Back in the 1930s, cars were relatively rare in in Germany while in the United States, Henry Ford built cars cheaply that everybody could afford. There were far more middle class people in the U.S. who had automobiles than in Germany, and that bothered the Nazis because they were supposed to be superior. Therefore, Hitler hooked up with Ferdinand Porsche and his idea of a people’s car. Porsche went to Ford on several occasions and brought workers to Germany in order to build the Volkswagen factory. It was consciously modeled on Ford, but the Nazis wanted it to be the biggest factory in the world – which it eventually became after the war.
‘I am pleased that, at the skilled hands of a brilliant design engineer and his staff, preliminary designs for a German Volkswagen have been completed, and the first models will finally be tested by the middle of the year.’
Wolfsburg as a city did not exist at the time. Everything visible in Wolfsburg today is grown up around the original factory. Although VW’s acquired brands like Audi, Seat, and Skoda are successful in Europe, Volkswagens’s road to global dominance has always led through America.
In the 60s, sales hit new highs when the VW Beetle populated American streets in its thousands. The unique and unconventional design of the Beetle perfectly matched the new revolution and ensured that peace, love and freedom found their way to even the remotest corners of the USA. The car designed for Hitler became a symbol of the counter culture. But VW did not innovate and keep up with time. As the counter culture gave way to the Reagan era, VW sales dropped as fast as the quality of its cars and led the manufacturer to the brink of bankruptcy. The rescuer of VW appeared in the former head of Audi, Ferdinand Piëch, a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche. Personally and professionally very productive and ambitious, the brilliant and dangerous man infused VW with a new culture of aspiration and success.
Piëch came just in time to turn the company around and introduced a strategic large-scale thinking. He had the idea of producing small Diesel engines. TDI® – a diesel that was fun to drive, powerful and clean. It was a huge success in Europe. However, the exhaust was not really clean. Nitrogen oxide (NOx) causes air pollution and damage to health. The infamous NOx filled smog in southern Califormia and major cities in the US in the 70s was not only damaging to plants, it caused asthma, cardiac problems, cancer, and premature death. Therefore the much more strict NOx standards in the US than in Europe. To keep efficiency on Diesel but to cut down on NOx, manufacturers like VW tried to create “NOx traps” that caught and burnt the stuff before it left the tail pot. But the special parts needed were expensive and had to be replaced every few thousand miles. Yet they were the only way to meet the NOx standard set in the US. Solving that problem was critical for the “Strategy 2018” set by Martin Winterkorn and Ferdinand Piëch: VW’s big game for world domination. They wanted Diesel cars for the United States (at the time the world’s largest market), but everyone knew this was incredibly hard to achieve. Pressure on workforce to succeed and increase sales became unbearable. On its mission to become the biggest automobile manufacturer in the world, Volkswagen created Diesel cars that could cheat emissions tests while pumping 40 times more NOx into the air than they claimed to. With the opening of a new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the CEO boasted about his new found corporate responsibility.
VW’s “solution” to the Diesel problem caught the attention of a group focused on clean transportation. They studied VW Diesels – not to see if they were bad, but why they were so good and whether they could serve as a model for the US. It was also unclear why they came out clean in the US and not in Europe, so there was a missing piece of data. But what they found in 2013 did not add up.
‘The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) provided the results of its measured “off cycle emissions” and its (comparison) values detected in parallel in the FTP test to VW Group of America (VWGoA) EEO and requested comments on the high exceedances. In a conference call, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) authority also announced further investigations; specific questions of the authority with respect to the regeneration strategy of the NOx storage catalyst and the UREA dosing strategy in the SCR system in the Volkswagen R4 TDI vehicles have already been received by the EEO.
A thorough explanation for the dramatic increase in NOx emissions cannot be given to the authorities. It can be assumed that the authorities will then investigate the VW systems to determine whether Volkswagen implemented a test detection system in the engine control unit software (so-called defeat device) and, in the event a “treadmill test” is detected, a regeneration or dosing strategy is implemented that differs from real driving conditions.’
(VW Quality Manager Frank Tuch in an email to CEO Martin Winterkorn)
VW’s only answer was to stall for time. Following 16 months of investigation and the revelation that Volkswagen had embedded defeat devices in its software calibrations for all of its 2009–2014 Diesels in Europe and 2009–2015 Diesels in the US, regulatory agencies have taken various measures to force VW to remedy the problems. However, VW did not fix the problems – in contrary, they fixed the defeat device to make it even better at cheating. With VW’s announcement in the United States of a recall and a “fix” for various Volkswagen Group models, regulators have defined required emission system modifications for almost all VW Diesel engines in the US market.
Winterkorn denied any knowledge of a defeat device, but he was forced to resign the day after giving this statement. Nobody believed the fairy-tale brought up by Michael Horn and Martin Winterkorn that a small group of engineers at VW did something on their own. The state of New York launched a civil suit proclaiming fraud by VW. Along with various sanctions, VW was forced to pay over 25 billion in fines and to buy back over 550’000 vehicles from angry owners. The data continues to support earlier findings that enforcement in the United States is far more effective and stringent than in Europe. The German government enables cheating by regulation, allowing calibration strategies implemented through defeat devices. This is called “protection of the engine”. The German government cares more about protection of the engines than protection of human beings. Additionally, the German government has a stake in the partially state owned car industry. Should they harm their national car industry? It means jobs and taxes, after all. To this day, VW and the other German brands are selling dirty cars throughout Europe and the world. In order to fight back and show “the benefits of clean Diesel cars”, the German car companies and particularly VW embarked in a plan to do their own tests on monkeys and humans. They established a phony research company called EUGT to study the effects of Diesel exhaust. EUGT paid a company called Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI) to conduct a study in order to show that the “new” Diesel technology was environmentally friendly. It involved research monkeys and inhale pipes.
A couple of days after the news broke of the monkey experiments in the US, a report in the Stuttgarter Zeitung accused the big three carmakers of also conducting emissions tests on humans.
Gas – a German tradition.