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What Volkswagen knew

PERC senior fellow Andrew Morriss weighs in on the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Originally appeared as a letter to the editor in the Economist.

Martin Winterkorn lost his job as Volkswagen’s boss because the carmaker cheated emissions tests (“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.

In 1998 America’s Environmental Protection Agency reached a $1 billion settlement with heavy-duty diesel-engine manufacturers over their use of precisely the same software approach as VW. There were literally hundreds of articles discussing this use of engine-controller software in technical, popular and engineering-news journals. Media reports show that officials from the EPA were present at a meeting in 1994 at which an EPA staff member discussed control strategies based on the test cycle. This demonstrates that at the very least the EPA had notice that electronic engine-controllers were being programmed to detect tests as early as 1994. 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?

Andrew Morriss
Texas A&M School of Law
Fort Worth, Texas

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