Volkswagen & the accidental environmentalist

So the Volkswagen Audi Group (V.A.G.) have been caught fiddling their cars’ emission results! This, for them, will be a PR nightmare & deservedly so. But this is more of a trust issue rather than an environmental one in my view. Let me explain…

I am a petrolhead, garagiste & now an “accidental environmentalist”. The first two go together but how can you enjoy big, noisy, polluting engines on one hand while claiming to care about the planet on the other?

I have a theory – well, a few, actually, based on nothing more than observation & common sense. The internal combustion engine produces harmful emissions, no argument, but so do many industrial & natural processes. Livestock produces 18% of all greenhouse gases while other food growing necessities account for another 9%, though some of this is from machinery, tractors & delivery trucks. The 18% figure, I have read, is more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together. This puts the bulk of greenhouse gas production down to manufacturing processes yet it is always the humble combustion engine which is subject to tighter & tighter control.

The way I figure it the motor industry IS to blame for much of the pollution! I cannot quote figures but I’m sure that the energy used to smelt steel, run factories, produce plastics, manufacture, package & transport components & assemblies, provide transport, heat & light for employees, etc, will produce more pollution per vehicle than whatever wisps of noxious gas come out of a car exhaust during its lifetime! Of course, at the end of its life a car has to be recycled. This also requires a large amount of energy too.

The thing I notice, though, is the waste going on just to keep a car on the road. The way I see things once the major pollution stage is out of the way it makes sense to keep a car in use for as long as possible, thus reducing a car’s lifetime pollution footprint per mile, before scrapping it. I used to get angry at the UK government’s recent scrapping scheme – not a totally silly idea in theory but badly implemented. Old, worn out cars would have to be scrapped when they failed the MOT emissions test anyway, or repaired to bring them back to standard & the scheme made the former a sensible choice but because used car prices in the UK do not reflect physical values, just market forces, some very good cars with a potentially long life ahead of them ended up being destroyed. A relation of mine had a 12 year old Peugeot 106 which she used rarely. It was kept in her garage & never went out in the rain. When she wanted to change it the trade value was £300 despite its low (23000) miles & perfect condition. But if traded under the government scheme she would get £1200! The only condition was that the car HAD to be destroyed.

This brings me to the subject which annoys me most – the waste produced by motor manufacturers thoughtless design & manufacture & the extra pollution this must produce! A prime example came to light this week with a customer’s car having a problem with the heater. The engine temperature took a long time to rise to its correct point – classic faulty thermostat. This part is a simple thing made of brass & copper & one usually removed 3 bolts, removed old part & inserted new part. Refix the 3 bolts & add coolant to level.

The new part duly ordered arrived on Friday & consists of the new thermostat, plastic housing, metal housing, 2 plastic hose connectors, 1 metal hose connector & a new temperature sender as a single part! So I have to buy, fit & pay for 7 components when I only needed one! Someone made all the bits, assembled them, packed them, transported them & stored them & now 6 of those still perfectly good parts will end up in landfill! What a waste of resource & money!

The scandal is that most car companies are as wasteful. Renault will only sell you a set of 8 rockers when you only need 2. Some will only sell a set of 4 diesel injectors at a cost of 1500 euros when you only need one! Fortunately now there are other sources but I think you get the point. The cost of some repairs can render quite a new & valuable car uneconomical so it can end up being scrapped at quite an early age.

This is not the way to get the most out of a car thus reducing its “per mile” carbon footprint. Surely it is environmentally better to produce fewer new cars by producing better quality ones? My 1942 GMC truck, having not turned a wheel for 25 years, runs sweetly having required the replacement of rubber hoses & a good service & I can buy everything for it “off the shelf” one bolt at a time!

Where are the voices of Greenpeace & the like?

Coincidentally I spotted a 2CV part body and chassis in a Brit's garage near here this week. Not sure what he wants to do with it. Would make a good project. I guess they are worth about £5k done to a reasonable standard. I had a Dyane for a couple of years, Nice car.

TBH it did not work very well. To fast for the road and not up to spec for the drag strip (wrong tubing, wrong welding). It got cut up in the end and the chassis was recycled into something more sensible.

The acceleration must have been something! Any pics or did it spontaneously combust?

Had all the body redone down to bare metal on the ali. 15 coats of paint by a guy called Spencer Lane-Jones. Lovely job. Drove like a train but loathed bottlenecks on motorways after a blast- constantly watching the temperature! My friends all drew my attention to the fact that when driving such a car a certain psture is adopted indicating the complete disdain with which one observed all other users of the road! My teen aged sons loathed being taken to school in it.

Me and a mate put a 440 Chrysler in a tube framed 2CV once. MPG was awful :D


You are correct- I recently spotted a photo of my car on the internet- apparently only 6 on the road of the 410 now! I should have kept mine! I paid £5500 for it and sold it for 16500 after 8 years!

I always loved those Bristols as did LGK Setright if I remember correctly.

Quite honestly I don't know what all the fuss is about. My old Bristol 410, powered by the relatively modest 5.2 litre V8 Chrysler engine, with aluminium body weighing in at 3 tons used to return a magnificent 10 MPG. I eventually got rid of it when they introduced speed bumps. The distance between wheels was so long that the low slung exhaust systems used to bottom out on every hump. One was obliged to acquire a less gentlemanly vehicle. If you couldn't afford the petrol you were not encouraged to buy a Bristol.

Well I was wondering about that Carl. I was thinking of trading her in for one of the new Tiguan GTEs when they are available next year. They’re plug in hybrids with a 1.4 petrol engine up front and an electric motor driving the rear giving 230 or so BHP. The battery range is over 30 clicks so I could spend weeks without using any petrol. I’ve got a Morgan as well so I fancy have an totally up to date car with all the tech to compliment my 1930s based Mog eith nomtevh at all. Even the wipers and heater are useless. The question is, how do I turn VW’s misfortune to my financial advantage :slight_smile:

Demand a new car John. :)

I have a 2013 Tiguan the VIN of which is on the naughty list. I have no idea how VW are going to fix this problem and, frankly, I'm not going to let them near the car until I understand exactly what they're going to do. The way I see it is if they had been able to get the engine to run at the declared emissions level without the S/W fiddle they would have, so the alternative they have now is to either detune the engine (since I paid extra for the 187BHP engine I'm not going to let that happen) or improve its efficiency (difficult) or add some processing to the exhaust (expensive for VW). Have you any ideas on how they can square the circle Mark?

Latest news bulletins are showing that so far tests are showing that Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat and Volvo are at it too. Funnily enough, two days ago I saw a report by a pollution specialist in the UK who said that Tata probably have the most advanced technology for doing what other manufacturers claim but that actually does it as well. That is ironic given when I first went to India Tata were probably one of the worst polluters in the world by the individual vehicle. Even a brand new car exuded black fumes, the centre of big cities were foul. More to come no doubt...

My grandpa in Wales always said inest in bricks and mortar and by and large that was very sound advice- in England especially London. Mind you huge capital transfer tax is generated for investment property as well as Inheritance Tax. The best investments were doing up houses for my own occupation which was tax free- but it was something I did for a living too.

Measuring just tailpipe emissions is indeed a poor way to measure the environment-friendliness of a car; also, it's a valid point to some extent that making cars with limited life span is also harmful, for more cars get manufactured, leading to more pollution than what the old car would have led to (not always so, since people also switch to public transportation, rather than buying a new car). However, some car makers, like Tata recently, are also switching to a more comprehensive life cycle assessment of their products, so we are getting there.

I think there is inevitably hypocrisy in the sector, as in any domain of human activity, but it's good to debate environmental issues rather than just ignore them. As we will evolve, we will find better, less hypocritical ways. Meanwhile, the Volkswagen issue for me is not that much about the emissions: it is more rather about blatant cheating, and they shouldn't be let off the hook for such an evident malpractice.

My information was from the BBC (which I admit is not the most reliable of sources) when President Obama was putting the boot in after the gulf oil spill. I have heard other examples of Americans bashing supposedly foreign owned companies. Perhaps it’s just their politics?

Remember stubble burning in the fields. It is not so long since it finished actually. In our village in the east of England there was plenty of field to burn. Everybody's pool, those who had them anyway, was filthy. Hanging washing out was pointless. One could go t a carwash every day. Etc, etc. Then they discovered the vast great volume of field burning in the British Isles was affecting the seas around the islands. What nobody really ever spoke to much about was our lungs, the people living in cities too although not living among it.

I invested a large amount, possibly the same company, for 35 years and it went toes up and I still have to wait some years because pensions are not considered as important as investment in said company. So, if I am alive, I shall get a compensatory payment that is considerably less than the value of the money I paid in. I would have been better off putting it in an actual piggy bank. Now a friend who has been an oil trader for 30 odd years who has just retired and has a pension tied to oil prices with one of the US petrochemical giants is crying because the value of his pension has gone down to only £2200 and a bit a week on top of which he has his full state pension, £180 or whatever it is, so £2400 or roughly what people on basic state pension get over about 22 weeks. Plus the stash he has wherever he has hidden it, Jersey I think. Poor bugger, I am not going to weep for him though.

I think German companies are fairly exceptional in that they value their employees and consult with them. Most multinationals have no compunction about dumping an entire workforce if they can make a few extra dollars by moving production elsewhere.
I agree that everyone suffers from pollution, but the well-heeled can still find a some sort of refuge in the leafy suburbs.
An aside: Many years ago I used to have an early morning swim in Brentwood's old outdoor pool. It was conveniently situated next to the bus garage. The drivers would start their engines from cold and leave them running. The space between the surface of the water and the rim of the pool would rapidly fill with stinking fumes. As a survivor of the London smogs, I didn't think much about it at the time, but nowadays I wonder how I ever got to the age of 78 without becoming a respiratory cripple!