The resignation of Martin Winterkorn is the latest news in a crisis undermining our trust in vehicle manufacturers. The CEO of Volkswagen is a big scalp for those who unveiled Volkswagen’s deception in creating a software fix which allowed the diesel cars the company was selling in the US to cheat in order to meet exhaust emission rules.
The same tricky program may actually be in cars sold here in Australia, but our emission rules are set at a higher level and the engines are likely to still be compliant. Whether diesel Volkswagens are compliant on the roads of the US is neither here nor there for the Australian trucking industry.
What will be popping into the minds of truck buyers here is more likely to be a question about just how reliable these emissions compliance claims are from the manufacturers. We happily look at trucks which are compliant with Euro 5 or Euro 6, or even US EPA 2007 or 2010 and trust what we are being told is the truth.
The problem is, we have no idea whether it is true or not. How can you tell if your truck is compliant with ADR 80/02 or ADR 80/03? Do you care? Would you care if it turns out your assertion in a tender document, stating all of the trucks working on a particular task are Euro 5 compliant, was not necessarily true?
All of the control systems cleaning up the truck exhaust is in the electronic control module, which is programmed to open the EGR valve at this percentage, turn up the flow of adblue into the exhaust stream or regenerate the DPF. It is all well beyond our knowledge and the machine capable of testing exhaust gases correctly costs millions of dollars.
No-one in Australia actually tests each truck to make sure they are compliant, it is way too expensive. Instead, a controlled test is carried out, somewhere in the world, by qualified technical people working for the vehicle manufacturer. The vehicle is run in laboratory conditions over a set cycle and the results recorded.
Those results are validated by the country’s governing authority and regulators around the globe accept these as being true. They also accept the manufacturer will make all of the vehicles exactly the same as the model tested and test a sample of them to ensure compliance.
Now, the truck manufacturers of the world are, almost certainly, all doing the right thing. If a truck says its Euro 6 compliant it probably is, it certainly will be in the future. What the Volkswagen debacle has taught us is the big corporations can be tempted to cheat a little to get over the line if they are struggling to make it legally.
The modern truck system is based on trust. We have to trust the manufacturers’ engineers because we have no idea what is going on in the little black boxes all over the truck. In the past, anyone who knew their stuff could look a truck over, pull things apart and know exactly how it worked, and how to fix it by the side of the road. These days, even the technicians don’t know for sure, they have to believe what the laptop tells them.
It’s not just the emission control which is like this. The modern safety systems are also run by ECMs which are programmed somewhere else in the world and we have to trust they are built to work properly and have adequate failsafe systems.
It is all about trust, as well as the power of litigation and corporate responsibility to keep the big boys in line. The Volkswagen scandal is not going to undermine our trust in these systems, but it should cause us to question some assertions made about particular vehicles and always err on the side of caution where new technology is involved.