Volkswagen has really gotten into a pickle. The German auto company that had positioned itself as the number one manufacturer of clean diesel cars went for quantity over quality, said Art Wheaton, senior lecturer at Cornell University and an auto industry expert.
"This has been an accident waiting to happen," he told Discovery News.
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For years, Volkswagen strived to produce and sell more motor vehicles than any other manufacturer in the world. To that end, they bought up smaller car companies, 12 in all, including Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini and Porsche.
Before news hit that the company had rigged its diesel cars to show lower emissions during tests than during actual driving, the company had surpassed Toyota in sales for the first time ever, selling 5.04 million vehicles to Toyota's 5.02 million vehicles in the first six months of 2015.
"But they traded quality for quantity," Wheaton said.
One reason might have been that making a car is not cheap. The research and development alone can cost upwards of a billion dollars for just one new model. And once it's out there, it has to appeal to buyers and compete with other cars, like those coming from Toyota.
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Unlike Toyota, Volkswagen didn't have a gas-electric hybrid or anything else in the "high fuel economy" category. But then it began developing clean diesel.
This appealed to European drivers. In Europe, the cost of diesel is cheaper than in the United States, where the fuel is taxed at a higher rate and is intentionally more expensive to discourage sales, said Wheaton.
Diesel produces more energy per gallon than unleaded gasoline and the engines are more efficient. A diesel car can go 30 percent farther than your typical car running on unleaded gasoline.
Unfortunately, diesel cars emit more nitrogen oxides, a terrible pollutant with serious health effects.
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Enter clean diesel. The technology is a combination of fuel with less sulfur, more efficient engines and emission-control technology, some of which add weight to the car, as well as higher maintenance costs. What's more, lowering the pollution levels can reduce a car's performance.
It seems that to get around these problems, Volkswagen engineers wrote some computer code that turned a car's pollution controls on when the car was in test mode and then turned them off when the car was in road-driving mode.
"Any time you have testing you have gaming of the system," Wheaton said.
You only need to look to sports, where blood doping and steroids have created their own scandals.
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And although they might have been able to fool the EPA, Wheaton said, Volkswagen wasn't able to get around the California Air Resources Board, an organization that reports directly to the governor and is concerned with air quality. California has some of the strictest emission laws in the country.
The rest of the story is all over the news and Volkswagen now faces billions of dollars in fines - costs that it may have never incurred had it put quality over quantity.
"It was flawed thinking at best," said Wheaton.