The podcast, “All Scandals Considered,” for Project 3 is posted on Kat Gonzales’ blog here.
I worked for GE Transportation last summer (and will be returning there in the fall) and I quickly learned that emissions standards are what drive much of the locomotive industry. I know for a fact that there is no such shady business going on at GE, but I can’t even imagine the repercussions if they had done what VW was caught doing. Since practically all locomotives run on diesel and, therefore, emissions standards rule the land, a breach of these standards would almost certainly ruin the company.
Fortunately for Volkswagen, their major products in America are not diesel engines, so the recall did not affect the majority of vehicles on the road. Unfortunately, with all of the competition in the car industry, public perception plays a huge role to consumers and this scandal greatly affected that.
Last semester in Design Methodology, we discussed many engineering ethics cases (ex. the Takata airbag recall and the General Motors ignition switch scandal) and whether it was the engineers’ fault or management’s fault, it always came down to money.
I am not convinced that corporate management was not involved in the scandal. My suspicion is that the engineers who were involved in creating the defeat device found out about the regulation violation too late in the game. The real hiccup with this theory is that this defeat device was found in vehicles made between 2009-2015, so surely there could have been an opportunity to correct the engine technology instead of continuing on with the corrupted software. If this was something that was only included in models made within one year or just one line of cars, say just Jettas, it may be easier to say that a small group of people were responsible for it. But when 4 different VW models and an Audi model had this defeat device, putting the blame only on software engineers is much less convincing.
Why would anyone willingly go up against the EPA? This is a question that makes me believe that corporate management definitely had something to do with the goings on. There must have been some pressure from above for these engineers to defy such a strict regulation. Everyone knows that the US takes its regulations pretty seriously. Additionally, the fact that the system only worked in closed testing conditions is a huge loophole. Shouldn’t they have anticipated that someone–a third party, a curious group of engineers, a competitor trying to figure out how in the world VW is so successful– would have looked into their technologies outside of a controlled area? This seems like a pretty huge oversight, or they were just feeling very comfortable.
If I was an engineer of the VW team, I would very much like to believe that I would not have gotten involved with such dealings. I admit that this whole situation, though obviously extremely unethical, is very sneaky and clever, but I am definitely afraid of getting in trouble. I honestly can’t say if I would bring this information to news outlets or anything public like that. I would try to bring the information to my manager and if nothing changed, perhaps I would leave the company. It is very easy for me, and pretty much everyone, to Monday morning quarterback this situation, but I truly cannot pinpoint one particular person to blame.