Volkswagen cars at a dealership in Los Angeles, California on June 28. 
Volkswagen has agreed to pay out $14.7 billion in a settlement with US authorities and car owners over its emissions-cheating diesel-powered cars.

Volkswagen cars at a dealership in Los Angeles, California on June 28. Volkswagen has agreed to pay out $14.7 billion in a settlement with US authorities and car owners over its emissions-cheating diesel-powered cars.

Cars today are safer than they’ve ever been. But a series of recent recalls and scandals has rocked the auto industry. Volkswagen agreed this week to pay nearly $15 billion to settle claims in its diesel emissions scandal; 11 million of its cars had software designed to cheat on emissions tests. Then yesterday, Toyota recalled 1.4 million vehicles for an airbag problem. With recalls on the rise, that’s just the latest in a string of similar moves. Meanwhile, driverless technology is coming to market – presenting a new set of potential trust issues for consumers. A look at auto safety and consumer trust.

Guests

  • Levi Tillemann Managing partner, Valence Strategic, which helps companies navigate change related to technological shifts in manufacturing and artificial intelligence; author, "The Great Race: The Global Quest For The Car Of The Future"; former adviser, U.S. Department of Energy; fellow, New America Foundation
  • Alan Katz Financial crimes reporter, Bloomberg News
  • Erik Strickland Director of federal relations, Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA)
  • Sonari Glinton Business desk correspondent, NPR; covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior

Transcript

  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. We've heard about them over and over, auto recalls due to faulty airbags or ignition switches, taken with Volkswagen's emissions deceptions, driver's might wonder can we trust our cars. Many experts say the real problem today is not bad parts, but deceptive makers, but distracted drivers. New driverless technology aims to help, but automated vehicles present problems of their own.

  • 10:07:29

    MS. DIANE REHMHere to discuss the latest in auto safety and consumer trust, Levi Tillemann, author of "The Great Race: The Global Quest for the Car of the Future," Alan Katz of Bloomberg News, Erik Strickland of the Governor's Highway Safety Association and joining us from the studios of NPR West, Sonari Glinton of NPR. I'm sure many of you have had these experiences and can talk about your own automobile. Give us a call at 800-433-8850.

  • 10:08:08

    MS. DIANE REHMSend us an email to drshow@wamu.org.

  • 10:20:02

    MS. DIANE REHMAnd now we're back with our original subject for this hour, automobile recalls, faulty airbags, faulty trust in the automotive community, as a result perhaps, in part, Volkswagen's emissions deception, faulty airbags, ignition switches. Here in the studio we have Levi Tillemann, he is managing editor and author of "The Great Race: The Global Quest For The Car Of The Future," Alan Katz of Bloomberg News, and Erik Strickland of the Governors Highway Safety Association. Joining us from the studios of NPR West, Sonari Glinton of NPR.

  • 10:21:03

    MS. DIANE REHMAlan Katz, if I could start with you, remind us what happened as far as Volkswagen was concerned and, now, why $15 billion in payout?

  • 10:21:20

    MR. ALAN KATZFundamentally what happened with Volkswagen is that they found they couldn't meet U.S. emissions standards for diesel engines. And their big, strategic plan at the time was to try to sell diesel cars in the United States. And so faced with this conundrum, they either could have spent a lot of money and a lot of time trying to fix it and meet U.S. standards, or they could do what they did, which was create a system to cheat the test or fool the test, to pretend to pass U.S. emission system and start to sell cars in the United States. So that's what they did.

  • 10:21:51

    MR. ALAN KATZThey were eventually discovered almost by chance when a grant was given to some NGOs to look at real-world emissions testing, rather than the way it's normally done which is basically in the lab. And they found a massive discrepancy between the -- what was coming out of the tailpipes of the Volkswagen cars that they were looking at and what was supposed to come out of the tailpipes. And they went to Volkswagen initially. They also went to U.S. authorities and said, we don't know what's going on. They went to regulators. And over time, regulators finally came to the conclusion that there was no other response than Volkswagen was simply cheating on the test.

  • 10:22:25

    MR. ALAN KATZAnd Volkswagen did eventually admit it but only quite some time later. And so, as a result, what you have is a car company that didn't just cheat on the test but also lied to U.S. government regulators...

  • 10:22:36

    REHMHmm. Hmm.

  • 10:22:37

    KATZ...about that. They'd also signed a document which is called a Certificate of Conformity which claims that the cars do meet U.S. environmental standards. So they lied both in writing and verbally to U.S. regulators. And so of course, you know, American government agencies, whether it's California Air Resources Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, they don't really like it when you lie to them.

  • 10:23:00

    REHMYeah, of course.

  • 10:23:00

    KATZSo...

  • 10:23:02

    REHMAnd I wonder, Levi Tillemann, how you react to how this played out legally?

  • 10:23:11

    MR. LEVI TILLEMANNWell, I mean, it's a fascinating situation. And at the very end, Alan mentioned an organization that is really important to this story, which is the California Air Resource Board. They're really the attack dog of American emissions policy. They've been very aggressive over the past 30, 40 years, in working proactively to force automakers to reduce their emissions.

  • 10:23:32

    MR. LEVI TILLEMANNAnd so when the ICCT, which is this NGO that Alan mentioned, initially found the results that showed that Volkswagen might be far out of conformity with the standards that were set by the Environmental Protection Agency, the organization that they went to first was the Air Resource Board, because they have shown themselves to care a lot about these issues and to be very aggressive in prosecuting violators. And so on the legal side, you know, they're the ones who really got the ball rolling.

  • 10:24:01

    REHMAnd, Sonari Glinton, despite all that, how do you see this scandal affecting the American car buyer's trust in the automotive industry?

  • 10:24:17

    MR. SONARI GLINTONWell, you know, Diane, I've -- I spend a lot of time explaining to people, like, very basic things about the car industry and one of is like that Ford is not a part of General Motors. I think that people, you know, don't have this -- aren't paying that much -- that close attention. And, you know, remember, we have short attention spans. So right after, say, the unintended acceleration with Toyota, if you remember that, Toyota had one of its best years ever. It is, I mean, those two things are not necessarily correlated but, you know, the American people have a willingness to forgive a company and it has shown -- they've shown that in the past.

  • 10:24:59

    KATZOnce again, if I could, though...

  • 10:25:00

    REHMSure.

  • 10:25:00

    KATZ...about VW, VW has a very particular history on that front. Because one of the few cases -- he's absolutely right that Americans generally forgive and forget and it has very little affect on car sales -- but one of the exceptions was the Audi sudden acceleration case back in the '80s, which may or may not have ever existed even, but nevertheless there was a "60 Minutes" report about it and it crushed Audi sales for two decades. Now Audi, of course, is part of Volkswagen.

  • 10:25:23

    REHMOf course.

  • 10:25:23

    KATZSo Volkswagen, I'm sure, is very aware of that history. So they, I believe, are quite worried about the long-term impact of this scandal on their sales. And I think it's why they worked so -- to try to settle this actually relatively quickly. I mean, it seems long, but it was...

  • 10:25:36

    REHMSonari, you wanted to jump back in?

  • 10:25:39

    GLINTONWell, no, exactly. The Volkswagen, I mean, people do forget. I mean, that also was, you know, the Audi scandal with "60 Minutes" was also a really big problem with the reporting on that story and how it was, you know, framed, to be fair. But, you know, people, you know, you think about these existential crises that happened to the car industry and they're, you know, the American people, you know, at the beginning of the century, you know, Ford had a rollover crisis, you know, General Motors with the ignition switch, you know, Toyota with the unintended acceleration. I mean, not one of these companies had, you know, long-term, you know, damage. Their sales rebounded relatively quickly after these scandals.

  • 10:26:24

    GLINTONAnd that's, you know, I mean, I'm not saying that -- but this is particularly different because of the nature of the deception. I mean, it was actively deceiving not only the people but regulators.

  • 10:26:36

    REHMIndeed.

  • 10:26:36

    GLINTONAnd that is a -- that's a key difference.

  • 10:26:39

    REHMAnd to you, Erik Strickland, director of federal relations at the Governors Highway Safety Association, do you believe there are effects from the VW scandal as to how we begin to think about our automakers?

  • 10:27:03

    MR. ERIK STRICKLANDYou know, everyone's been thinking a lot more about what kind of car they have and how the car works, because there's more technology that are going to be going into the vehicles. And I know that it's always talked about, whenever you talk about cars no matter what the situation, the autonomous part of it.

  • 10:27:18

    REHMOf course.

  • 10:27:19

    STRICKLANDWe're all hoping for the Jetson vehicle. We're all hoping for that to come any day. But so, as you hear about, you know, a manufacturer that has, you know, possibly misused technology or didn't use it properly, it gets people to think about what's going to be going in their vehicle. Because, right now, a lot of these are add-ons into the vehicle, so consumers are going to spend quite a bit of dollars to get it onto their car. And so, you know, will a lot of people, you know, think twice about it? Possibly. But as has been said, the short attention span and the possibility of enhancements due to these technologies may sometimes outweigh some of the memories.

  • 10:27:55

    REHMLevi.

  • 10:27:56

    TILLEMANNThere's one other really interesting thing about this story, which is the time when they started to make plans to deceive regulators was in the mid-2000s. And by then, hybrid technology was really coming to the fore as the preeminent solution to increase fuel economy and reduce emissions from on-road transportation. But the Germans were very negative on hybrid technology. And they specifically said, hybrids are not economical. Hybrids are not real cars. The solution to both our environmental problems and to our energy security problems will lie with the diesel engine. And so they made a very positive decision to deceive regulators.

  • 10:28:36

    TILLEMANNAnd that was part of a broader strategy surrounding diesel engines and degrading, in the minds of Americans, the worth of hybrid engines. And they were similarly slow to -- on the uptake for electric vehicles.

  • 10:28:48

    REHMBut, you know, considering the number of deaths, considering the numbers of accidents, Alan, why do you suppose people have such short-term memories and, as Sonari has said, are willing to forgive so quickly?

  • 10:29:11

    KATZWell, I think the number of deaths is actually quite low. I mean Erik can speak to this better than I can. But most deaths really don't come from the carmakers. Cars were much more dangerous 30, 40, 50 years ago certainly than they are today.

  • 10:29:22

    REHMI understand that.

  • 10:29:23

    KATZCars are actually quite safe, even with Takata, even with the ignition faults and the unintended acceleration...

  • 10:29:28

    REHMBut you have had deaths.

  • 10:29:30

    KATZWell, there are very -- and you have had deaths but there are very few actually, so for the -- well, relatively few. I don't want to understate the deaths either.

  • 10:29:36

    REHMRight.

  • 10:29:37

    KATZBut if you have, say, with Toyota, roughly 14 deaths. Though, in fact, you can't necessarily confirm all of those. With the GM ignition switch, maybe 90 deaths. With Takata, I think there are 14 confirmed deaths. The numbers are, for the number of people who drive and the amount of time they drive, are relatively small. Most deaths are...

  • 10:29:53

    REHMBut still...

  • 10:29:54

    KATZ...drunk driving.

  • 10:29:55

    REHMAbsolutely.

  • 10:29:56

    KATZI don't want to understate it, but that's why people forgive and forget. Because realistically...

  • 10:30:00

    REHMThey think it's not going to happen to me.

  • 10:30:02

    KATZIt's not going to happen to them, exactly.

  • 10:30:03

    REHMYeah.

  • 10:30:03

    KATZAnd that's why people are in some ways more upset about Volkswagen than they are about, you know, GM's ignition switch. Because with Volkswagen it's people who were interested in the environment, thinking that, you know, this is going to be a great car to drive and I'm going to help save the world. Well, it turns out you lied to me. I'm not trying to see -- I'm not helping to save the world, I'm polluting the world. And that's what they're angry about more than the worry about more than the worry about a faulty ignition switch which might cause them to -- might cause their airbag to turn off and cause an accident to happen. So I think that's why Volkswagen might have some longer term sort of brand impact than a lot of the safety issues.

  • 10:30:35

    REHMBut, you know, you have to wonder -- you talk about the Germans not believing in this environmental advance, if you will, and cars like the Prius. Is there a kind of corporate mentality here that says, we can do it our way and we can get away with it? Sonari.

  • 10:31:03

    GLINTONYeah, I mean, yes. I mean, if you think about it, it took years to convince executives at Volkswagen that Americans wanted -- that we're -- when Americans wanted cup holders. You know, it's -- I mean, that is a very small thing. But they were -- cup holders, you know, it's like, well, why do you need cup holders in these cars? You know, why would you want a, you know, a Big Gulp in your car? Well, you know, we're -- it's a different country. We have bigger roads.

  • 10:31:29

    GLINTONWe -- and there was -- there seems to be sort of a culture sometimes at -- has been a culture at Volkswagen of, you know, we know best here and let's, you know, we make the fine, you know, cars and you guys, why don't you be quiet over there. And that's kind of been the culture at the company. And that could have been part of what got it into trouble.

  • 10:31:55

    REHMLevi.

  • 10:31:56

    TILLEMANNYeah. I mean, I think the other thing that we can say is, time and again, when you see these big automakers prioritizing growth above all else, they run into problems. They have an enormous challenge on their hands. I mean, Toyota produces 10 million vehicles a year and each of those vehicles has 30,000 individual pieces that have to be assembled in what might be the world's most complex jigsaw puzzle. And then that jigsaw puzzle has to run on the road for 100,000 miles without anything going wrong.

  • 10:32:25

    TILLEMANNAnd so paying attention to quality is incredibly important. And when you start to see the dedication towards achieving growth surpass the dedication to quality, that's when Toyota and Volkswagen and General Motors have all gotten into big trouble.

  • 10:32:39

    REHMSo the question becomes, Sonari, do you see regulators getting tougher and tougher here in this country, because of what they've seen foreign auto manufacturers at least trying to get away with?

  • 10:32:59

    GLINTONWell, I wanted to just be clear about one point, which is that cars are safer than they've ever been. I mean, that is by far, by far, by far. It is -- we're usually the people who are -- we're the bad actors. We're stupid, essentially -- driver distraction, using your cell phone, those things. When you look at the regulatory environment, you know, there are some -- there are safety advocates who have been calling for, you know, more transparency in recalls, for, you know, when you get a -- when there is a recall, for instance, this is, you know, it comes to you via mail. I am a car reporter. I cover recalls. I've done dozens and dozens of stories. I have been surprised myself that I had a recall on my car.

  • 10:33:48

    REHMHuh.

  • 10:33:48

    GLINTONBecause, you know, and it goes to where you're registered. So if you move -- I mean, there is a gap in, you know, communicating with a customer about what's going on in their car. And that is partially what I think causes, you know, this distrust.

  • 10:34:05

    REHMSonari Glinton, he is the business desk correspondent for NPR. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods and consumer behavior. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Alan, moving beyond VW, it seems like in recent years there have been more safety recalls. Talk about why.

  • 10:34:38

    KATZThere -- I think it's perception more than reality. I mean, I think, as Sonari said, cars have -- are actually safer than they've ever been. Car manufacturers, a lot of them have followed Toyota's lead in trying to sort of design in safety measures to make sure that cars are manufactured better, that, when the problems come up, they can be addressed more quickly and effectively. So I think it is, in fact, more of a perception issue than reality in terms of actual car safety. In terms of driver safety, that might be a different issue and that might be something Erik wants to talk about.

  • 10:35:15

    REHMErik.

  • 10:35:15

    STRICKLANDYeah. I mean, the vehicles are safer and they're being built better. They're being built to withstand, you know, much more rigorous testing and more rigorous crashes. But it's always the driver and, you know, 94 percent of crashes are due to something that a driver does. And so we have over 30,000 fatalities a year. Nearly all those are because of something the driver did. And not -- any fatality is a horrible thing and we don't want to understate any of that. But most -- our fatalities are coming from decisions that drivers are making.

  • 10:35:48

    REHMSuch as?

  • 10:35:48

    STRICKLANDThey're speeding. A third of the fatalities are due to speeding. A third of them are due to drunk driving. We have distracted driving in there. We now have a lot more drugged driving. But we don't know how big the drugged driving is. And the new recent Supreme Court decision where law enforcement can't take a blood sample without a warrant is going to really impact us to know how many drugged drivers we have out there.

  • 10:36:11

    STRICKLANDIf you're limited to just breath, there is no drugalyzer that you can blow into right now that'll tell you that you're, you know, operating under a certain type of drug. It needs to be some sort of sample, most likely blood because that gives you everything, or a urine sample. But now you have to go through all these steps for warrants and things, so by the time you possibly could collect some of this...

  • 10:36:31

    REHMHmm.

  • 10:36:32

    STRICKLAND...your body's processed it. So we really don't know what's going on. So an officer may just limit their test to alcohol. And if someone's -- they pull someone over for impaired driving and they test positive for alcohol, that's -- they're going to be done. They're not going to go any further.

  • 10:36:44

    REHMSo, are self-driving cars going to be safer, considering what you've just said?

  • 10:36:52

    STRICKLANDYeah, I mean, the technology will definitely help out and help protect drivers from ourselves. But we have to remember and I think everyone kind of knows, they want to see that self-driving car, it's not going to come around anytime soon. The pieces of technology are going to come out and we need to make sure that drivers know how to use them. So that is one thing that's going to be important to discuss.

  • 10:37:14

    REHMErik Strickland, director of federal relations at the Governors Highway Safety Association. Short break here. I see we have callers waiting. We'll get to you after a short break. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about consumer trust in cars. Here's a Facebook post from Bernadette. She says, we're owners of VW Jetta Diesel. The value of our vehicle has plummeted as a result of lack of proper factory installed control of emissions. Each and every day we drive around, we are adding to the already high pollution levels. We're completely disgusted with the slow and inadequate response of VW. There should have been an immediate and complete recall of this model as soon as it was revealed VW had deceived customers. What is VW doing?

  • 10:41:05

    TILLEMANNWell, you know, it's really hard for VW buyers, because their brand was sort of that they were fun, fast efficient and clean. And so many of these people feel fundamentally betrayed. Now, the flip side of that is it is really hard to manage a recall of this scale. They have to come up with a technical solution to either fix the cars or buy them back. But if you buy all of these cars back, what are you going to do with those 11 million cars around the world? That is a huge challenge. Maybe Alan has some ideas on what you would do with 11 million faulty VW cars.

  • 10:41:39

    REHMAnd I think Sonari wants to jump in.

  • 10:41:44

    GLINTONWell, (unintelligible) with the judgment that came down, there's 10 billion dollars to buy back the cars. It also, you know, gives each, each individual consumer the value of the car, the -- in 2015, before the scandal happened. And, in addition to that, a consumer will get five to 10 thousand dollars for the hassle and trouble and for the deception on top of that. So, for someone who has a car and wants to sell it back, they will be able to, you know, for the most part, get a better car than they had at the time.

  • 10:42:19

    GLINTONSo, I mean, there is, I mean, this was a really big, really big consumer case. It was the biggest, you know, that we know of. And so the consumer is definitely getting money back for these vehicles and for the deception.

  • 10:42:32

    REHMAll right, let's take a caller in Baltimore, Maryland who has a tricky part of that problem. Go ahead, Brian.

  • 10:42:44

    BRIANGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 10:42:45

    REHMSure.

  • 10:42:46

    BRIANSo, I'm an owner of a 2015 Audi Q5, which is under the VW situation. And while the announcement was made a few days ago how they're addressing the four cylinder diesel engines, those of us who own the six cylinder 3.0 liter engines have yet to receive resolution.

  • 10:43:07

    REHMAlan.

  • 10:43:09

    KATZYou're right. Both Volkswagen and the California Air Resources Board and the EPA all say that a solution is close. But you are definitely not going to have the same result of the two liter owners...

  • 10:43:22

    REHMWhy not?

  • 10:43:23

    KATZBecause Volkswagen argues that it can use a software fix to make the three liter engines meet US emission standards, so they won't buy back the cars. I can tell you that now. That's certainly, almost certainly not going to happen.

  • 10:43:34

    REHMNot going to make Brian happy.

  • 10:43:36

    KATZAnd they might give you a bit of money for your trouble, but you're certainly not going to get 5,000 to 10,000 dollars either. That said, your car will meet US emissions standards and should be the kind of car you originally were thinking that you were going to buy.

  • 10:43:49

    REHMSonari.

  • 10:43:50

    GLINTONWell, I mean, this is, the vehicles are in this -- there was a separation between the -- the vehicles, you know, there are several different classes.

  • 10:44:02

    REHMSure.

  • 10:44:03

    GLINTONBut for the majority, the 500,000 that are in the, you know, three liter, those are the people, I want to be clear who I was describing. And so, this is, and that -- that has to be resolved. One of the things that's interesting is, if they knew how to fix the problem, if they could do it quickly, they would have done it in the first place.

  • 10:44:19

    REHMYeah. Right.

  • 10:44:19

    GLINTONSo that's why this is a huge, you know, technical problem that's still going to be -- that still hasn't been figured out.

  • 10:44:25

    REHMAll right, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Kristy, you're on the air.

  • 10:44:31

    KRISTYYes, hi.

  • 10:44:33

    REHMHi.

  • 10:44:34

    KRISTYI have a 2009 Volkswagen Touran and I thought I would sort of speak a little bit to the other side of the opinion poll here, as an owner. You already answered one of my questions, which was hey, if they're buying back all these cars, like what are they going to do with them? What -- is that environmentally a sound choice, you know? If all these people are, if it's mainly a -- the customers are freaking out because we're polluting the environment, what are they going to do with all those cars?

  • 10:45:06

    KRISTYSo, I've been happy with my Volkswagen. It's a 2009, it's a Touran, so it's a big SUV, and when I needed an SUV, I researched it carefully and I wanted a diesel because it got better gas mileage. And, you know, and also, obviously, it had the add blue system so it didn't pollute the environment. I believe I'm in the three liter category...

  • 10:45:28

    KATZYou are.

  • 10:45:28

    KRISTY...that the gentleman before me just talked about. Is that right?

  • 10:45:31

    KATZThat's correct.

  • 10:45:32

    KRISTYOkay, so is that -- my understanding then that there is a fix for the three liters?

  • 10:45:37

    KATZNo, they're negotiating a fix. So there's not an agreed fix yet. There probably will be or they're almost certain there will be at some point. Volkswagen believes it can do it just with a software fix. I'm not whether the EPA and California Air Resource Board agree with them. But there will be a fix for it. And I mean, to your point about, you know, you've enjoyed -- oh, what are they going to do with the cars? They're not going to be allowed to sell the cars, by the way. The cars that they buy back, until they can get an approved fix that makes those cars meet US environmental standards and allows them to resubmit those cars for conformity, they won't be allowed to resell those cars.

  • 10:46:17

    KATZSo basically, they're going to have to hang on to them until they get an approved fix from the EPA and CARB. But as I said to the person before you, in terms of your particular case, you might get a little bit of money from VW, but probably not much, and they'll probably just say, well here, we're doing a recall on the three liter cars. We'll fix your car, take it into your dealer, and that will be pretty much that.

  • 10:46:38

    REHMSonari.

  • 10:46:39

    GLINTONWell, and also, if there's some penalties for Volkswagen, 85 percent of the people -- they have to, you know, buy back 85 percent of the cars, and if they don't, there are going to be -- there are severe penalties to make sure that this process moves along quickly in buying back peoples' cars who are in the two liter camp.

  • 10:46:57

    REHMAll right, to Jacksonville, Florida. Hi Chad, you're on the air.

  • 10:47:03

    CHADHey Diane, I absolutely love your show and I listen every single day.

  • 10:47:08

    REHMI'm glad.

  • 10:47:08

    CHADThank you. I am an owner of a 2011 TDI Sportwagen and I bought it under the assumption that I was being responsible to the environment. So I, like all these people, feel completely betrayed, because basically, you know, we were all lied to. And when this happened, of course, I got online and tried to find out as much information as I could. And there hundreds of lawyers trying to jump on this and trying to, you know, tried to have a class action lawsuit and bring it to Volkswagen, but now that it's come to light that there is going to be this 15 billion dollar compensation, do you happen to know the best possible way for me, as a consumer, to have a direct line to this compensation?

  • 10:47:53

    CHADIs there an official website or a phone number or how is this going to work without a lawyer taking a large percentage of what VW gives back to me?

  • 10:48:02

    REHMGood question.

  • 10:48:03

    GLINTONWell, there's a website -- I'm sorry.

  • 10:48:05

    REHMGo ahead, Sonari.

  • 10:48:07

    GLINTONI'm sorry. There's a website, vwsettlement.com where there's, you know, information for people who are, you know, have one of the diesel vehicles. And it describes, you know, where you are on the court case.

  • 10:48:19

    REHMSo, you don't have to go through a personal lawyer?

  • 10:48:25

    GLINTONNo, I mean, the idea is it's supposed to be that you get, you know, you get your money. It's supposed to be simple, it's supposed to be quick and once the fix is in, which, you know, is going to take until, you know, at least into the fall. So, I mean, it's gonna be a while until people are getting money, but you know, when, it's, it's -- the idea of this is that it's supposed to be a streamline process so that you're not waiting a long time to get your money. I think it has to be, you know, 90 days, you know, within the time that you make the decision when you get the check.

  • 10:48:54

    REHMAll right. Alan.

  • 10:48:55

    KATZIt will be some time, though. I mean, the judge has to actually -- he won't say whether or not he accepts the settlement until July 26th and there's a comment period. So, it will be three or four months until they've sort of got a system underway to even start giving money back to people. And then, and as Sonari said, they haven't actually -- they don't have an approved fix yet, so while you can choose that option, you don't exactly know when your car might be fixed yet. If you do the buy back, it will happen probably a little more quickly.

  • 10:49:22

    REHMHere's an email from Rob, who says, is there any chance VW can buy back the cars and then resell them with full disclosure to those of us who aren't quite so worried about saving the planet via our car buying choices?

  • 10:49:46

    GLINTONWell, the problem is that the cars are out of compliance with both EPA and CARB emissions standards. So you can't sell those cars in the United States of America. What they potentially could do is find a technical fix to bring them into compliance with those standards. But the likelihood is that would either reduce the fuel economy or reduce the power, the horse power of the vehicle.

  • 10:50:10

    REHMI see.

  • 10:50:11

    GLINTONOr perhaps do both of those.

  • 10:50:12

    REHMI see.

  • 10:50:12

    GLINTONSo if you don't really care whether your car has as much oomph as the VW brand it's generally associated with, then you may have an option there. But they have to be in compliance with air quality standards or they are technically -- they are technically subject to a 37,500 dollar per vehicle fine from the EPA. And significant fines from the Air Resource Board in California, as well.

  • 10:50:38

    REHMAll right. I want to take one more call on VW and then move to another subject. Tom in Sarasota, Florida, you've got an interesting contribution to make.

  • 10:50:55

    TOMYeah, hi Diane. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 10:50:57

    REHMSure.

  • 10:50:58

    TOMI've been into Volkswagen, between my father and me, we both worked for Volkswagen for 35 years. We kind of heard some rumblings about what the fix was going to be about six months ago. The issue with the fix for the four cylinder cars is the newer ones, basically anything from like late '14 to just before the scandal happens should be the easiest ones to fix. But because they already have something called Urea, which is an exhaust fluid, the issue with the older ones, which is 2014 and back, is that they don't have that.

  • 10:51:33

    TOMAnd the only couple options that they were really throwing around at the time, at the technical center, was they're going to have to add that system to the remaining like 390,000 Volkswagens that don't have it. Which adds, you know, an astronomical amount of cost. Also, it makes the customer have one more thing to worry about with the Urea fluid. And number two is the other option, was changing what they call an exhaust filter and the fuel injectors. All this is going to cost a ton of money per vehicle. And also, you're going to lose performance, which, you know, lose performance and miles per gallon.

  • 10:52:07

    TOMAnd they were talking numbers that they gave were like a half second off your zero to 60 and a ten percent -- five to 10 percent reduction in fuel mileage.

  • 10:52:17

    REHMLevi.

  • 10:52:18

    TILLEMANNYeah, I mean, that was the thing that the whole industry was sort of scratching their heads about with VW. They were able to supposedly achieve these emissions standards, which are very hard in a diesel engine. Gasoline is much easier, in terms of making a clean car. Diesel has a lot of particulate matter and a lot of knots that's generated when that combustion event happens within the cylinder. And so the whole world was kind of wondering, how is VW able to do this without the Urea injection device when the rest of us just can't?

  • 10:52:51

    TILLEMANNAnd it shaved, I think, thousands of dollars off the price of each vehicle, that they didn't install those Urea injection devices. Now, one difficult part of redesigning these systems or retrofitting them with a Urea injection system is there's just not a lot of space under the hood. And so, you have to find a way to integrate that into the vehicle.

  • 10:53:13

    REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. And to Roger in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. You're on the air.

  • 10:53:24

    ROGERThank you, Diane. I love your show.

  • 10:53:26

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:53:26

    ROGERThanks for taking my call.

  • 10:53:28

    REHMSurely.

  • 10:53:29

    ROGERI'd like to talk about the self-driving cars. My father was much older and could not drive and he was isolated, stuck at home. The only way he could get out was a taxi or some friend, but if you have a self-driving car, you would be able to get out and go anywhere you want to and the isolation would disappear. And I see this as a big problem as the baby boomers are getting older and older. And it would be a very positive effect to have these self-driving cars.

  • 10:53:57

    REHMYeah, but here's the question. How, really, much is a self-driving car a self-driving car? How much control does the driver have to execute?

  • 10:54:14

    KATZRight now, the term self-driving car is used, but they're not self-driving.

  • 10:54:18

    REHMExactly.

  • 10:54:18

    KATZI mean, you've got the Google car and you've got some others, but, you know, some of them have to have driver back-ups, because the technology sometimes still has a bit of a fault. But we're not going to see something anytime soon and the point is, is well on, we're getting a lot more mature drivers who are going to be isolated because they can't, you know, get out and want to get out. And so, the hopes that are there are excellent. But we're, we're a ways out. I mean, this is going to roll out in phases, and we're not going to see that for quite some time.

  • 10:54:45

    REHMSonari.

  • 10:54:46

    GLINTONBut I mean, the driverless features that are in cars clearly make them safer, and there are so many features -- you know, I joke that cars -- you know, the whole industry is driven by baby boomers and so there are a lot of features that have made the cars, not only safer, but more comfortable for people. And as I say to my mother, you know, a car now -- she's likely to have a longer time in the car because there are things that the car does that, you know, make it easier for her. You know, back up cameras. Automated breaking. I mean, these are things that are right now in cars that are making them safer and making it easier for people who are older to stay in their cars longer.

  • 10:55:26

    REHMLevi.

  • 10:55:27

    TILLEMANNI mean, I would just say that self-driving cars may not be quite as far away as you think. There are a number of different pilots that are underway. GM and Lyft have announced that they're going to have a self-driving taxi program that will be piloted in the Bay Area by 2018. Google has said they're going to launch something by 2018. Tesla already has its autopilot system that has driven 100 million miles. And they say that when the autopilot system is engaged, deployments of airbags, which is what they use a metric for serious crashes, have been reduced by about 50 percent.

  • 10:56:02

    TILLEMANNAnd so, there is a lot of this technology out there. I think the far end of deployments that you hear from most automakers is 2025. And there is some skepticism from certain people in the industry and certainly industry watchers, but there are huge business models that are being built around the concept of self-driving cars being completely functional in the 2025, 2030 time frame.

  • 10:56:27

    KATZI think that one of the issues is going to be liability more than technology. That's, you know, always in the United States, in particular, is a huge issue. You know, who's going to pay if somebody is killed or injured in a car crash? And there's a very interesting study that I just read the other day, which was about people who were all in favor of, essentially, cars making moral choices. If I have a driver and I'm about to run into a crowd of 30 people, I would like my car to run off the road and potentially kill my driver.

  • 10:56:53

    REHMRight.

  • 10:56:53

    KATZAs long as that driver is not me.

  • 10:56:56

    REHMWow.

  • 10:56:56

    KATZSo, it shows the problem that we have.

  • 10:56:59

    REHMOf course.

  • 10:56:59

    KATZWhich is that we want the technology, but we are, also, afraid of it taking over.

  • 10:57:03

    REHMAll right, and let's end this by offering the site for VW folks to go to. Is vwcourtsettlement.com. I want to thank you all. Levi Tillemann, Alan Katz, Erik Strickland and Sonari Glinton. Thank you all for being here.

  • 10:57:27

    TILLEMANNThank you.

  • 10:57:27

    GLINTONThank you.

  • 10:57:27

    KATZThank you.

  • 10:57:27

    STRICKLANDThank you.

  • 10:57:27

    REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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