Sunday, November 01, 2015

When will regulators be held to the same standard as VW executives?

Martin Winterkorn lost his job as Volkswagen’s boss because the carmaker cheated emissions tests
writes Andrew Morriss, Dean of the Texas A&M School of Law, to The Economist (“Dirty secrets”, September 26th).
Yet the heads of the environment agencies in America and Europe are still at their desks. This is despite the fact that the only way they wouldn’t have known that engine software might be detecting test conditions and adjusting the engine was if they had spent the past two decades on another planet.

 … It is impossible for any competent regulator to have been unaware of what was going on with other diesel engines after 1998.

You called for criminal prosecutions of executives that engage in this sort of behaviour. When will you start to hold regulators to the same standard?
Glenn Kennedy adds that the
VW scandal raises questions about a 1970s-era regulatory regime that is based on a one-size-fits-all emissions standard set at a national level, when the reality is that air quality is largely an urban, regional and sometimes seasonal problem.

Indeed, preferring a reduction in NOx emissions at the expense of lower efficiency and therefore higher carbon emissions has a possibly negative environmental benefit for a car driving along a deserted interstate in Montana, compared with a stop-start commute through smog-choked and densely populated Los Angeles.
But if VW’s technically brilliant “defeat” software is able to discern the purpose of the car’s operation and adjust its pollution output accordingly, then surely with GPS technology it should be able to detect its location and make the same adjustments. Feed real-time atmospheric condition data to the vehicle and it might dynamically adjust this trade-off in urban environments, preferring efficiency on clear, windy days, and lower NOx emissions on still, smoggy ones.

Put to a nefarious purpose, VW’s algorithms could well lead to its demise. But combined with updated, technology-driven regulation, this same code could contain the seeds of a smarter, more efficient approach to reducing transportation emissions.
Finally, Hovione's Guy Villax points out that
in Europe our regulators are asleep at the wheel. Football and diesel cars are small in America and big in Europe, but it is the American authorities who have taken action in those two scandals. How much longer will Europe allow non-compliance to be a competitive advantage?