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Volkswagen's Cheating Confirms Why We Must Regulate the Auto Industry

Volkswagen has been caught altering their exhaust emissions. VW engineers intentionally programmed their vehicles to be able to detect when it is being tested, and then - and only then, produce the emissions results required to meet U.S. and California emission standards. Once the testing was done, the vehicles went back to the normal setting, which obviously does not meet the standards. 

According to Kevin Drum, author of the article "WTF, Volkswagen?," "A quick swag suggests that VW emitted about 3,000 excess tons of nitrogen oxides in Southern California alone over the past six years, which may have caused as many as a dozen or more incremental deaths." Why would Volkswagen spend money on a device that breaks the law? The answer is to simply sell more diesel cars by making them faster on test drives. This conduct begs the question: what else is Volkswagen hiding?

VW's misconduct is particularly troubling, given the auto industry's long history of bad behavior. For decades, auto manufacturers have produced cars and trucks that have very serious safety defects, and intentionally hidden these defects from regulators and consumers. Ralph Nader first came to fame in 1965 for his book, "Unsafe at Any Speed." Mr. Nader's book blew the lid off the secrets hidden by every major automobile manufacturer: they were intentionally putting profits over the safety of their customers. In particular, Mr. Nader studied the problems with the Chevy Corvair. Chevrolet knew that the "swing-axle" rear suspension on the Corvair made it likely to roll over. Chevy also knew that the fix for the problem was very simple but (1) chose not to implement it, and (2) chose not to warn the public or even its own sales force.

Many other examples exist of auto makers knowingly marketing popular car and truck models with dangerous hidden defects. In the 1970's and 1980's, the Ford Mustang and Chevy Malibu could explode from even moderate rear-end collisions due to placement of the fuel tank right next to the rear bumper. In the 1990's, the Ford Explorer was known to roll over because engineers miscalculated its center of gravity. Recently, Toyota vehicles have been prone to sudden unintended acceleration due to glitches with the on-board computer system. Just last year, GM had to admit that they have known for years that ignition switches on their vehicles can go to the "off" position while being operated, making it impossible for the driver to control the vehicle.

The point is, even today, car makers must be forced to put people over profits. It is shocking to know that the safety of citizens and our environment is being ignored, while Volkswagen intentionally designs their cars to break the rules. This is a classic example of why automobile safety and emission standards are heavily regulated in the US. Gas tank standards, seat belts, airbags, roof crush standards (rollovers) are all forced on an industry that has a history of not wanting to put consumer safety first. What Volkswagen has done is confirm that even after a fifty year focus on safety, they simply cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

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