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A QualitEvolution is intended to capture positions and experiences as a participant in the evolution of the Quality profession into the 21st century. From its origins as the brainchild of Corporate Industrial Statisticians, our profession has transformed and evolved to incorporate and adapt to the demands and expectations of our modern existence.

The scope of the subject matter within A QualitEvolution extends to the furthest ranges of quality, business transformation, management science, and quality issues especially pertinent to the members of ASQ in Canada.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Bad "Car"Ma: Defeat Devices Not Legitimate Quality Nor Socially Responsible

On September 18, there were multiple reports concerning the Notice of Violation by the EPA and the Government of California against Volkswagen concerning their "Defeat Device" software which was installed to enable the cars to consistently pass emissions tests.

For reference, this story has been corroborated across multiple web publications as shown below.









The summary is that between 480,000 and 500,000 (482,000 by multiple accounts) vehicles will need to be recalled.  These cars had software known as a Defeat Device installed to activate all emissions control capabilities during testing, and disable the majority of those controls during normal operation, when the emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) would be estimated to be 10-40 times higher than the emissions released during testing.

I consider this to be "Contrived Quality" because the vehicle was designed with a feature to demonstrate a particular result under a particular configuration that was not reflective of normal use.  (This is like a roofing company boasting about having no water leaks during a drought, but changing their statement once it actually starts raining).

These outcomes were discovered by an independent emissions study conducted in West Virginia, and the reports of that study were communicated to both the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board.  After initial resistance, VW was forced to disclose the presence of the defeat device.

In addition to the recall of multiple diesel models, the overall VW brand is tarnished.  Consumers who had paid a premium for a vehicle with emissions control are now disappointed that their "clean diesel" cars are not legitimate.  All future purchases from VW will be made with extra caution based on this act of noncompliance.

With respect to Social Responsibility, this is an excellent example of a product which was marketed as a Socially Responsible solution, but due to its technical manipulation was actually Socially Detrimental.  Nearly half a million vehicles are on the road with excessive emissions, adding to the contribution of nitrogen oxide in our environment.

This is not without recent precedent.  In November 2014, Hyundai and Kia were fined a combined $300 million for violating the Clean Air Act.  The Financial Times estimates a fine of $37,500 per vehicle, which could result in a combined fine to VW of $18 billion.  How is that for a Cost of Quality and Cost of Social Responsibility?


  1. It astounds me to see that a big organization like VW did a 'breach of trust'. Some 'Cost of Quality' and a genuine commitment towards Social Responsibility would have paid off for itself not only in terms of money but also in terms of reputation. Lack of quality in the Governance and the Internal Audits in VW is clearly visible.......

    S Thakur

  2. Serendipity:
    The day before this came out I bought one of those cars!

    I bought the car not because of "clean diesel" marketing but it provided me a better car than any other hybrid. It was a personal choice.

    Quality Practitioner:
    Sometimes I think we "preach" a little too hard. As practitioners we can find numerous examples of "quality applications" or "quality failures" that are more a stretch of the concept than a true example. If the report is proven to be accurate (the WV report is one data point) than I will condemn VW management.

    It does not mean I am giving up my new car.

  3. I remember from my days in Medical Device software how stringent the product standards were for getting FDA and CE mark clearance for biomedical products. The compliance requirements were specific and the tolerance was measured in days to restore compliance. I think that the fact that emissions tests could be "gamed" suggests that more after-market enforcement is required.