Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal by Jack Ewing

Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal

In mid-2015, Volkswagen proudly reached its goal of surpassing Toyota as the world’s largest automaker. A few months later, the EPA disclosed that Volkswagen had installed software in 11 million cars that deceived emissions-testing mechanisms. By early 2017, VW had settled with American regulators and car owners for $20 billion, with additional lawsuits still looming. In F...

Title:Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal
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ISBN:0393254526
Format Type:ebook
Number of Pages:320 pages

Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal Reviews

  • Christian Turcu
    Jun 06, 2017

    Jack Ewing - a New York Times reporter - has written more than the history of the Volkswagen scandal. To put things into perspective, he has actually written a short history of the Volkswagen group. Its spectacular rise - from the "people's car" project during the Nazis to the world's largest auto producer - takes about half of the book.

    The corporate history largely revolves around the towering figure of Ferdinand Piëch, a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the founder of the car manufacturer that

    Jack Ewing - a New York Times reporter - has written more than the history of the Volkswagen scandal. To put things into perspective, he has actually written a short history of the Volkswagen group. Its spectacular rise - from the "people's car" project during the Nazis to the world's largest auto producer - takes about half of the book.

    The corporate history largely revolves around the towering figure of Ferdinand Piëch, a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the founder of the car manufacturer that later conquered the world in a more pacifist way than the Nazis ever intended: the iconic Volkswagen Beetle. Starting his career at Porsche, Piëch became the head of Audi, where he steered the advancement from a rather lackluster brand to the premier league. It was in part this result that further propelled him to the top rung of the ladder (CEO and chairman of VW), where Piëch had ruthless world domination as an overarching objective.

    It is only by apprehending this drive for supremacy that one can understand the recent Hollywoodish history of the Volkswagen group.

    "Faster, Higher, Farther" is well-written, oftentimes fascinating. One caveat though: go for the printed version and avoid the audiobook. The narrator has a lousy performance with an awkward pronunciation of foreign names, referring to German chancellor 'Shrew-der (!) , "French car maker 'Poo-geot and Ferdinand 'Pee-ash (!!). The latter is most tantalizing because Ewing deservedly repeats his name - he was named the Car Executive of the Century in 1999 - a gazillion times throughout the book ...

  • Marks54
    May 31, 2017

    This book is a largely journalistic account of the Volkswagen (and Porsche and Audi) emissions scandal in which VW adjusted its engine software on its diesel cars sold in America to fool the emissions testing without actually controlling emissions of nitrogen oxide and related pollutants to required levels. The book reads quickly and is effective in describing what the problem was, how VW started its cheating, and how the scandal was uncovered and addressed. It is a complex and interesting story

    This book is a largely journalistic account of the Volkswagen (and Porsche and Audi) emissions scandal in which VW adjusted its engine software on its diesel cars sold in America to fool the emissions testing without actually controlling emissions of nitrogen oxide and related pollutants to required levels. The book reads quickly and is effective in describing what the problem was, how VW started its cheating, and how the scandal was uncovered and addressed. It is a complex and interesting story that is still unfolding. The book gives required background on the companies involved and their histories going back to the Nazis. It also discusses the outsized egos of the executives running VW and Porsche. The dynamics of the scandal are very understandable and not really novel. The implications for corporate control and public accountability are also immense, but not discussed in much detail.

    For example, how did such a massive cheat happen? VW is likely neither evil nor stupid and yet this scandal seems to be such a huge mistake that one is baffled to find how reasonable engineers and managers could do this. Was it due to performance pressures from the top? Was it originally intended as a temporary fix that turned permanent as no solutions to the US emissions situation were found but sales increased? Was it just that VW was too cheap and did not want to risk US sales, even though Mercedes and BMW did what was necessary? Did it continue because middle managers did not want to communicate bad news or was it that top managers wanted their bonuses at any cost? These are all possible explanations and they all likely contributed to the scandal. So does that degree of complexity let the firm off the hook? Does that justify top managers employing the Sergeant Schultz excuse (I know nothing!)? No to both - and a worthwhile discussion could have considered what sort of control system could have kept this from happening.

    It was interesting that the same problem about diesel emissions was present in Europe as well as in the US. What differed was the enforcement regime and the potential sanctions. So does that make European VW righteous while American VW was not? What is the focus problem here - following government regulations or putting excessive amounts of nitrogen oxides into the air? The discussion of how the scandal was initially uncovered was fascinating and is something I have wondered about every time I take my car to get its emissions checked. The idea that the car manufacturers could play the testing scheme to their advantage is not surprising but was good to learn about. I have much more respect now for the University of West Virginia!

    Overall, the book was informative and rang true. I am not sure what Ewing has added over what could be discerned from the business media but it was worthwhile reading. Some more depth in sorting out the knotty issues in the case - for example comparing wrongdoing in American versus European contexts - would have greatly improved the book.

  • Timothy Liu
    Jun 19, 2017

    So far, it's a been a really interesting book! The author has great attention to detail, and it's written from a journalistic perspective. The author has interviewed lots of people and strings together different details very well.

  • Leo Breton
    Jun 10, 2017

    This review is from the former EPA engineer, Leo Breton, discussed in Chapter 7 of Jack Ewing’s book “Faster, Higher, Farther”, specifically in the chapter entitled “Enforcers.”

    I really enjoyed reading the book, especially about the corporate and business conditions which made fertile grounds for the deployment of an emissions control “defeat device.” But I will restrict this review to a clarification of the part for which I have first-hand expertise and experience, namely the testing and regula

    This review is from the former EPA engineer, Leo Breton, discussed in Chapter 7 of Jack Ewing’s book “Faster, Higher, Farther”, specifically in the chapter entitled “Enforcers.”

    I really enjoyed reading the book, especially about the corporate and business conditions which made fertile grounds for the deployment of an emissions control “defeat device.” But I will restrict this review to a clarification of the part for which I have first-hand expertise and experience, namely the testing and regulatory side of the story as well as the players involved. I am supplementing the book with additional details to help clarify why real-world testing was not always done and about how it came into being. I don’t fault Jack for not sorting out the myriad details of this in finer detail because I understand that “Faster, Higher, Farther” was focused on the corporate and business aspects of the scandal and not so much about how it became possible to find the “defeat device.” I could easily write an entire prequel to Jack’s book just about the development, under the most difficult circumstances, of my ROVER/PEMS real-world emissions and fuel economy testing technology that was used by West Virginia University in finding the problem. Since my work is briefly described in the book, I will take this opportunity to provide additional, clarifying details of the account for the reader.

    Since the Volkswagen scandal became public, there have been many accounts or suggestions by many other groups that they either developed or improved the Portable Emissions Measurement Systems (PEMS) technologies which enabled the real-world testing that was used to find the defeat device. These accounts and suggestions are simply not true. Jack was in no position to be able to sort through such conflicting information, maybe some of it off-the-record, because it was not the focus of his book. But as the pioneer of real-world engine and vehicle emissions and fuel economy testing, and as the inventor and commercializer of the real-world PEMS testing technologies, I lived through the entire process from the beginning to the present and may be the only person who knows all of the relevant details with corresponding documentation.

    THE SHORT VERSION IS THE FOLLOWING:

    I started working for EPA in 1991 and by 1995 I was unconvinced that laboratory-based vehicle testing results were providing the necessary information for the Agency to make the best decisions regarding the improvement of ambient air quality. Measurements of ambient air quality have always been the basis for the regular reductions in vehicle emissions standards over time. But vehicle emissions in comparison to those numerical standards were being assessed through a rigorous and well-known laboratory testing regime, using standard test cycles, and under very limited ambient temperature, pressure, and driving conditions. The standardized test equipment cost millions of dollars, required huge amounts of space and electrical power, and would not work properly outside of a laboratory environment. The adoption of more stringent emissions standards over time was causing more emissions control hardware to be used on new vehicles but it wasn’t clear to me that there were corresponding reductions of real world emissions. On my own initiative I developed the portable testing technology that I called ROVER and which later became known as PEMS. It was a great technological achievement, much more so because it was developed under the most difficult and adverse internal and external conditions. The PEMS technology development was simply a means to enable the ultimate goal: real-world testing. After proving that ROVER/PEMS worked, I used it successfully in many compliance and enforcement actions for the Agency while simultaneously commercializing the technology and getting it to market so others could benefit from its use. In fact, the Horiba PEMS system used by West Virginia University (WVU) to generate the data that was later used by others to identify the existence of defeat devices is the commercial ROVER system built under license to the ROVER/PEMS patents.

    THE LONG VERSION IS THE FOLLOWING:

    It wasn’t until reading Jack’s book in 2017 that I became aware that I had been working in such an unglamorous field while I pioneered real-world vehicle testing and invented the equipment that made it possible. But now that I look back on things, I agree with him, although I’m glad I didn’t know it at the time. My job included overseeing laboratory vehicle testing by an EPA contractor in the early 1990s. Witnessing tests made me wonder whether the test results had anything to do with what vehicles emit in the real world. The testing was performed in a sophisticated laboratory using very expensive, accurate, and precise equipment that was developed for this exact purpose and collectively cost millions of dollars. A large dynamometer was literally built into the floor of the laboratory and provided rollers that a vehicle’s tires sat on. The dynamometer controls were set by a technician for the specific vehicle to be tested so the rollers would resist the rotation of the wheels of the vehicle in the same way they would be resisted in the real world as vehicle speed changed. And the dynamometer had large weights that were chosen to simulate the weight of the vehicle’s inertia. The weights rotated with the rollers.

    All of the exhaust gas of the vehicle was routed through a gas mixing system that mixed the exhaust gas with a precise amount of ambient, conditioned air to prevent water condensation. A precisely metered sample of this diluted exhaust gas was then siphoned off into a collection bag made of special materials that would not chemically react with the gas sample. There were separate collection bags on a rack, each for a different part of the official test. The sample bags were also connected to plumbing which allowed the samples to be withdrawn and routed through very precise gas analyzers to measure the concentration of each regulated pollutant contained in the samples.

    A separate room in the laboratory usually housed the rack containing numerous gas analyzers which were used to measure the concentrations of each regulated pollutant contained in the exhaust gas samples. Other aspects of the testing process were also controlled from this location.

    The vehicle to be tested was placed on the dynamometer rolls and strapped down so it could not come off of the rollers. A well-trained technician drove the vehicle on the dynamometer by using the gas pedal, brake pedal, and gear shifter (in the case of a manual transmission) to match the vehicle speed with the prescribed speed published in the Agency’s test procedures (i.e. the test cycle). Gears were shifted according to a shifting pattern supplied by the vehicle’s manufacturer. There were separate tests and test cycles to simulate rural, urban and highway driving, but each of these cycles always had the same speed and distance driven.

    While a test cycle was being “driven,” the exhaust sampling equipment, as described above resulted in separate bag samples for each test cycle or phase of the test. Another technician in the control room would draw samples from each bag, one at a time, through the gas analyzers to measure the concentration of each regulated pollutant from each phase of the test. The concentrations were then entered into a computer along with the measured quantity of diluted exhaust gas flowing through the dilution mechanism mentioned above. From these values, the total mass of each regulated pollutant was determined and divided by the test cycle miles to calculate a vehicle’s emissions in grams of pollutant per mile driven. A direct comparison with the emissions standards could then be conducted because the emission standards were specified in grams per mile for each pollutant.

    It is of utmost importance to note that the emissions standards are mass-based standards. They are not concentration-based. This is because it is the mass of emissions that affect the health of people and the environment once the exhaust gases mix with ambient air. Concentration measurements require only exhaust gas analyzers while mass measurements required all of the dilution equipment and sample bags described above.

    Once I decided that I wanted to see what emissions looked like in the real world, the technical challenge was how to avoid needing most of the laboratory equipment described above. There would be insufficient space, electrical power, and carrying capacity on any passenger car and most trucks to be able to test with conventional equipment, not to mention that test throughput would be very low. Pulling a trailer was not an option in my mind. A system had to be very user-friendly, cost-effective, and applicable to any and all vehicles. As Jack mentioned, I had no budget and the Agency had no money for “science projects.” Many, many hours were spent figuring how to make a compact, energy-efficient system that would easily fit into a vehicle and would not need a portable generator to power it.

    When I first suggested the idea to my management in the Agency, there were 2 camps of thought relayed back. The first was that current regulations didn’t prescribe or contemplate real-world testing so its value would be limited because we could only act on laboratory-based emissions levels. The second was that even if mass emissions measured in the laboratory did not accurately reflect real-world emissions levels, the planned reductions in standards over time should be reflected in the real world. For example, if standards were expected to be reduced by 50%, then real-world emissions should be expected to go down by 50% as well. Neither of these management objections made any sense to me, the first because I felt the Agency was responsible for knowing what happens in the real world whether or not it had regulatory authority or a framework in place to do something about high emitting vehicles in the real world that passed the standard tests in the lab. I rejected the second objection because there was no information or data to support such thinking and I didn’t expect it to be true. Vehicles were becoming computer controlled which meant they could act very non-linearly and for anyone to think they could predict how changes over a test cycle would affect changes in the real world made no sense whatsoever.

    The technical challenge was to figure out how to replace or eliminate the need for all of the expensive and expansive equipment which was standard in any testing laboratory. I quickly realized that the key to the whole idea was accurately measuring the exhaust gas mass flow rate of a moving vehicle in a safe manner which would not degrade or affect the operation of the vehicle being tested. If I could accurately measure the mass flow of exhaust gas from the tailpipe of a moving vehicle, the remainder of the system would be straightforward in comparison. Of course, this all had to be done with no budget as Jack pointed out and while I continued to do my normal job duties.

    Years before I worked at EPA I had seen a device being used for liquid flow rate in an industrial setting. Without going into technical detail, it came to mind because it had positive attributes for my intended use and avoided problems that I expected to encounter in a dirty and wet exhaust gas environment. If I could somehow make it work for a highly transient, dirty exhaust gas that ranges from very little flow when an engine is idling to a very large flow when a vehicle is accelerating, I would have the heart of the system figured out. While this low-dollar part was being custom-manufactured to my specifications, I assembled the remainder of the system and wrote all of the software to control the first ROVER/PEMS system. I borrowed a gas analyzer, scrounged other parts, and worked many nights and weekends as Jack pointed out.

    Many hours were spent collecting and analyzing data and modifying the exhaust flow measurement device before it could be incorporated into the overall system and provide accurate measurements. By August of 1995, the complete system had been assembled and prototyped. It was a fully-functional, user-friendly system.

    I thought of other, simpler ways of estimating exhaust gas flow but rejected them for use in a technically rigorous testing program because the values would be error-prone and could be manipulated. More specifically, electronic signals from vehicle computers could be used but what I was seeking to develop was a system that would always give a correct measurement for any vehicle, whether it had electronic engine controls or engine data available or not. I referred to this type of testing as “blind testing.” I needed to develop a system that could be placed (blindly) on any vehicle or engine that would not require any information from the vehicle manufacturer whatsoever, to conduct a valid and accurate test of the mass emissions of the vehicle. To accomplish this aspect, I needed to develop the exhaust flowmeter as described above.

    Once I had a working prototype, I thought it would be an opportune time to use it as well as demonstrate it to others. I used the first fully-functional prototype in a compliance action in 1995 as Jack describes. This use brought the technology development to the attention of enforcement officials in the Department of Justice who embraced it. During the various enforcement actions in which the technology played a key technical role, also described to some degree in Jack’s book, the automotive and heavy-duty engine industry resisted its use and development. So, not only did my management not want me to develop the technology, but the automotive industry and engine companies, through their trade association, fought the development as well. (I hold no grudges against any of the automotive organizations because they probably had a justifiable approach from the point of view that it was extremely unlikely that some young, runny-nosed, government employee who had no real lab of his own, no budget, worked out of a cubicle in Washington, DC and had never even published a technical paper, would develop a system that is accurate, robust, and works reliably on-the-road. And, of course, it was desirable that real-world emissions remain unknown because there were enough issues to deal with, not to mention the undesirability of non-governmental organizations being able to conduct emissions or fuel economy tests on their own. But that’s all history now…)

    So there I was with a beautiful, fully-functional prototype that nobody wanted and that my office said had no use, once the investigations were done. So I conducted demonstrations for many organizations, both within and outside government, including state environmental organizations, universities, and other EPA offices. This is what created a demand for the initial funding that I eventually received years later – not for the development of the technology, but for the duplication of my system so those other organizations clamoring for it could use it. The funding allowed me to make 6 copies of the original system, which I loaned out to help those organizations and continue creating demand for the use of the technology, all the while single-handedly defending its technical integrity and validity of use with industry and within EPA.

    One of the organizations that I loaned a copy of the equipment to was West Virginia University. After my use of ROVER/PEMS related to the Department of Justice settlement with heavy-duty engine manufacturers in 1998, the settlement required the companies to conduct their own on-road testing similar to what I had done. But there was no off-the-shelf commercial equipment available yet, and because industry had fought against the use and development of my system during the settlement negotiations, they were allowed to have their own system built by a contractor, using best available technology. Well, there was only one technology available, and that was ROVER/PEMS. Like all good researchers, the WVU engineers evaluated my system in their laboratory. Initially they were very skeptical, in particular they made a laundry list of potential problems with my flow measurement technique. But after using my system and rigorously analyzing the data, they concluded that it worked indeed, that it was accurate, and they did not have to develop other methods of measuring flow. For all practical purposes, and certainly in terms of patent law, the WVU system that was developed was a ROVER/PEMS even though it used similar basic parts from other sources.

    Once the 6 systems were out there and others were using them, I quickly decided I didn’t want to be the 1-800 number help desk but I even though I wanted others to have access to the use of the technology. I was already patenting the technology and decided to find an appropriate licensee. Horiba Instruments was seen as the “gold standard” company in the automotive emissions area at that time. I felt it was necessary for me to license the invention to Horiba if I wanted it to survive beyond me. In other words, until the system became a commercial, off-the-shelf system available for purchase from an irrefutably reputable company, all of my years of work and accomplishments would disappear if I left (or was fired) by EPA. I expected automotive companies to generate data from any commercial system and try to poke holes in its accuracy and usability. But if I could get Horiba to manufacture the system and help defend the data quality, I could finally be done with the development effort and move on. I wanted to get the technology out of the laboratory and onto the market so I could do other things as I was viewed by my office management as a loose-cannon for conducting and continuing this work even though all of the usual controls to get me to stop had been applied by my office director (the usual poor performance reviews, lack of promotions, reversing the results of a desk audit promotion, and other means of professional isolation which won’t be discussed here.)

    I made a phone call to Horiba Instruments, not really knowing if they had heard about my work. It turns out they had and things progressed quickly for a while. I met with a very high level of company management from Japan that wanted to determine whether or not I was someone they wanted to work with. Things progressed very quickly until additional organizational roadblocks were encountered. Those additional roadblocks, not described here, delayed the appearance of the technology on the market by another 2-3 years. But it eventually happened (other companies have also commercialized the ROVER/PEMS technology) and was available for West Virginia University to use in their testing program for the ICCT that generated the data later used by others in identifying the existence of the defeat device. While others have since used and experimented with real-world measurement technologies, the technology on the market today and used in the VW testing program is the same ROVER/PEMS technology that I invented in 1995. There is a straight and unbroken lineage from the original prototype in 1995 to the six copies of the system, to the commercial systems from Horiba, Sensors Inc, and now AVL and NGK.

    Once the licensed, commercial systems became available by Horiba and Sensors, EPA continued to use my hand-built systems for many years because they had more capabilities than the commercial systems. Commercial systems had the features that satisfied most of the small market at that time, but didn’t have all of the features that our test programs had come to rely on.

    I was able to leave EPA in 2008 on my own terms. I knew the benefits of work pioneering real-world testing and inventing the technologies to make it p

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