autoevolution

Why VW and Diesel Deserve Everything That's Coming to Them

Sorry, Rudolf, I know you probably meant well in your time, but this is the future. Diesel fuel has had about a century to evolve to the point of truly competing with gasoline in passenger cars, but as recent events have also shown, it wasn’t long enough. That said, the "Dieselgate" is merely a confirmation of what you're about to read on diesel and Volkswagen, not an exception to the unwritten rule that had slowly began to take over the automotive media in recent years: diesels are a better alternative to hybrids. No, they are definitely not. Full disclosure: I was born and raised as a petrolhead and if I were into religion I would probably bow to the mighty god of the Holy V8, Mad Max-style. With that out of the way, I should also add that this isn't the first time when I publicly show my beef with diesel fuel, but I don't want anyone to think that I'm simply having a personal vendetta against diesel and that I like kicking VW when it's down either. No, Volkswagen, along with diesel engines in general, fully deserve all the hatred that's coming to them these days. Sure, I enjoy torquey engines and I'm always happy when I can go farther using less fuel, and there aren't many engines out there that can best a 3.0 BiTDI from those two points of view. When found in certain Audis, thanks to an almost magical exhaust & speakers trickery, the 3.0 BiTDI even sounds like a high-strung V8 or a racing inline six that uses spark plugs for a living, not glowplugs. Coincidentally, it's an engine developed by the Volkswagen Group, and you won’t find it in any of the millions of cars that Wolfsburg will probably recall any day now. In essence, it should be the epitome of why diesel engines may have evolved to the point of competing and even beating similar powerplants that run on gasoline. Some diesel fans will also point out Audi's multi-race domination at Le Mans using an oil-burner, or how modern diesel particulate filters and urea-based gimmicks like AdBlue can make a diesel as clean as a whistle. The problem with that is nobody has so far invented a way to actually make diesel engines clean.
Why VW and Diesel Deserve Everything That's Coming to Them 6 photos
2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI2011 Volkswagen Passat (NMS) TDI engine bay2012 Volkswagen Beetle TDI2012 Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI2012 Volkswagen Passat (NMS) TDI
You can read that again: there is no such thing as a "clean diesel", no matter what Volkswagen's massive marketing push wants you to believe.

Yeah, VW is not alone in this, other European and especially German carmakers are in it as well, but unlike the others, Volkswagen did the least in trying to make them safer for the environment. And by "environment" I'm mostly talking about the poor bastards that have to live in cities and inhale all that nasty NOx and soot and other carcinogenic elements spewed by diesel engines.

The best diesel particulate filters developed until now can only stop diesel soot up to 2-3 microns in size, which is what Volkswagen tried to pass as a "clean diesel" in the US. As a reminder, it's actually the smallest soot particles that are worse for your health, since they can go straight into the lungs and bloodstream of the inhaler.

That didn't quite work out for VW, because without an AdBlue system any modern diesel actually remains about as bad for your health as older oil-burners. VAG's bean-counters knew this all along, and since an AdBlue system is not exactly cheap (for either the carmaker to fit or for the car's upkeep in the long run), they decided to pull a trick on the EPA and continue their global TDI push in the US. while also saving the dough required to fit all of their engines with AdBlue.

This is actually the main reason why BMW and Mercedes engines, nor VW's larger TDIs for that matter, have been included in the "Dieselgate" scandal. Those use AdBlue and are able to pass any emission test without software cheats.

Sure, unethical tabloids like AutoBild tried to drag BMW in this as well, but as you’ve probably found out by now, the Bavarians did nothing wrong, actually.

At least not as wrong as VW, anyway, because I must reiterate: there is no such thing as a "clean diesel," whether it's carrying a urea-based injection system for the tail pipe or not.

Speaking of which, because I'm sure I'm going to get flamed by a number of diesel advocates, AdBlue systems actually come the closest to creating a clean diesel, but they’re not perfect in real world driving. Note that I said "real world driving," which most of the time is incredibly different from "real world testing."

Testing obviously takes place in a controlled environment and the results are actually more beneficial to the carmakers and not the general population, who then gets to inhale whatever comes out of a (clean) diesel car's tail pipe. Even more so when a certain carmaker goes through all the trouble of installing a defeat software that makes the test pretty much meaningless.

On the downside, AdBlue (or Diesel Exhaust Fluid) systems work best when the SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) system has the right temperature, there’s a uniform exhaust gas velocity through the catalyst, and the exhaust gasses have the least amount of contaminants.

If any of these factors is not up to spec, the emission of NOx is tens of times higher than during prolonged driving sessions or during those obligatory testing procedures. In other words, AdBlue works very well when it does, but when it doesn't it's downright useless.

You may say that VW is not the only diesel proponent out there, and even if they cheated they shouldn't be the only ones to pay for the large scale health problems that diesel engines bring. Actually, I think the opposite. Volkswagen is bad and it should feel bad. No other carmaker has tried to pretty much enforce the spread of diesel car sales as much as the VW boys and girls did, and to think that they went as far as dupe millions of car buyers just for that extra bit of profit is simply unforgivable.

Sure, this isn't the first and probably not the last high-level scandal that VW goes through, and other carmakers have probably done even worse things with their customers' trust over the years.

You may remember that Chrysler sold tens of thousands of second-hand cars as new in the 1980s, Ford sold exploding Pintos and Explorers that were prone to rolling over because of their Firestone tires, Toyota's unintended acceleration issues turned families into out of control racing drivers, GM cared more about profit than about the people it killed because of faulty ignition switches and Takata airbags ruined thousand of lives, both literally and figuratively.

This may sound like a bit of stretch, but I think Volkswagen is as guilty as either one of these companies, even if the short term results of their cheating and diesel push aren't as evident. Even though I really feel bad for the hundreds of thousand of VW workers, the company needs to pay more that just a couple of billions in government fines and recalls. It needs to pay with the death of diesel engines and make an example out of it for everyone else.

PS: Can't wait for flame comments, my bag o’arguments is ready.

 
 
 
 
 

Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories