Photo: Brennan Linsley

In the court documents charging Volkswagen engineer James Robert Liang with fraud for developing VW’s diesel emission cheat, exists a small section about a software update in 2014. It alleges VW made its cars even more harmful to the environment just so the company could save on warranty costs.


The plea agreement claims Liang and “co-conspirators” made the defeat device more “effective” because emissions control components started failing and costing the company money. The plea agreement reads:

As VW’s “clean diesel” vehicles in the United States began to age, they experienced higher rates of warranty claims for parts and components related to emissions control systems. Some of LIANG’s coconspirators believed that the increased claims were a result of the vehicle operating in testing mode too long rather than switching to “road mode.”

It goes on:


Because of these increased claims, LIANG worked with his co-conspirators to enhance the defeat device to allow the vehicle to more easily recognize when the vehicle was no longer in testing mode.

And the indictment alleges how Liang and others adjusted the software:

Liang and his co-conspirators falsely and fraudulently told, and caused others to tell, U.S. customers and other that a software update in about 2014 was intended to improve the vehicles when, in fact, LIANG and his conspirators knew that the update used the steering wheel angle of the vehicle as a basis to more easily detect when the vehicle was undergoing emissions tests, thereby improving the defeat device’s precision in order to reduce the stress on the emissions control systems.

That’s absurd. According to these court documents, engineers at VW had the audacity to issue a software update to customers that dialed down emissions control usage and spewed more NOx into the environment, just so the company could save a buck.


This also essentially confirms the answer to the question we so often hear – “Why doesn’t Volkswagen just keep ‘testing mode’ on all the time?” Apparently doing so would cause the cars to fall apart.