt. You also need a filter. Now see how some makers found an unhealthy way around that. By turning the engine into an incinerator for part of the time.

  21. jim says:

    Sorry friends. A minor asside. I’m not sure if some of you are into snark. But, diesal is bad for you. That’s why health reg’s require positive seal between occupied areas and garage areas where diesal engines run. In the 80’s, in Denver, co, the fire services had a spike in cancer, they were in the process of changing fuels, away from gasoline. Four studies later, superfine particulates, spread by the engines was deemed the cause, therefore they had to motorize the vent system, to cause a negative pressure in the exhaust systems for the fire bays, making the living areas positive pressure.
    Everyone blames the majority of cancers on other factors, but check out history, as a country develops, what goes first, development, of business, movement of goods, trucks, cheap fuels. Cancer rates. All tie hand in hand.

  22. Kon Dealer says:

    Anyone spotted this factoid “Kensington & Chelsea the most polluted borough in the country”?
    Now look at this one. “In Kensington and Chelsea, men can expect to live to 84.4 years and women to 89 – the highest figures for both London and the UK”

    So dear Guardian readers if pollution is so dangerous and deadly….?
    I’ll leave your tiny minds to join the dots.

  23. oldbrew says:

    oldmanK: NOx reduction using urea injection is used by BMW on the US version of their X5 model at least. The X3 might be a problem though…

    ‘The German trade magazine Auto Bild reports that road tests conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) found the diesel BMW X3 2.0d Xdrive guilty of emitting more than eleven times more NOx gases than the limits of Euro 6, Europe’s latest diesel engine emission legislations. Oh boy.’

    VW don’t use it on the models in the scandal it seems, possibly not on any of their models, although sister company Audi may do on some models.

  24. oldbrew says:

    Aha…maybe this sheds some light on the history of the VW con trick.

    ‘In retrospect, perhaps someone should have known something was up at VW. For a few years, until 2008, European automakers were loudly complaining about U.S. requirements that would require a costly urea-injection system to clean the nitrogen oxides out of diesel fumes that lead to dangerous smog. Problem was, those systems could run out of urea, rendering it useless, and U.S. officials wanted automakers to install switches that would disable diesel cars that were running out of urea.

    And then, voila, VW had a solution that avoided the urea issue altogether for its small passenger cars. After taking diesels off the U.S. market in 2007 and 2008, by the 2009 model year the automaker said it had come up with a solution that used a particulate trap and a catalyst to clean the air. One reporter even quoted some Volkswagen engineers as saying the air coming out of the 2009 diesel Jetta was cleaner than the air going in.’

  25. oldmanK says:

    Jim: – definitely, submicron particulates are bad and the diesel engine is a major culprit there. But be careful, benzene in gasoline, which replaced the lead additive, is just as bad. Both have to be avoided.

    oldbrew: the use of urea is one of the tried solutions. It has its problems and does not always work. (It was tried in ship’s engines for a while but last I heard it was abandoned,–and there were other ‘tricks’ as well).

    One big problem. The engineering world tries hard for a genuine solution, but if it finds politicians/gvmts ready to accept cheaper ‘magic’ , well, they have to compete with a level playing field.

  26. oldmanK: – but is benzene preferable to adding lead? How do you quantify what is less harmful overall?

  27. oldmanK says:

    Neither is preferable. All are to be avoided. But the question is why resort to ‘tricks’? Is the system that is doing the oversight capable for the job? Or biased for some agenda?

  28. oldbrew says:

    I’m puzzled why the 1.6 and 2.0 diesels (EA 189 design) had a problem with tests but the older design 1.9 didn’t.
    Or maybe it did but wasn’t sold in the US?

  29. oldmanK: – as I understand it the UK and EU governments took the easiest option of reducing CO2 in 1997 – by going full pelt for diesel over petrol. It was a simple question of money. It rather reflects our political system – which is geared toward short-termism.

  30. Have to agree with Petrossa here. The US regulations are screwed up. Congress wrote a bad law delegating most of the hard work to the EPA. The EPA screwed up the regulations by specifying strict dynamometer tests the car had to pass and letting the manufacturer certify that a particular design did pass. I couldn’t find requirements, if any, that required the manufacturer to guarantee that the vehicle met the standards under conditions other than the test.

  31. oldmanK says:

    It is all a large ‘can of worms’.

    Going to diesels did mean that the higher fuel efficiency translated into lower CO2 emissions. But what came out of the engine tailpipe was/is easy to determine by exhaust analysis in a vrt test. You do not have to take anybody’s word for it. It also checks local garage modifications.

    Secondly with the change to electronic engine management it became possible to theoretically achieve better engine control, but also to tinker to work around emission regs.

    But I ask “why find out now, and not when any new model is introduced in a country?” A manufacturer may take a risk as it is, but what about the poor buyer who may now be saddled with a higher road tax?

  32. oldmanK says:

    Another point. An engine burns what is put in the tank. If the fuel is dirty and harmful to the finer manufacturing tolerance, there is no telling what is coming out of the tail pipe.

    Ever driving behind a truck smelling of rancid cooking oil, the droplets from which you cannot remove from your windscreen? Pumps may be forced to add bio to their diesel.

  33. The higher road tax was my first reaction to this. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that government will start charging £2k a year for even a modest car for the privilege of driving in a city?

  34. J PAK says:

    If you electrolyse water and feed the H & O into the air in-take you get a very rapid flame spread and a more complete combustion of the diesel. You have to move injection timing close to TDC or you get detrimental pre-ignition. It is common for big rigs and shop engines to get 20% better fuel economy. To modify a 4.2 litre Toyota Landcruiser or Nissan Patrol costs ~AU$3000.
    H burns with a very hot flame so NOx are produced but the total quantity of diesel consumed is considerably less.
    Car manufacturers show little interest in genuine economy bcos they just want to sell cars and oil companies actively discourage fuel economy as it eats into their profits.
    My 4WD carries 160 lit so I save about AU$40 per fill but in the commercial sector which is the bulk of diesel consumption, the cost savings and pollution reduction are significant.

  35. The green insanity doesn’t stop there. Looking into the bio diesel mandate you discover something more. In South East Asia much of the bio diesel which is used in cars comes from palm oil.
    The greens have conducted campaigns against palm oil consumptions as this oil is used in many food and chemical products. The average western consumers should therefore feel consumer guilt using these products according to the greens. The advantage of using palm oil is that it is the cheapest organic oil available.

    I know that the Italian oil company ENA is investing in palm oil plantations in West Africa to be used as bio diesel oil to meet the bio fuel mandate of the EU.
    How much palm oil is used as bio diesel in the EU, I guess that is a trade secret.
    How much of the surge in palm oil plantation and of the slash and burning in Sumatra and in Borneo is caused from the demand of bio diesel is an open question which I have no answer to. I haven’t found any figures of that.
    Here is an interesting promotional video on palm oil use as bio diesel and of its “sustainability”.

  36. tallbloke says:

    Thanks Per,
    It’s interesting to note that Herr Rudolf diesel himself intended his engines to be used with palm oil as the fuel. He was found floating face down in the North Sea…
    It’s clear that bio-diesel is not a sustainable fuel source for large-scale road transport. The destruction of forest in the places you note, and also Madagascar and elsewhere is a scandal the Green lobby needs to be embarrassed about.

  37. oldmanK says:

    J PAK; Electrolysing water means your overall efficiency is less than 20% since hydrogen is generated from electricity generated from other fuels at under 40% effcy. It is an expensive ‘scam’.

    If a country is obliged to use a percentage of bio fuel, that is good, but use it in a dedicated engine that can handle it and working flat out at maximum efficiency not in an auto engine while idling in traffic at very low effcy and to which that fuel is likely to be detrimental.

    So who is to blame, the Greens, inane politics, or the auto industry selling spares?

  38. oldbrew says:

    ‘Volkswagen staff acted criminally, says board member’

  39. oldmanK says:

    oldbrew: that quote comes from a board member cum politician.

    What are the legal duties of board members, and their liabilities at law?

    From my experience engineering staff are regularly goaded by boards to illicit activities for company gain, as long as the board members think they can keep their own hands clean to public scrutiny.

  40. oldbrew says:

    oldmanK: bosses hanging subordinates out to dry – what’s new?

    Motto: ‘don’t get any on you’ 😉

  41. oldbrew says:

    Missed this one last week: ‘Global warming zealots are to blame for the deadly diesel fiasco’

    ‘In a well-ordered society, you might expect the government to have discouraged the proliferation of diesel vehicles. In fact, egged on or bullied by the Greens and climate-change zealots, politicians over the past 20 years have been doing the precise opposite. It seems hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.’

  42. E.M.Smith says:

    Please note that it is Diesel. A proper noun. Not ending with -al.

    Also note that the engine is distinct from the fuel. A Diesel engine can run wonderfully and clean on kerosene, Jet-A, and many other fuels. Even natural gas with some design shifts. (I’ve done all of these and more including “Crisco” shortening dissolved in kerosene).

    Biodiesel is a great and cleaner fuel than #2 Diesel. Straight plant oil gives gum formation and that french fries smell due to the glycerine content. Biodiesel is a methylester or ethylester, not a triglyceride (fat or oil) and does not have the smell issue nor the gums. FWIW, cutting trees to grow oils for fuel is criminal, IMHO, but the fuel is fine… especially made from waste cooking oils.

    Mandate and subsidy bad. Choice good.

    Cyclical hydrocarbons give more soot. Straight chain less. Reforming rings to chains and shorter ones is easy, but costs, so the problem gets moved to the car maker. Then govt weenees stir the pot after the fact, screwing the engineering design basis…

    VW just said that if it was strict rules only, they can play that game. (And it is only NOX that was higher, not soot… and 40 times near zero is still near zero). I can’t fault them criminally for strict rule following and ignoring intent after decades of being forced to Just Follow The Rules. Stupid, yes, criminal, no. Govt made the rules and set the rules only bias.

    The Diesel engine is a wonderful device, but best designed by Engineers, not government committees and politicians.

  43. oldbrew says:

    Diesel cars are ‘killing people’, says former Labour minister

    ‘Tony Blair’s Labour government made a mistake in promoting diesel cars as they are now “killing people”, former science minister Lord Drayson has said.’

    ‘Lord Drayson, whose own business invests in clean energy, now wants the current government to act to change driver behaviour again.’

    Why blame the cars? Freight and passenger transport by road is mostly diesel too.

  44. oldbrew says:

    The Spectator weighs in…’The Volkswagen Diesel Scandal Was Driven By Climate Obsession’

    ‘One-eyed environmental policy created the conditions for this fraud – and other damaging problems’

    ‘But the VW scandal isn’t just a story of corporate turpitude. It is part-product of an environmental policy in Britain as much as across the EU which has become fixated on carbon emissions to the exclusion of virtually everything else.’

  45. oldbrew says:

    Plot thickens? ‘Four more carmakers join diesel emissions row’ – Guardian

    ‘Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda and Mitsubishi’s cars are shown to emit significantly more NOx pollution on the road than in regulatory tests’

    ‘significantly more’ = up to 20 times more

    Quote: “The issue is a systemic one” across the industry, said Nick Molden, whose company Emissions Analytics tested the cars. The Guardian revealed last week that diesel cars from Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo and Jeep all pumped out significantly more NOx in more realistic driving conditions.

    Update: ‘Laws of physics hold not only for Volkswagen’

  46. oldbrew says:

    How Diesel Makes Us Mutants
    Written by Nick Grealy

    ‘Time here to give the podium over again to Rudolf Huber, Methanist, Pit Bull of LNG and Vienna’s reporter on the international gas revolution for almost as long as me and the folks over at Natural Gas Now. Greens like to scare people.This turns the tables for once.’

  47. oldbrew says:

    Hollywood moves in…

    ‘Leonardo DiCaprio to produce Volkswagen scandal film’

  48. oldbrew says:

    Another VW trick?

    ‘More VW trouble: 2016 diesels have new suspect software’

  49. oldbrew says:

    ‘Germany orders mandatory recall of VW cheating cars’

    ‘German media reported earlier this week that up to 30 Volkswagen managers were suspended due to the scandal.’

  50. oldbrew says:

    It’s going from bad to worse for VW.

    ‘Volkswagen made several versions of its “defeat device” software to rig diesel emissions tests, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters, potentially suggesting a complex deception by the German car maker.’