Volkswagen Engineer Pleads Guilty for Involvement in Dieselgate

A VW engineer pleaded guilty today in a federal court in Detroit for his involvement with the automaker’s diesel emissions cheat device. This makes him the first person to face any criminal charges in connection with the emissions scandal.

According to Bloomberg, Volkswagen engineer James Liang is being charged with “conspiracy to commit fraud against U.S. regulators and customers and to violate the Clean Air Act.” He will be sentenced in January, and he could face up to five years in prison. Bloomberg‘s report states that Liang’s guilty plea comes after a year-long investigation by the Justice Department, which has faced tremendous pressure to hold more individuals accountable in high-profile cases, such as this diesel emissions cheating scandal, which has been dubbed “Dieselgate” by the automotive community.

James Liang is a long-time VW employee who reportedly worked on the team that developed the diesel cheat device for the VW Jetta back in 2006. He is also accused of assisting Volkswagen in its attempt to deceive U.S. regulators during their investigation into how the cheat devices worked.

Liang told the judge, “I know VW did not disclose the defeat device to U.S. regulators in order to sell the cars in the U.S. That’s what makes me guilty.”

His plea comes after VW has agreed to pay at least $16.5 billion to settle a whole host of claims. They also face ongoing investigations in Europe where the European Commission is encouraging consumer groups to take legal action against VW.

Here’s my opinion on what’s going on so far:

In addition to fines, if VW executives are to be paid for the responsibility of overseeing the manufacturing and sales of products, then they should be held fully responsible for such gross negligence. They have already been caught not telling the truth numerous times. James Liang is just a scapegoat for VW executives, who use a lot of money, power, and influence to get off squeaky clean.

This scandal comes amid the Takata airbags scandal and the GM ignition switch scandal, among other things. How many people have died from those? Far too many. Millions of people a year die from respiratory ailments, while millions more are diagnosed with asthma. How many asthma attacks have been triggered by Volkswagen’s emissions cheat device?

Liang is essentially saying “I would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!” The judge and attorneys were soon seen peeling out in a green van marked “Mystery Machine.”

In my eyes, it should be former VW chairman, Martin Winterkorn, who should be dragged off to prison. James Liang was following orders given to him by greedy pricks on the other side of the Atlantic. He was ultimately the one who gave the emissions cheating project a green light, but he’s got enough money and influence in the European Commission to stay out of court. Winterkorn must surrender his golden parachute and his gigantic pension, and serve the rest of his life in a federal prison for the crimes he and Volkswagen committed against governments and consumers.

I’m wondering how much VW is going to pay Liang’s family in exchange for his agreeing to fall on the sword for the emperor. It certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

It seems that VW was on top of the world, and now their empire is going to slowly come crashing down on their heads. It was a wicked and wild wind (filled with the emissions their cars spewed out) that opened the doors that has brought down the end of an era. It’s only a matter of time before VW is forced to sell off their many assets – they own Porsche, Audi, Lamborghini, and other automakers. They’re a true giant in the world’s automotive market, but it’s only a matter of time before they’re a shell of what they once were.

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AC Cars to Build Nine Cobras to 1962 Specifications!

Are you a car enthusiast who has a lot of money? Do you not own a Shelby Cobra? Would you like to? Well, you’ve got a chance. Did you miss the chance to buy the first AC Cobra produced? Most likely you answered yes.

AC Cars – which apparently still exists, by the way – will make nine new Cobras to exact 1962 specifications! They’ll even use the original tooling. While these continuation cars won’t be nearly as expensive as the $13.75 million original, they certainly won’t be cheap – be prepared to cough up at least $670,000 (or 500,000 GBP) for just one.

Autocar reports that these cars, which are called the AC Cobra Mk1 260 Legacy Edition, will be built at AC Heritage near the former Brooklands racing circuit in the UK. The factory is run by AC historian Steve Gray, who just happens to have acquired most of the Cobra’s original plans and tooling.

Each “new” Cobra will be built with an aluminum body, and will have a live rear axle and a 260 cubic-inch V8, just like the first Cobra. AC Cars will offer two colors: the original blue of the first Cobra chassis (CSX 2000, in case you were wondering), or yellow. Each car will be left-hand-drive, just like Carroll Shelby’s personal car.

Over the years, numerous Cobra replicas and continuation cars have been built, most notably a continuation series by Shelby American, but these Cobras are going to be very unique. While most replicas copy the more powerful and faster 289 and 427-powered Cobras, it’s incredibly rare to see one with a 260 cubic-inch V8. Plus, these cars have the distinction of quite proudly wearing the AC badge.

This is CSX 2000, the first Cobra ever made, not one of the continuation cars.

This is CSX 2000, the first Cobra ever made, not one of the continuation cars.

As always, donations are gladly accepted. It can even be the unofficial car for The Unmuffled Auto News!

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The Perfect Balance of Street and Track in a Corvette

Some of you might know how the “Grand Sport” name for the Chevrolet Corvette. If you don’t, let me explain. In 1963, Zora Arkus-Duntov was hoping to build 125 lightweight, high-power homologation-special Corvette Sting Rays so Chevrolet could qualify for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. GM smashed that plan to smithereens after Chevrolet had built just five of the so-called Corvette Grand Sports. All five were quickly spirited under the table off to legendary racers with last names like Penske, Foyt, and Hall. All five cars were raced without any factory support.

Since then, Chevrolet has revived the Grand Sport name twice – once in 1996 and once in 2010. Both of those times, the badge meant special editions with beautiful bodywork, but no massive performance gain, unlike the 1963 Grand Sports. The 1996 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 and 2010 Z06 would still outperform the Grand Sports. Of course, the 2010 Corvette ZR1 was still the most serious Corvette of that generation of Corvette.

Of course, Chevrolet’s engineers went hog-wild with the C7 Stingray Z06. It’s a combination of a massively powerful engine that has been described as one of the best-sounding engines ever (I agree), absolutely brilliant suspension, and enough computing power to sequence the human genome. Yet, it’s so approachable for the average driver that it’s truly mind-boggling. It also costs around $80,000. It’s a true giant-killer, especially with a professional driver. Even without a professional driver, this is not a car you want to tangle with.

The Z06 is also quite unlike the Corvette Racing C7.R that competes in one of the highest echelons of motorsports – endurance racing. The C7.R’s that quite simply walked away with the win at this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona actually make less power than the Z06 you can get on your dealership’s showroom floor. There’s no supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V8 shrieking under the hood of the race-winning C7.R – those drivers have to make do with a 5.5-liter V8 sucking air through a restricted air intake the diameter of a garden hose. Because power is handicapped by a rule book (which didn’t stop NASCAR legend Smokey Yunick), the Corvette Racing team wins races with unworldly grip and highly aggressive aerodynamics. Let’s put it this way – their strategy works well.

It’s interesting that the new Grand Sport, which is the mid-range model, lives up to the “street-legal race car” cliche. It’s got some of the best street tires in the world, aggressive aerodynamics enhancements, and stock engine. Oh, and it comes with a warranty, something most race cars can’t brag about.

Let’s start off with the tires – Michelin Pilot Super Sports are standard tires, or even stickier Pilot Sport Cup 2s with the Z07 high-performance option package, which are the same tires you can get on the Z06. They’re much wider than the standard Stingray tires (40 mm wider up front, 50 mm wider out back), which means that Chevy had to put the Z06’s massive, bulging fenders to clear the massive tires.

GM’s truly brilliant Magnetic Ride Control is standard equipment, as is the highly advanced electronic limited-slip differential, as are the Z06-derived chassis sports custom stabilizer bars and springs. You can pair the brilliant 460-horsepower, 465 lb-ft, dry-sump LT1 V8 with a fantastic 7-speed manual transmission or a pretty darn good 8-speed automatic, both of which come with the Stingray and Z06. What does the Z07 package add? Carbon ceramic brakes, and even more aggressive aero, mostly.

Now, let’s move onto the beautiful bodywork. It’s mostly borrowed from the Z06 part bin. However, it’s got Grand Sport-specific front fender vent inserts. What about from the Z06? It’s got the Z06’s wider track (how far apart the wheels are from each other), an open-mouth front grille, and big differential cooling vents on the rear fenders. The Grand Sport has a Z06-spec front splitter, front splitters, and wickerbill rear spoiler, all of which are finished in carbon fiber in the Z07 trim. Chevy claims that they all create downforce, but the Z06’s clear plastic Gurney flip isn’t available on the Grand Sport. Oh, and then there’s a Heritage package, which adds the traditional front fender hash marks, which are now connected in a horseshoe shape. I somehow forgot to mention that Chevy has more than the entire rainbow’s worth of body, hash, and full-length racing stripe combinations.

Inside the Grand Sport, there is badging depicting the 1963 Grand Sport #002 (the only roadster out of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s original five Grand Sports) on the floor mats, headrests, and on a dash plaque directly ahead of the shifter. The brushed aluminum halo on the right of the center stack has a subtle racing stripe, which is created by rotating the brushing pattern on the metal 90 degrees during the polishing process.

Chevy says that the Grand Sport will hurtle it’s way to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, and blast through the quarter mile in 11.8 seconds. I’m going to say that’s probably because the Grand Sport has much better tires than the Stingray does.

The Grand Sport weighs in at 3,252 pounds, which is 98 pounds lighter than the Z06. Because there’s no gigantic supercharger, the hood is lower, affording much greater visibility of the road.

Even with the windows up, the A/C on full blast, and the engine contentedly burbling along at 1500 rpm in one of the Grand Sport’s many overdrive gears, you’ll still easily pull over 1 g without the car breaking a sweat. You won’t either.

We’ll move onto the price now. The Grand Sport coupe starts at just a freckle under $66,500, which is a $5,000 premium over the Stingray. It’s also about $14,000 cheaper than a Z06. If you want to drop the top on any Corvette, plan to shell out an additional $4,000. Do you want the Z07 package? Give Chevy $8,000. Even if you buy the Grand Sport convertible with the Z07 package, that still gives you about $2000 to get some accessories, or haggling wiggle room.

The Z06 is a great car – don’t get me wrong. However, the Grand Sport was designed with a different purpose in mind. The Z06 is powerful in a way that you’ll rarely be able to enjoy. 650 horsepower is more than you’ll ever be able to use on the street – with one quick stab of the gas pedal, you’ll be well on your way to jail. On the track, it goads you into probing it’s incredibly high limits, all the while serving a main course of absolutely brilliant chassis tuning and suspension, with a side of driver aides for that moment when you push it too far. To do that on public roads, you’d better have a top-notch lawyer, a very good health insurance plan, and a glovebox filled with bribe money. OK, you can forget about the last part. Cops really don’t like it if you try and give them $20,000 in $1 bills…

The Grand Sport does something truly incredible. Chevrolet designed this car to have the same absurd limits as the Z06, but never leave you feeling like it’s a waste of horsepower because you can never floor it. While grip, balance, and power all work together, which is what makes low-power sports cars so fun, they become magical when you turn the dial up to 11.

What would happen if you put the optional Z06-spec Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires to your Corvette Stingray Z51? It’s obvious that sticky tires are key to making a good car handle well. However, good tires won’t work as well unless the chassis and suspension are dialed into those tires. Even if you somehow figured out how to make those tires fit under a stock Stingray Z51’s seductive bodywork (remember that the Z06 is three inches wider in the back), you still would have a lot of work to do. The ABS system wouldn’t be properly calibrated. Stability control intervention would be much more sudden, and the brakes would slow you down almost instantly because the Z51’s brake calibration is designed for less sticky tires. That means it would apply more brake than necessary. The electronic limited-slip differential wouldn’t perform as well, either. The suspension would also be woefully undersized relative to the massive amounts of grip that the tires generate, which would make the car feel sloppy.

What does this all boil down to? It’s more than a sloppy badge job, far more than a Corvette with some random Z06 parts, and more than a throwback to a legend. It’s the real deal, folks. This car isn’t tuned to within an inch of it’s life (and yours). This is a race car for the…wait, I don’t endorse illegal activities here.

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Why Porsche Placed a Bet on Front-Engine Sports Cars

When you hear the word “Porsche,” what car do you think of? Of course it’s the 911. However, Porsche owes much more credit than it is given for the front-engine 944 and 928. Why’s that?

In the mid-1970s, Porsche executives were imagining a vastly different future for Porsche than where it is now. The rear-engine 911, was in their eyes, a flawed and rapidly aging design. They started developing two front-engine cars to replace it. What were those cars? the 924 and the 928. My grandfather owned a 924 at one point, but that’s a story I won’t tell now. Anyways, back to the point. We all know that the future those Porsche executives had planned out didn’t happen. The 911 still remains in production, and is a true masterpiece of automotive engineering and design. However, the 924 and 928 played a vital role in Porsche’s storied history.

The front-engine cars, especially the 944 , were the knight in shining armor for Porsche in the 1980s. They certainly stumbled with the slow, VW-derived 924, but they had a truly runaway success with the 944, which was what kept the 911 in production. In my eyes, it was unfortunate that the big, V8-powered 928 never really caught on with Porsche’s intended audience, but it has gained somewhat of a cult following in the past 15 years or so.

While the 928, and 944 are dearly departed, their spirit lives on, albeit in a different form. The 718 Boxster/Cayman occupy the same space that the 944 did. One can make the case that the 928 was reborn as the Panamera.

What about the 924? While it’s popular for budget track day enthusiasts, it never became as popular as the 928 and 944. Even though it had a VW engine, Porsche was in charge of developing the head for the engine. They played around with a 16-valve head, which meant it had four valves per cylinder (two intake, two exhaust), a turbocharger (which made the 924 quite formidable on a windy road), among other things.

This is a 1976 Porsche 924. You can definitely see the VW design in it, right?

This is a 1976 Porsche 924. You can definitely see the VW design in it, right?

The Porsche 944 was just a 924 with a bigger engine and better suspension. It was aimed at cash-rich, young professionals who wanted a nice sports car. It sold in droves.

The Porsche 944 was just a 924 with a bigger engine and better suspension. It was aimed at cash-rich, young professionals who wanted a nice sports car. It sold in droves.

This is a 1991 Porsche 928 GTS. It had a V8, lots of power, and I think, might have been the ultimate iteration of the front-engine Porsche sports cars born in the mid-1970s.

This is a 1991 Porsche 928 GTS. It had a V8, lots of power, and I think, might have been the ultimate iteration of the front-engine Porsche sports cars born in the mid-1970s.

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VW Refuses to Offer Dieselgate Compensation Program in Europe

Volkswagen agreed to a hugely expensive compensation plan for their TDI diesel car owners here in the U.S., but it looks like that compensation plan won’t be making it across the pond.

According to Reuters, VW CEO Matthias Mueller recently told a German newspaper that they can’t easily afford a similar payout plan for European owners. “You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize that compensation at arbitrarily high levels would overwhelm Volkswagen.”

That’s a massive problem for VW, but they do have something to use in their defense – European emissions regulations are much more relaxed than the laws in the U.S. “In the U.S. the [emission] limits are stricter, which makes the fix more complicated. And taking part in the buyback is voluntary [for customers], which is note the case in Germany, for example,” Mueller said.

Even though there might be different emissions regulations, the Industry Commissioner of Europe, Elzbieta Bienkowska, has told VW to drain their coffers and pay European owners, saying it would be unfair to treat them differently than U.S. customers.

VW has already set aside at least $10 billion to settle it’s so-called “Dieselgate” scandal Stateside. Owners can choose to have their TDI vehicles repaired, or sell them back to VW. Most owners will receive anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 as compensation. VW has agreed to put $2.7 billion into an environmental trust to offset their excess diesel emissions, and they will also invest $2 billion to bolster the United States’ EV (electric vehicle) charging infrastructure and promote other clean vehicle programs.

What’s my two cents on VW’s refusal? I certainly see their point, and I get that they want to save money. However, they are a gigantic market player in Europe, and are gaining traction here in the U.S. But, owner satisfaction should always come first, and treating European owners differently just because European emissions laws aren’t as stringent as U.S. emissions laws is straight-up foolish. If they want to lose customers, owners, and more importantly, their reputation, then going forward with this plan is a great idea. In the light of Brexit, the European Union is going to go through massive economic changes in the months to come, and to me, it seems like Bienkowska won’t back down from her position on forcing VW to pay European owners as well. VW is already facing massive scrutiny and pressure from both the U.S. government, as well as U.S. owners. It should come as no surprise that the European Union is going to come after them as well. It’s only going to be a matter of time before European owners jump on this bandwagon also.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

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The First Recorded Crash Involving Tesla’s Autopilot Feature and Why It Is So Important

While I know that this crash has been highly publicized in the past few days, I find it only fitting that I should publish a blog post on this.

On May 7, in Williston, Florida, a fatal accident occurred. While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to many, it should It doesn’t matter that the deceased driver of a Tesla Model S became one of the 3,287 daily deaths from automotive crashes every day. It certainly doesn’t make it any easier to digest.

This incident was the first self-driving car death on record. Between Tesla’s extensive testing of the semi-autonomous Autopilot feature, and owners’ use of the feature, there are 130 million miles of Autopilot being used.

The fatal accident occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn at an intersection without a traffic light in front of the Tesla. The driver, Joshua Brown, died of injuries sustained in the wreck.

Tesla published a blog post saying that the Model S was travelling on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when the tractor-trailer crossed its path.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.”

Tesla went onto say that they were saddened by the loss of Brown, who was a “friend to Tesla and the broader EV community,” as well as stating that the risk of injury will decrease as Autopilot gets better over time, as it is currently in a public beta stage. Whenever Autopilot is engaged, a warning is displayed to remind the driver that the technology is in public beta and that the driver should have both hands on the wheel at all times, in the event of an emergency such as this.

Per company policy, Tesla notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when they heard of the incident. NHTSA has since launched an investigation into the crash and Autopilot.

The AP (Associated Press) reports that the driver of the truck, Frank Baressi, says that he heard a “Harry Potter” movie playing in the Tesla following the crash, however he was not able to see where it was coming from. NHTSA investigators do not believe it was playing on the massive infotainment screen in the Tesla (which would require hacking into the operating system of the car). However, the report does state that a portable DVD player was found in the car following the crash, but it is unclear whether it was playing at the time of the crash.

Baressi could face charges for making an unsafe maneuver, but he claims that he was unable to see the Model S, as it was travelling at a high rate of speed. It appears that Baressi failed to yield to the right-of-way when making a left turn, especially in something large and heavy enough that he could not accelerate quickly enough to get out of the way.

It is understandable to me why Tesla, ever the perfectionist, would not want to release Autopilot as a final product just yet. To me, Tesla should not have named Autopilot as such. It implies that the car can fully drive itself without ANY control from the driver (it can do about 75% of that).

The co-developer of the Autopilot technology used in the Model S, Mobileye, said that the technology was not designed for such circumstances. The automatic emergency braking feature built into Autopilot is specifically designed to avoid rear-end collisions, and the incident was one that it could not have prevented. Mobileye went onto say that by 2018, there will be a Lateral Turn Across Path detection capability in it’s systems, and said feature will be included as part of the Euro NCAP safety ratings in 2020.

While we will have to wait for the official NHTSA report to come out, we can only speculate. Here’s my two cents:

This was a clear case of user error. Whether Brown was watching Harry Potter at the time of the crash or not, he obviously did not see Baressi’s tractor-trailer pulling out in front of him. It doesn’t matter how fast he was going – the crash would have likely happened regardless. That’s not to say that speed wasn’t a factor in the crash. If Brown had been going slower (the speed he was travelling is not currently released to the public), he might be alive. Baressi clearly did not see the Model S, or he would not have made the turn.

2016 Tesla Model S

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Vintage Look, Modern Rubber

Chances are, if you own a Porsche, or have owned one, it’s still being enjoyed. Porsche estimates that 70% of all of their cars are still on the road. If you have an earlier-model 911, chances are you’ve gone through more than one set of tires.

Porsche, the ultimate automotive perfectionists, believes that not just any tire will do for your 1974 911S 2.7. Porsche collaborated with Pirelli to create a whole new line of tires inspired by the original original-equipment (OE in car-people speak) offerings, but with modern technology. Porsche/Pirelli went a step further and properly tuned the tires to the specific vehicle generation they’re offered for.

What’s so cool about that? A lot, actually.

The tires are designed to look like the originals in profile design and looks, but meet the requirements for modern tire performance. Porsche and Pirelli have created 32 tires for model years 1959-2005, for models including the 356 (B and C), Boxster (986 generation), and 911 (G model, 964, 993, and 996 generations). The tires will also be available for front-engine models including the 924, 928, 944, and 968.

How did Porsche and Pirelli create the tires? The team used a rubber mixture and additives used in modern tires to offer greater grip and rolling resistance. Classic Porsches are a hoot and a half to drive, and these new tires should only make them two hoots to drive!

Former world rally champion and current Porsche test driver Walter Röhrl helped tune the tires. “The driving properties in the early years were not as full or balanced as they are today. The new generation of tires is more fitting than ever to the driving style of a challenging sports car.”

Every one of the newly developed classic tires will feature the quality seal of Porsche, along with the “N” certification designator that identifies them as special Porsche release tires. It’s a bit of a stringent process to earn that designation: the tires have to go through testing to fulfill 33 very strict criteria before release.

If you would like to purchase these tires, you can buy them from any Porsche Classic Center.

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