What's the long German word for shame?

The scrubbing chemistry is also what gave away Volkswagen’s alleged cover-up. In 2013, a small non-profit group decided to compare diesel emissions from European cars, which are notoriously high, with the US versions of the same vehicles. A team led by Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation, worked with emissions researchers at West Virginia University to test three four-cylinder 2.0-liter diesel cars in the Los Angeles area: a Jetta, a Passat, and a BMW. Only the BMW passed.
“We felt that it would be possible to get low emissions for diesels,” Kodjak said. “You can imagine our surprise when we found two of the three vehicles had significant emissions.”
The ICCT reported its findings to the EPA and the California Air Resources Board. Regulators met with VW officials in 2014 and the automaker agreed to fix the problem with a voluntary recall. But in July 2015, CARB did some follow up testing and again the cars failed—the scrubber technology was present, but off most of the time.
How this happened is pretty neat. Michigan’s Stefanopolou says computer sensors monitored the steering column. Under normal driving conditions, the column oscillates as the driver negotiates turns. But during emissions testing, the wheels of the car move, but the steering wheel doesn’t. That seems to have have been the signal for the “defeat device” to turn the catalytic scrubber up to full power, allowing the car to pass the test.

Clever detective work catching Volkswagen in this nefarious scheme. The Guardian does the math on the potential damage:

The rigging of emissions tests may have added nearly a million tonnes of air pollution by VW cars annually – roughly the same as the UK’s combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture. According to a Guardian analysis, the 482,000 non-compliant US vehicles would have released between 10,392 and 41,571 tonnes of NOx annually at an average US mileage, rather than the 1,039 tonnes the EPA standards would imply. Scaled to the 11m global vehicles, that would mean up to 948,691 tonnes of NOx emissions annually. Western Europe’s biggest power station, Drax in the UK, emits 39,000 tonnes of NOx each year.

Now some expert should translate that into a rough number of deaths or years of human life expunged. It's tantamount to indirect murder, and it's laughable that CEO Martin Winterkorn refuses to resign. It will be fascinating to see who concocted the scheme and how it was agreed upon.

At the very least, Winterkorn and others responsible should be forced to walk naked through the streets while people shout, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and throw fruit at them.

UPDATE: Just a few hours after I posted this Winterkorn resigned. He maintains he had no idea of this scheme, and it's quite possible that's true. It will still be interesting to see just how the scheme was concocted and how it was approved and carried out without Winterkorn's knowledge. Breakdowns are often more revealing than successes.

Like a ringtone for your car

So you’ve bought a new Ford Mustang and you want to hear a perfect deep-throated roar as you punch the gas and pull away from that Chevy Camaro. There’s an app for that.
Roush Performance’s Active Exhaust lets an Apple iPhone or iPad customize a Mustang’s sound and save the settings on those devices. It’s available for 2015 Mustangs with Roush’s Quad Tip exhaust system.
The system comes with three preloaded exhaust modes as well as the ability to create a custom sound. Touring is a quieter setting for neighborhood cruising. Sport is louder at lower speeds and less noisy in normal city driving. Track, for off-street use, bypasses the muffler for a full, unrestricted tone.

When I first read the headline, I thought Ford was making an all-electric Mustang, and that the engine noise would be synthetic. Electric cars are so quiet some think it's a safety problem as pedestrians, cyclists, and even other drivers often can't hear them approaching.


A few days ago Tesla Motors announced a new Ludicrous Mode for the Model S.

While working on our goal of making the power train last a million miles, we came up with the idea for an advanced smart fuse for the battery. Instead of a standard fuse that just melts past a certain amperage, requiring a big gap between the normal operating current and max current, we developed a fuse with its own electronics and a tiny lithium-ion battery. It constantly monitors current at the millisecond level and is pyro-actuated to cut power with extreme precision and certainty.
That was combined with upgrading the main pack contactor to use inconel (a high temperature space-grade superalloy) instead of steel, so that it remains springy under the heat of heavy current. The net result is that we can safely increase the max pack output from 1300 to 1500 Amps.
What this results in is a 10% improvement in the 0 to 60 mph time to 2.8 secs and a quarter mile time of 10.9 secs. Time to 155 mph is improved even more, resulting in a 20% reduction.
This option will cost $10k for new buyers. In appreciation of our existing P85D owners, the pack electronics upgrade needed for Ludicrous Mode will be offered for the next six months at only $5k plus installation labor.

You might wonder why Tesla would even bother releasing a $10,000 upgrade that buys you 0.3 seconds in your 0-60 time. Ludicrous indeed, right? I supposed it could be justified as just a publicity stunt, and it did garner more press than the other announcements they made, but I believe it just emphasizes just how critical it is to Tesla's success to show that going electric does not mean any sacrifice in performance. In many cases they now tout electric cars as a superior experience to ICE cars.

I don't think Tesla would have succeeded any other way except by starting with a high end performance car and then moving down market. At the time their first model the Roadster was released, electric cars were almost all hybrids, and the pure electric cars that were on the market had really low range, in the neighborhood of 80 miles on a full charge, so they were of necessity second or third cars for people with short commutes. The cars were very underpowered; it wasn't a stretch to say electric cars were like glorified go-carts.

There were very few public chargers, if any, and installing a charger at home was a costly upgrade from the electric company, if it was even available in your area. Electric cars were toys for a sliver of the wealthy.

The Roadster, but more the Model S, was the first electric car to credibly stand in as both a practical and sexy alternative to ICE cars. When it was first announced, there were still very few public chargers, and even today the public charging situation is meager when compared to the number of gas stations. Going electric would still be a sacrifice for many drivers today.

That is why the performance of the Model S in other respects was so critical. The battery life for high end models, around 260 miles on a full charge, was finally enough for more than just a short daily commute (it's not surprising to me at all that most of the sales of the Model S have been for the largest battery, to the point where they dropped the low end model). Battery life was critical to the first iPhone's appeal, and it's even more critical to electric cars because of the limited charging infrastructure.

The styling of the car was a fine balance between conservative and overly aggressive. No matter what you think of it, though, it didn't scream economy car like most compact electric cars before it. The designer came from a background designing European luxury cars, and the lines of the car evoked those more than boxy economy cars.

The 0-60 performance was a thrill then, and it's absurd now. Ludicrous, you might say. I test drove a P85D with insane mode turned on and the acceleration from a standing stop to 60 miles per hour was so extreme I felt dizzy and had to pull over for a few seconds to regain my equilibrium. It's like nothing you've ever felt before unless you're the circus clown they shoot out of a cannon. That so many YouTube videos showed the Model S dusting BMW's, Audi's, Porsches, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis on race tracks underlined the fact that you were sacrificing no performance whatsoever in going electric. In fact, you could now be the fastest kid on the block.

Add all of that up to other talking points like the giant touchscreen and ample storage space and what the Model S did was unlock the ability for relatively wealthy people to signal their concern for the environment without sacrificing anything in driving performance or personal style. It's an expensive signal, but as any knowledgeable sociologist or economist might tell you, the more extreme the signal, the clearer the signal. Driving a Ferrari down the street is a clearer signal than a BMW. The giant tail feathers of a peacock? Ludicrous, perhaps, but a very efficient signal.

Before the Tesla, owning an electric car marked you as an eccentric, a hippie even. Tesla singlehandedly changed the signaling potential of the entire electric car category.

Given the unfriendly car charging context into which Tesla had to launch its electric cars, this is not a market where low end disruption would have worked. The cost of batteries just didn't put that type of price/performance strategy in play. Tesla shook up the market by attacking the high end, luxury car market, just as they had to, and to compete in that segment, sometimes you have to pull up along side the ICE sports car at the stoplight and blow it off the line. Sometimes, the way to achieve escape velocity is by achieving a lot of velocity.