Saturday, 26 September 2015

The VW 'Fix'

"Performance, emissions, durability, and fuel economy."

- Jake Fisher, Director of Consumer Reports Auto Testing

I was reading over a simple outline of the VW diesel problem yesterday, and Jake put it in simplicity.

You can build an engine that delivers one of the four, or three of the four.....but you can't have all four mandated requirements of a normal engine when talking about diesel design.

So you prioritize.  You can have great fuel economy....doing forty-odd miles per gallon.  You can have a very durable engine which lasts easily through 250,000 miles.  You can have a car that performs through harsh winters and hot summers, and zips you from 0-to-60 in a couple of seconds.  But when you have those three things.....you can't have emissions on the plus side.  Zero possibility.

I noted several German PhD engineer folks commenting on the VW crisis, and they generally think a minor part or two change-out and a different software package....could bring this problem under control in a matter of six months.  Then they kinda noted the obvious 'fix'.....you'd have to accept a car which doesn't have quiet the ZIP that it had before and the gas mileage would go from forty-odd miles a gallon down to probably twenty-four miles a gallon.

Back in 2009, I had a chance to drive a diesel Alfa-Romero MiTo as a rental for two days.  It had been twenty years since I'd last driven a diesel and I was expecting a less-than-peppy car.  So I was surprised that it actually reacted very quickly and blasted along the autobahn at a fair speed.  I might have even been enthusiastic about buying the MiTo.....except when it came to the final hour of use and I needed to refill the tank.....the stupid tank-security cap release simply didn't work.  A one-year old car and the security device giving you access to the cap was screwed up.  But I was sold on the idea of a decent diesel powered car.

Here's the problem I see with the VW 'fix' that will come by spring of 2016.  The EPA will ask for the full copy of the software and demand some kind of review....go figure four months before they approve this.  So when it's accepted....there's going to be several problems to develop.

First, is there a complete list of VW owners affected held by the EPA?  My guess is no.  Not unless VW offers them the list, or states cooperate to provide registration data to the EPA.  Can the EPA mandate that you come in and be forced to accept a change to the car which drops it from forty-odd miles to the gallon....to twenty-four miles a gallon, and remove the peppyness of the car?  I have my doubts that EPA could do it, but states could deny you a renewal of the car tag (some states have emissions tests and some don't).  The EPA might invent some yearly tax to encourage you to accept the 'fix'....figure $500 a year is enough to convince most folks.

Second, let's say that you figure out all this geeky stuff.....get upset....then decide to undo the software release package.....like going from Windows 10 back to Windows 7 because it simply worked better.  This would require you to have a copy of the VW enhanced program, and each year you'd have to bring the car back to the right version for the state emission test episode.  Would EPA figure out that half of these owners have turned geek and cheating the system?  Would the EPA start having spot-inspections on these owners?

Third, if you were an owner of a 'fixed' VW diesel car, and you had the twenty-four mpg situation....of what re-sell value is your car?  Even if the car was just a year-old.....you probably lost another fifty percent of the re-sell value once the 'fix' goes onto the car.  There just wouldn't be used-car market for these diesel VW's.

So, this brings me to this odd analysis point.  If you were ever going to own a diesel VW that does the forty-odd mile per gallon....you'd best go down this next week or two and buy it now, with the problem software working as it should.  Even when the sales guy warns you about the 'fix', just smile and grin and say you kinda know what has been said....but you know this geeky guy who will ensure you stay with the better performance package.

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