Why didn’t Ford (or GM or Chrysler) catch Volkswagen cheating?

This seems to be the missing piece of the story. And if the suspicious side of my nature is correct, there is much broom handling and carpet management going on. Why do I say this? Because I don’t believe it could be any other way.

Back when I worked at Cybernex, we were making plug-compatible computer terminals to compete with the ‘real’ products being made by IBM, Honeywell, Burroughs, et. al. for their big, honkin’ mainframes. How did we manage to make a perfectly compatible terminal? That wasn`t easy. First, you have to get all the electrical interfaces right. Then, arguably the harder part, is to get the communications protocol and behavior of the terminal right. And the only way to do these things is to buy the real product (or two or three) and tear one apart. You plug another real one into oscilloscopes, network sniffers, and a whole array of diagnostic equipment to see what it’s doing. Only then do you have a hope of engineering a compatible product.

When other plug-compatible manufacturers started competing with us, we bought their products and tore them apart. This practice persists today – every manufacturer of a product buys competing products from its competitors and tears them apart in order to improve their own. For this reason, I’m sure Ford has bought some VW’s, some Chrysler’s, some GM’s, and they, in turn, have bought everyone else’s. And they tore them all apart and stuck them under microscopes to see how they manage to do what they do.

So imagine what would happen when Ford tears apart a VW diesel, and discovers that it’s emissions are through the roof? A lot of head-scratching, for sure. And then maybe a few ideas on what to do about it: A) Squeal to the government, B) Blackmail VW, C) Join the cheaters club. If they choose C, they know VW won’t tell on them (Mutually Assured Destruction). But if GM finds out, well, they might. So the spectre of industry-wide collusion becomes apparent – if all the car makers participate, no one can squeal.

So I’m having trouble believing that VW, and only VW, has been getting away with this for years, and none of the other diesel manufacturers noticed. Any competing diesel maker would be racking their brains trying to figure out how VW gets such terrific performance with such low emissions. But no, nary a peep from anyone, until some clean energy advocacy group decides to gather data supporting the environmental awesomeness of diesel engines – and discovers a complete lack of awesomeness.

Can I believe the other car makers knew none of this? Nope, I just can’t.

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