A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Monday, October 12, 2015

TOF is Bugged

Well, not literally; but there was a recent news item that buried the lead. It regarded a software modification on VW diesels that enabled the cars to maintain fuel efficiency while at the same time meeting the letter of the law on the particulates and NOx tests. Now they will be forced to reduce fuel efficiency permanently, spew additional tons of pollutants into the environment, and impose billions in higher costs on VW diesel owners, all in the name of reducing emissions (particulates) that have never been shown to cause a death.

Of course, there have been simulated deaths predicted by Models, but even they do not approach the annual death toll from giant meteor impacts.
Suppose a "dinosaur killer" has one chance in 70 million of striking, and suppose it wipes out all or nearly all dinosaurs, including people as well as bureaucrats and professors with tenure. Estimate the death toll at six billion. That's 85.7 deaths per year. You can't argue with Science!™
That's more or less how they get the "death" toll from particulates. Let's apply that thinking laterally.

Suppose VW were to comply wholeheartedly with the spirit of the edict rather than with the actual law (which, recognizing the variability introduced by usage, requires compliance only at the time of testing).
[S]uppose the net effect of the rule if applied would be to decrease the mileage ... from a claimed 68.75 MPG to a real 55 MPG -- in part because the engine burns fuel less efficiently and in in part because it has to run at a higher RPM to produce comparable power. Now assume 400,000 VW diesels averaging 20,000 miles a year over eight years, and you get the guess that the EPA wanted to force VW customers to buy and burn an additional 230 million gallons of fuel over the period. Figure an average $3 and 23 pounds of exhaust per gallon, and this rule shows as a $698 million dollar differential tax burden on VW owners -- and 5.3 billion pound assault on the environment. -- American Thinker
TOF does not believe the SWAG of 23 lbs exhaust per gallon, inasmuch as a gallon of diesel weights only 7.5 pounds at room temp. We suspect the author intended 2.3 pounds, which reduces the total burden to a mere half-billion pound assault.

Yet we repeatedly see news items like this: "the world’s largest [sic] automaker had systematically cheated on U.S. emissions tests to make its diesel engines appear more eco-friendly than they really are." In the trade-off between fuel efficiency and particulate emissions, which is the better option? One might say that by sacrificing gas mileage for particulates, the EPA test is designed to make diesel engines appear more eco-friendly than they really are, since what they gain on the shy, they lose on the roundabout. (Also, VW is listed as third-largest, after Toyota and GM, which Astute Reader will note, have previously been sent to the woodshed by the US government. Interesting. Hyundai better watch out. They're next.)

And how do the $18 billions in fines [a quarter of VW's corporate value] imposed for theoretical deaths compare to the $0.9 billions fine imposed on GM for a switch defect that actually caused over a hundred real deaths? Is violating the spirit of an EPA reg really 20 times worse than killing people?

None of the stories TOF has seen have told us the actual difference in particulate levels between the fuel-efficient and EPA-compliant engines. Quantity matters, at least in the real world; and when quantities are never mentioned, despite the public's Right to Know™, it is generally a sign that they are negligible.

However, the headlines have been garnered, Emmanuel Goldstein has been ritually hated, and we move on. Perhaps we ought to keep an eye on who buys up the VW stock now that it has been depressed to half its value. They stand to make a great deal once it rebounds.


  1. "TOF does not believe the SWAG of 23 lbs exhaust per gallon, inasmuch as a gallon of diesel weights only 7.5 pounds at room temp. We suspect the author intended 2.3 pounds, which reduces the total burden to a mere half-billion pound assault."

    How do you exhaust less than you consume? Where does the rest go? I assume that the extra weight comes from the oxygen used to burn the fuel.

    1. That much more? 7.5 pounds becoming 23 pounds? I suppose it's possible, but I'd like to see the source. That means complying with EPA would unleash even more pollutants. I suppose that it may depend on which pollutants are being "measured" [modeled]. Remember, EPA counts carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

    2. I would think easily. The oxygen to carbon ratio is about 2.7 in CO2, the ratio in H2O is 8, compared to 23/7.5 = 3.1 quoted. I think that they are considering all exhaust and not just pollutants, due to incomplete combustion, which would be a small fraction of this. Also since the oxygen is not separated from the air the exhaust weight might be even higher. We can assume that fuel intake plus air intake must equal exhaust, only the chemical compounds have changed. Some of the nitrogen is burned as well. I do agree, however, that an exhaust weight in itself is a meaningless number.

      I suppose that the real problem is that the EPA wants cars to run on magic.

    3. 23 pounds is approximately the weight-of-CO2, so that's probably what the author meant.

      Weight-of-exhaust (as the author stated) would be a couple hundred pounds; exhaust is still mostly nitrogen. Weight-of-highly-toxic-pollutants (as you seem to have inferred) would be ounces or fractions thereof.


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