Most people I know would agree that capitalism is the best economic system we have. It encourages people to produce so that they can earn. Those who produce more typically earn more.
The merits of economic systems are beyond the scope of this column. But I think we can all agree that sometimes companies get greedy and cut corners or simply don't think about what they're doing in the pursuit of profit. Every company in every industry is tempted to do this and sometimes they do decide to cut corners, sometimes in a big way.
Over the past 10 years the auto industry has undergone major changes. Trucks used to get 15 miles per gallon (a number that many people said would never change), and SUVs were the most commonly purchased vehicle. Today you can get full-size trucks that get close to 30 miles per gallon and there is a variety in the types of cars purchased and what they run on.
Tesla leads the way in all electrics but you don't need to buy a Tesla to get an all-electric car. Nissan and GM, among others, are making them. You can get hybrids of all sorts and even muscle cars have started to use four-cylinder engines paired with a turbo to get more power while also getting better gas mileage.
Diesel engines are no stranger to the changing times, either. For decades diesel engines were significantly more fuel efficient. But in 2008 the U.S. government put tighter regulations on diesel emissions. Today the U.S. has the most stringent regulations regarding diesel emissions. To accommodate fewer harmful emissions, diesel engine makers would usually have to sacrifice performance (making the cars slower) or fuel efficiency (making the cars burn more fuel) or a combination of the two.
Well, consumers don't like to see smaller numbers in marketing materials. Less power or fuel economy is going to turn off buyers. But there's another way. The EPA measures emissions by putting the cars onto a dynamometer, basically a treadmill for cars, and then measures the emissions from the exhaust while the car runs for a while. As you could imagine, there is no need for a person to actually be in the car while this is going on. And some clever people at the Volkswagen Auto Group (no, I'm not going to use the acronym - yes, I wrote out the entire name just to point out what the acronym is) got an idea.
Electronics in cars is creeping into every system. Sensors are measuring everything thousands of times per second. The clever people at Volkswagen decided that when no one is touching the steering wheel while the car is driving there was a very high probability that the car is being tested for emissions. During such a scenario the car would lower performance in order to also lower its emissions. When the test is over it would go back to "normal." It's such a clever idea that they got away with it for years.
It was easier to use software in the car to produce fraudulent emissions results than it was to actually engineer a new drive train that would comply with emissions regulations while maintaining performance and fuel efficiency. Volkswagen hilariously blamed this all on a rogue software engineer. While we software engineers are basically pirates on the high seas when it comes to our code, I can tell you there's little chance of something like this being "snuck" into a vehicle.
In the time since these revelations, the EPA has begun to retest all diesel vehicles and found a large number from many manufacturers are also cheating the system. Lawsuits are pending, the whole thing is a mess. All because of some rogue software engineers.
© Copyright, 2016, Hutchinson Leader (MN). All Rights Reserved., source Newspapers