Our topic today is something so mind-numbingly stupid that I hesitate even to write about it. There was an announcement late on Friday from the EPA about diesel engines from Volkswagen. These are the engines that the automaker markets as “Clean Diesel.” The announcement was shocking. As reported in the NY Times:
Volkswagen has been ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency to recall 482,000 diesel cars in the U.S. over software they say was intentionally designed to circumvent smog regulations. The cars, all diesels from 2009 to 2015, have a “defeat device” programmed to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing that only then turns on the full emissions control systems.
Many of you might not remember the Eddie Haskell character from Leave It To Beaver, the old TV show. Eddie was a bad kid who acted like an angel in front of parents and other adults. That is apparently what VW designed their software to do – behave nicely in front of the standard EPA tests while belching out unhealthy levels of nitrogen oxide emissions when the testers weren’t looking – as in 40 times more than the allowable levels of emissions.. It’s not something recent either: the bad software is in 6 model years of cars. Nice right?
Here is the thing about big companies. Rarely does one person make a decision. In this case, the people (plural) involved have put VW in jeopardy of having to pay around $18 Billion in fines. At a minimum, they’re looking at the recall of 482,000 diesel cars. But the automaker isn’t the only company to demonstrate this kind of idiocy. Samsung has been accused of the same sort of thing to detect speed tests on their phone chips in order to demonstrate speed that really isn’t there in real life use. Antivirus company Qihoo submitted different versions for benchmark testing than those provided to consumers. I’m sure there are other examples across other business categories.
Knowing this, would you buy any of the affected products? I wouldn’t. What else aren’t they telling us? How safe/effective/good are their products? More importantly, if they would knowingly cheat this way, how will they treat me as a customer? Will they lie to me just as they have to the testers?
This kind of behavior goes global rapidly today. Like the Cleavers, who were well aware of Eddie’s true personality, consumers are better informed and bad behavior is always front and center. Putting aside the destruction of the bottom line due to getting caught, how can anyone with an ounce of business sense think this sort of activity is a good idea?