Sorry Diogenes, but ethics ain’t improved much during the last couple millenia since you went on a fruitless search for an honest man. In the latest charges against VW in the growing DieselGate scandal, the Attorney Generals of New York and a couple other states allege that the “cheat code” was more than just a hack to get VW past U.S. Emissions standards ’til they could get new models designed around Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) tanks into production and wasn’t just vestigially present but inactive in the rest of VW’s diesels for going on a decade. Turns out that the cheat was on in pretty much every VW TDI diesel sold in the U.S. since late 2008, and maybe longer in the rest of the world. VW is probably the largest volume builder of diesel cars in the world and has a big chunk of the light commercial vehicle biz too… Which means that VW may very well have been the biggest producer of NOX and other emissions for the last decade. Sorry VW, this is no longer an insignificant small market half million car “oops”.

Apparently there’s no more honesty to be found in the heavy truck biz…The EU’s antitrust regulators and prosecutors just came down hard on their market’s heavy truck makers, hitting Daimler, IVECO, Paccar, Volkswagon, and  Volvo with a few billion in fines for using the tightening emissions standards as an excuse to collude in price fixing. Knowing what the hardware to meet the new standards in 2007 and 2010 in the USA cost, I was somewhat taken aback when the big truck makers uniformly seemed to jack prices by $7500 for the 2007 models and yet another $7500 for the 2010 models. No surprise, given that the guilty parties in the EU are also 3 or the 4 surviving U.S. heavy truck makers.

In the corporate world Diogene’s search has been taken over by Ethisphere, a non profit that rates companies and even nonprofits on their ethical behavior or lack of the same. Participation is voluntary, but I would guess every Fortune 500 company with a chance of winnin’ their awards is applying for them… So how come only one automaker, Ford, has made Ethisphere’s awards list for several years now, while Cummins of engine fame has been a regular honoree for over a decade now? No surprise, Ford has given up trying to fool us with a half dozen upmarket variations on the same vehicle and they knew better than too even try to get a diesel car certified in the USA. Cummins is big in natural gas and pays the worlds best architects to design public buildings in their hometown of Columbus, Indiana. The lone truck only maker to merit Ethisphere honors is Oshkosh, who makes mostly military trucks but is known for underbidding Navistar by so much on a lucrative contract that losing Navistar protested that Oshkosh’s prices were too low. Locomotive and just about everything else electrical builder GE earned honors too, as did Deere in the tractor biz.

So how come VW didn’t make Ethisphere’s honor roll? And Toyota, GM, Honda, BMW, Daimler, Suburu, Isuzu, Paccar, Fiat Chrysler, ad nauseum?

  • Which given the great location, a suburban county fair park, was no surprise. The surprise was that the usual padded attendance was only around 6000. For an isolated location like Billings that would be good turnout, for an upstate western New York location within a days ride of at least a half dozen multi-million population megaplexes, it’s a real letdown. Perhaps not too many riders cared to be affiliated with the club now that they’ve with no notice, never mind board and membership authorization, moved to BMW of North America’s corporate campus?

Ever wonder why they’re trying to sell you a “connected” car, etc.?

Back in the old days, we owned stuff… Heck, sometimes we even made our stuff. My grandparents never even borrowed to buy a house, they build it from a shell they bought in the depression, adding on attic dormers, a kitchen and garage in the back, and a full basement and furnace underneath. They didn’t build their own cars, but they bought them cash and were quite proficient in the operation of valve spring and piston ring compressors. My parents paid off their house on a 30 year mortgage, and as long as the terms of said mortgage were satisfied, they were free to do as they pleased with the property. They paid cash for their cars and could darn well have rebuilt them if need be, and we kids rebuilt a couple engines in the driveway.

I belatedly became a homeowner, but the current generation of twenty and even forty somethings seem locked out of the mortgage market, the big banks preferring to lend to big apartment developers who will assure these young folks never acquire equity and the resulting retirement security of owning a home. Same with cars, trucks, and motorcycles as leasing replaces financing, and you’ll be penalized if you dare show up at the dealer with cash. And just to keep you yoked to the dealers and manufacturers wagon, they’ll be happy to hook you into years long maintenance contracts, etc..

This sleazy business practice is called “rent seeking”, and it’s a currently popular business model, which explains why your cell service provider wants to “give” you a “free” phone, then hits you for a hundred or so a month for the next couple years to pay for it. Same with vehicles, and all the manufacturers will be happy to tie you to one lease and maintenance plan after another for posterity. But rent seeking is so 2007…

Welcome to the brave new world of connected cars and kill switches! Like the assembly line which was actually invented by the packing houses to disassemble carcasses, the earliest example of this new economic model comes from poultry and hog barns, where Swift, Perdue, etc. own the livestock and the farmer provides the land, barn, feed, and everything else. Then when the livestock is trucked off for slaughter, the packer decides how much to pay the farmer. This scam obviously works to the benefit of the packers, who have nothing invested but some hatchlings and baby oinkers, while the farmer is in hock for millions to buy the land, tractors, feed, barns, etc.. And when the animal lovers demand bigger cages and the consumers demand organic, the farmer is on the hook for those extra costs. And if the packer screwed up and is having a bad quarter, they just pay the farmers less and look like Wall Street wiz kids. This has not gone unnoticed by the telecom companies… Apple hit AT&T for $400 and more for every iPhone sold back when they were the sole provider, then had to make that back over a two year contract. Try to escape that bad deal by rooting your iPhone, and Apple got even by throwing their “kill switch” and bricking your phone, even if you’d paid the $400 or more for it and owned it free and clear. No wonder my $25 el cheapo smartphone keeps getting “updated” by Sprint to try to make it leach off of my AT&T WiFi hotspot instead of their Sprint cell site!

So the auto and truck makers and soon the motorcycle makers too, still hurting from the last recession, are following the “killswitch” trend. Almost everyone is pushing “connected” vehicles, continually “calling home” to keep the maker appraised of where you’ve been at what extralegal velocities and RFID willing, how many cases of beer you overloaded the vehicle with. DIY repairs? Paper manuals that can sit on the bookshelf awaiting a later this century restoration are gone, and manuals on CDs and DVDs are an endangered species. You’ll rent access to service data for vehicles you thought you owned, if they let you access manuals at all… Volvo Trucks won’t sell you service data or parts to fix their automated manual transmission at any price, assuring a steady recession proof revenue flow and profitably (for them) shortened trade intervals. That’s just the beginning…

Remember how recently hackers revealed that late model Fiat Chrysler cars can be hacked, controlled, and shut down remotely over their “connected” network? As the techs used to joke… “That ain’t a bug, that’s a feature!”. Yup, wouldn’t be at all surprised if Fiat Chrysler built that “bug” right into the software to make repos easier. The insurance companies will love this new way to recover stolen cars, and don’t you dare forget to pay that insurance bill! But it’s the EPA that will make it mandatory, ’cause it gives them an easy way to shut down the “coal rollers” that defy them and the poor working stiffs just trying to keep there vehicle running by bypassing emissions hardware they can’t afford to fix.

Give ’em a decade or so and they’ll have it mandated on new vehicles. You’re driving along and every 10 miles or so, just like the Chicago area toll roads, your smartphone will play over “your” connected car’s “In Car Entertainment” system “Manufacturers service fee due”. You grit your teeth (don’t swear, they’re listening) and swipe your cell phone across the ICE screen and pay the ransom, ‘fore they KillSwitch” “your”car!

I turn 66 today. I’m supposed to slowly drive over to the Social Security office, fill out the paperwork, then recline back and wait for the checks to roll in. No thanks!

Having refused the recliner and the inevitable slouch toward the nursing home bed and coffin, the Democratic Party of which I am a low level official has designs on my time. By around this time of an election year you can pretty much predict how things will play out… The party will blow their wad electing Hillary by a landslide and completely forget about winning back congress. And the winnable elections out here in farm country? Not even on their beltway based radar. So no, I’m not going to waste the rest of my summer doing parades for good rural candidates that the party long ago abandonned.

So what the heck am I gonna do?

Dive even deeper into technology and science for a start. This is a nation and world that has elevated electric cars and belching super sized pickups to sacred status, yet neither is the solution to much of any problem. And heck, there’s whole cults of junk science out there either totally denying that global warming is a problem or tersly warning of imminent incineration if we don’t cover our driveways with electric cars and our roofs with solar cells.

In the mists of these cults of self serving misinformation lies reality, and that’s where I intend to take my studies (I ain’t wastin’ free college for seniors!) and this blog.  Example: Did the numbers a while back and figured out that my not even $2000 wood pellet and corn fueled home heating unit was reducing global warming more than a $100,000+ solar array.  My little biomass stove is fuelled by carbon absorbed by trees and corn plants while growing, then the released carbon is reabsorbed by plants and the cycle repeats, with the environment being no worse for wear. And if we can heat our homes with renewables, why can’t we run our vehicles on bean and corn squeezin’s too? Global warming, cheaply solved… But neither big oil and their “coal rollers” nor big solar and Tesla stockholders want to talk about simple solutions that deny them billions and defy their cult.

But it’s science, technology, and solutions that this blog exists for. And the lasting joy of old and simple motorcycles, too…

Never mind “love”. Back in the good old days, VW parts prices at West Side often beat NAPA and they stocked everything. Then the Luther (dysfunctional) family of dealerships bought them and suddenly one measly glow plug at their parts counter cost darn near  as much as all four from independent sources. Of late, Mankato VW handled my 5th and latest VW’s 10k service OK, though it’s hard to botch a glorified oil and filter change. Not so sure of Naples VW’s 20k service,  I don’t have a great deal of confidence in a shop where the service writers damn near outnumber the techs and the actual shop is pretty much outa customer’s sight. Graham VW did the 30k OK, and you can purview most of the shop if you wish.

Now the idea of all these free or cheap services is to get the owner in the habit of taking the car to the dealer for service instead of the indy shop up the street or DIY.  This of course totally backfires when after a near half dozen $19.95 oil+filter changes+tire rotations the local Ford truck dealer wants $400 for a 60k service, which is the aforementioned $19.95 service plus a transfer case fluid change and a few other minor manipulations…I haven’t been back to said Ford dealer’s shop since.

So I have a “short timer”2013  TDI looking at the 40k service in a few months, which includes the rather pricey transmission fluid+filter change. Noting one of the indy VW parts suppliers is running a sale on the tools and materials for around $140 and I’ve got an unused $500 VW credit card, I price the local VW shop…$800?! Heck, even buying a service plan through VW I can get that and the simpler 50k service for a bit over $700, ‘cept my TDI is a 2013 and they only sell that plan for the identical 2014 and newer cars.

Now I have a vested interest in seeing this closest to me dealer, Graham VW in Sioux Falls, survive. And having had Saab and Suzuki cars USA up and die on them, all they got left to sell is wounded VW and Audi…When you’ve recently laid out several million $$$ for a new building and more pricey urban land, with that kind of overhead you want to keep loyal customers, not drive them away with price gouging.

So Graham VW, I don’t want to see you go under and your workers unemployed… But I can’t afford to subsidize you via excessive $800 maintenance charges! Off to idparts.com to order the tools and materials for the40k DSG transmission service…

Hidin’out at a Costco, lawnmower, tool boxes, and a weeks groceries in the back!DSC_5127Later seen toppin’ off the load at Fleet Farm, coulda fitted more in but Mac’s Hardware was closed by the time I got there…

(from a post I put up on dailykos.com)

Some of us live in small towns and in the country, where $50,000 or less will buy you a decent home. The job picture is bleak in many of these rural places, minimum wage if you can find anything. So we make long commutes, 50 miles each way ain’t unusual, to bigger cities where our labor at least has a chance of being rewarded with a living wage. We’d like to live closer to work, but we can’t afford big city houses that start at $200,000 and the thousands a year in taxes on them. So we commute, often a 100 miles a day, 500 miles a week, 25,000 miles a year plus some other trips we can’t fit into our commutes and hopefully a vacation or at least getaway. In a big car, SUV, or pickup that gets 15 highway MPG on a good day going downhill with a tailwind, that translates into a couple thousand gallons of gas a year, at a cost of $6000 to $8000 a year until gas prices recently dropped. That’s at least 20% and often 30% or even 40% of our take home pay!

Then VW introduced affordable diesel cars and put thousands of dollars back in our pockets!

VW diesels are a valuable commodity out here, I’ve seen twenty year old rusted beyond repair”parts cars” get more bidders and higher prices than a quite restorable ‘58 Chevy hardtop. You have to really work at it to get less than 40 MPG with a 4 cylinder VW diesel, and being an industrial engine they’re rated for 10,000 hours before rebuild, which translates to around 400,000 to 500,000 miles in a car. Following VW tradition the transmissions are stout too, so maybe around a half million miles they start popping out of top gear… Just downshift and you’re good for another few hundred thousand miles. The bodies are galvanized steel, and VW guarantees them against rustout for 12 years, so they’re usually good for 20 years or more. Buy a 5 year old with 100,000 miles for less than half of new price, and you’re set for a decade or more of economical commuting. No wonder on the highways heading from the country into the city you’ll see an over representation of VW diesels during rush hour!

Then VW screwed up and put some cheat code in the engine control software of the 2009 and later TDI diesels. VW was caught and is being rightfully punished. But us innocent folks who bought VW TDIs are being punished too- The EPA is taking our 40 MPG economy cars away. We are being offered a buyout from VW, and in many cases the deal isn’t bad-  I’m being offered almost as much as I paid for my 2013 TDI diesel 33,000 miles and 3 years ago. Theoretically there is an option to have the car fixed to comply with emissions laws, but no fixed has been approved and the EPA has perversely rigged the incentives by making the fixed cars pass a higher emissions standard than new ones and offering more generous financial incentives for turning these cars in to be scrapped rather than fixed. Theoretically we could also ignore the buyback and recall and just keep driving, but many states will not allow us to re-register our cars until any uncompleted recalls are done. So the EPA is effectively taking our 40 MPG economy cars away.

Now if it weren’t for the underwater loans and the gap between what we’ll get paid when we turn in our cars and what we’d have to pay for a new one, this situation might almost be tolerable. A lot of us paid $10,000 or so for our used TDIs, and it will be nice to get that refunded by VW… But the EPA won’t certify any new 40 MPG TDIs for us to replace our old ones with, and $10,000 on the used car market will barely get you a hybrid or electric car with a dying battery or a 25 MPG Focus or Cruze, and none of them have the hauling ability or durability of a VW diesel. Electric cars don’t have the range for 100 mile round trip commutes, and we don’t make enough to qualify for their lucrative tax credits. Hybrids have little or no MPG advantage for highway commutes, so they’re a waste of precious $$$ for us.

So thanks to the EPA, we’ll be spending thousands more of our hard earned dollars just getting to work each year. There has to be a better way… Fix the cars to comply as best as possible. If they still don’t meet the emissions standards, grandfather them in until they’re worn out and scrapped and make VW offset their emissions in other ways. Heck, in everything but NOX emissions, VW TDI diesels are environmental all-stars, and prematurely scrapping a car wastes much of the considerable energy and emissions that went into it’s manufacture. Better to have VW fund a “cash for clunkers” buyback that would take the dirtiest and thirstiest vehicles off the road and give their hard working owners thriftier vehicles at minimal cost.

So EPA, instead of using VW for your whipping boy and sending hundreds of thousands of our economy cars to the scrapheaps, could you do something for the environment and working folks instead?

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