No, Volkswagen, not you too. You’re supposed to be the friendly company, the one that makes adorable-yet-safe cars that zip through the European countryside in your commercials, a countryside that is lush and green with a beautiful blue sky shining overhead.
Unfortunately, that lush, green landscape and blue sky could be in danger thanks to software that VW admitted this week it had installed on eleven million vehicles. A reported 500,000 vehicles in the US are believed to have “emissions cheating” software installed that would switch the engine to a cleaner mode during emissions tests, then switch off to a more powerful, more polluting mode for standard driving.
Sadly, in what could end up being one of the largest industry shakedowns to involve a piece of software, automakers throughout Germany and the EU are being put in the hot seat. While VW’s stock prices fell dramatically to a four-year low in the wake of this software scandal-ultimately losing 35% of the company’s total value before leveling out–and executives at the company have promised heads will roll over this news, other European manufacturers are feeling the fallout with their own stock.
According to an article by FoxNews, “The shockwaves from the scandal enveloping Volkswagen were being felt far and wide across the sector as traders wondered who else may get embroiled. Germany’s Daimler AG, the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, was down 6 percent, while BMW AG fell 5.3 percent. France’s Renault SA was 5.5 percent lower.”
The why is simple: profits.
But the “how” of the software is a little more sophisticated. According to Yahoo News, the software “covertly turns off pollution controls when the car is being driven. It turns them on only when it detects that the vehicle is undergoing an emissions test. With the so-called ‘defeat device’ deactivated, the car can spew pollutant gases into the air, including nitrogen oxide in amounts as much as 40 times higher than emissions standards, said the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”
In an interesting twist, there is already speculation–from the flippant to the conspiracy theories–about what other kinds of software could be “covertly” installed on our vehicles or major appliances, and what that software is capable of.