Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 5, 2018

How Audi Made Me A Dieselgate Dupe

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Auto writers love contests.

A trophy is nice, but we don’t even need prizes. It’s just the competition. We love to beat the other guy. It’s kind of a car thing. Bragging rights.

That’s why it was so appealing to receive an invitation a few years back from Audi, to come to the Washington, D.C., area to test-drive a fleet of new Audi A6 and A7 sedans, powered by turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel engines. The pitch was to see if we could beat the EPA estimated fuel economy numbers of 25 city, 38 highway.

Well, of course, we could. We know how the EPA system works, and how to game it. (We weren’t the only ones, as it turned out!)

We were up for the challenge.

Audi encouraged my fellow competitors – a few dozen auto writers from around North America – to use social media during the program to boast about our accomplishments in real time. Audi even supplied mid-course updates, as to who was leading the miles-per-gallon economy challenge. Tweet, post pictures and videos, give Facebook updates. The more you were on social media, the better Audi liked it. In fact, Audi supplied a special hashtag for us to use, and they even re-tweeted or otherwise re-broadcast the most noteworthy blurbs on a corporate account with widespread distribution.

Just think of the glory that awaited the auto writer who was leading the MPG challenge with 52 mpg (which, for awhile, I was). Tweeted out to the world!

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But there was a problem: We didn’t know we were being used by Audi. We were being duped.

It’s fairly easy to dupe auto writers. Most of us aren’t really very technical, when it comes right down to it. We all like the glitz, the glamor, the prestige of driving around fancy, fast, and obscenely expensive new cars. All too often, we are blinded by the bling factor, I must admit.

There are volumes to be written about how an auto writer failed to notice an automaker had switched out a car’s regular tires for trick racing tires, to game race track results. Or how another manufacturer removed the spare tire, the jack, extra insulation and so forth to make the car lighter – and therefore more fuel-efficient – during a mileage test run. I personally recall one manufacturer who supplied a new hybrid-electric sedan in flaming red paint, to make sure it photographed more appealingly; the catch was that car was never offered in red.

But what Audi was doing in this instance was something of a cake-taker.

The cars being used all were equipped with devices to allowed them to cheat on emissions requirements. So the A6s could go farther, faster and seem capable of engineering feats that they were, in fact, not capable of. I guess Audi wanted to disingenuously suggest, via gullible auto writers, that their diesels should have scored even higher on an EPA test they were already thumbing their noses at.

Of course we didn’t know all that then. And in fairness to the auto writers involved: what Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche (and even others) were later to be found guilty of was one of the most devious swindles in automotive history; now we know it as “Dieselgate”.

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 12.49.09 PMFor years, Volkswagen Group (and its affiliated marques besides VW) had been introducing new diesel cars that were supposedly capable of incredibly good mileage – touting the company’s “excellence in engineering” and apparently unshakeable belief in the viability of diesels; “lesser” manufacturers professed to be incapable of obtaining such stellar results. Shame on them!

Here, I must credit my Times editor Norman Mayersohn for always remaining skeptical about these diesel claims; “There is no way they can achieve those mileage numbers and still pass the EPA testing regimen,” he contended over and over again. The only way it could have been possible, he added, was if the cars were equipped with an annoying and noisome urea-injection system to deep-clean the emissions system – which they weren’t. Eventually, of course, Volkswagen was found out; eventually Audi’s leadership role in the whole scheme came out as well. Fines were issued, executives were fired, some were jailed, and the cheating vehicles were pulled from sale.

But there was no skepticism on our Audi romp through the northern Virginia countryside. We were blissfully gifting Audi innumerable zillions of dollars in free advertising – the cars were even emblazoned with garish “clean diesel” advertising slogans – blessed with the imprimatur of dozens of supposed industry experts. And participating in the names of their unwitting publications.

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 12.53.52 PMIt was very cunning of Audi, whose slogan was, incredibly, “Truth In Engineering”. And very calculated. And I’m embarrassed now, looking back on it, that I was such a gullible accomplice – to the degree I was.

Thank God I didn’t tweet. I did not attend as a representative of any publication. And, most importantly, I didn’t write anything about it. I came, I saw, I shrugged my shoulders. Something didn’t seem right about the whole exercise – although I adored driving the car – but I couldn’t figure out exactly what bothered me.

Now I know: Audi made me an accomplice in Dieselgate.

A Dieselgate Dupe.

Jerry Garrett

October 5, 2018

 

 

 

 

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