Eric Peters: Cash for not clunkers

By Eric Peters

You’ve heard the saying that history repeats . . . as farce? Well, here we are. Not quite ten years after the government paid people to throw away perfectly good used cars to “stimulate” demand for new ones – the despicable Cash for Clunkers program – the government is doing the same thing again.

Only this time, the cars are not “clunkers” and the government is forcing VW to pay people to throw them away.

Almost 600,000 of them.

These cars are not high-miles and worn out, on their last legs. Many are only a year or two old. Nothing is wrong with any of them – other than their having been deemed “out of compliance” with Byzantine EPA emissions tests.

But only sometimes – and only slightly.

The cars were programmed to pass the EPA certification tests – required before they could legally be sold. They passed the tests, which incidentally is the same criteria Uncle insist on when it comes to the “education” of “the children” in government schools. Pass the tests (SOLs) and you pass on to the next grade. Kids are “taught” to pass the tests.

Uncle smiles.

But in VW’s case, it was later discovered that the programming was set up to run the engine differently – that is, better from the standpoint of the people buying and driving the cars – when out on the road and not connected to the EPA’s emissions test dynamometers. Under certain operating conditions – wide open throttle, for one – the calibrations were set to produce maximum performance.

Or, under other conditions, maximum miles-per-gallon.

Diesel-powered VWs like the Jetta and Passat TDI routinely delivered better-than-advertised (by EPA) mileage, out in real-world driving. I can vouch for this personally, having test driven every TDI-powered VW sold over the past 10 years. They all used less fuel – delivered higher mileage – than EPA said they would. Interesting. Less fuel used equals less exhaust gas produced equals lower emissions overall.

VW never gets credit for that.

Crickets. Including from the mother-loving “environmental community.”

Which makes my teeth hurt because if you do the arithmetic, the more-efficient-than-advertised VW diesels reduced the aggregate of harmful emissions yugely vs. the fractional per car increase in tailpipe emissions generated by the “cheating” software.

Whole number differences, mind.

Now add to the tabulations the 562,000 high-efficiency cars slated for destruction. They will be replaced by gas-burning cars  that use 20-30 percent more fuel to travel the same distance.

More whole number increases in the “harmful” exhaust byproducts EPA apparatchiks insist they are protecting us from.

It’s shameful.

But – once again – “demand” will be “stimulated” by this gratuitous destruction of value. The 562,000 owners of the targeted-for-termination TDI VWs will need a new car to replace the one bought back and thrown away.

Some may buy/lease another VW, which will give the appearance of increasing VW’s sales; some – soured on VW – will buy a new car from someone else. It will “stimulate” new car sales generally, a kind of four-wheeled take on the Potempkin Village concept. Create a facade, make things look good.

Just don’t look behind the facade.

Because here’s the thing: You can’t just write off the value of 562,000 cars and call it even. That value becomes a net loss – in this case, a sinkhole that may eventually swallow VW whole.

Here are some numbers for you:

The original Cash for Clunkers program destroyed a mere $3 billion in value – the sum spent to crush all those perfectly good used cars so as to get people to buy a new car. VW – which hasn’t got the power to tax people or to print money – is looking at “investing” $10 billion to buy back and destroy those 562,000 cars Uncle is feigning upset over.

And yes, feigning.

People think government bureaucrats are stupid – and there is some truth to this. They are morally obtuse, certainly.

But they are also sharky and vengeful when it comes to protecting their prerogatives (as they see them) and they know perfectly well what is at stake here. They are aware that if the people ever figured out the truth – that we are at angels dancing on the head of a pin time, as far as meaningfully harmful vehicle exhaust emissions are concerned – they would drag them from their cubicles and do not-pleasant things to them.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy heads to her small carbon-footprinted tea at the White House

So, the feigned outrage.

It is not about public health and harmful emissions. It is about the potential harm to the EPA and other such if the people ever figure out that the whole thing is a gigantic make-work project, paid for by them. So that EPA appartchiks can live in $600,000 McMansions just outside the Beltway and very probably drive cars that belch out far more in the way of toxic gasses than any TDI VW ever did.

VW’s mistake was not “cheating” the tests. It was rolling over like a cur dog, presenting its belly – and hoping its master wouldn’t kick it in the soft parts.

 

 

Eric Peters is the automotive columnist for the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Visit his website for all things automotive at ericpetersautos.com.

 

 

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