Volkswagen Car Emission Scandal

The article published by The Atlantic discusses how a group of researchers at West Virginia University discovered major disparities in the expected emission levels from clean diesel Volkswagen cars. It explains how the findings from this research led to further investigations by the California Air Resources Board as well as the EPA. It mentioned that Volkswagen denied any claims of intentionally intending to cheat emissions readings, but after the EPA threatened the company with not approving their diesel cars to be sold in the U.S. they admitted to the scandal. Volkswagen had to recall nearly 11 million vehicles,  and the company suffered a great loss in its stock market value.

The article doesn’t seem to have any form of a solid nut graph with data and statistics pertaining to fuel emissions. It doesn’t provide any information on the cost of vehicles and nor does it explain how exactly it was that they were cheating emissions testing. The article does not include any quotes from the EPA, CARB, or even Volkswagen itself. The lead is somewhat compelling in the fact that it depicts this scandal as “one of the biggest frauds in automotive history.” However, the article does not go into much detail about how the researchers came to discover the discrepancies in fuel emissions.

In your opinions, do you think a stronger nut graph is needed to make this article more compelling to readers? How do you think the lack of quotes from professionals affected the credibility of the conclusions reached in the article?

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9 Responses to “Volkswagen Car Emission Scandal”

  1. I agree that the article could do a better job by providing a better nut graph to help illustrate the scope of the problem. However, I do like how the article leaves off by talking about the larger implications of this scandal on the way we fuel our vehicles. A very interesting dynamic that I think most of the pieces don’t discuss are the hurtful incentives that the CAFE system introduces. In one of my economics classes we observed that the CAFE system (based on fleet averages) allow for companies to produce less efficient larger vehicles so long as they have a few fuel efficient vehicles that allow them to satisfy the minimum average. Thus automakers try to use their highly fuel efficient vehicles to allow for more wiggle room in their inefficient vehicles.

  2. Thanks for getting the discussion started on this article, Yousseff! I’m particularly interested in this topic because I’ve driven a little VW Beetle for years and was so disappointed in VW when this story first broke. I strongly agree with you that this article would have benefited from more expert quotes. Without them, it felt less like a deep dive into this story and more like a brief timeline. It also almost seems like the first paragraph is the nut graph, as it includes a lot of facts and many of the main events of the story.

    My final point: this article feels short – almost like there are three great stories jammed into one article (the initial cheating fallout, the West Virginian research lab, and the class action lawsuits), and not enough detail is given on any of them. This article is 464 words, about the same length as our depression articles, so as we finish those up, I think it’s important that we try not to jam too much into one article, but rather pull out the one specific story is most “news-y.”

  3. I agree with Kelly on the point that the first paragraph would have been a more appropriate nut graph. From a stylistic viewpoint, perhaps it would have been better if the authors switched the first and second paragraph. I see how the first two paragraphs can be used as a nut graph. However, the second paragraph would appear to make for a better lede because it’s more specific and gripping to what I assume is a targeted American audience. On the other hand, the first paragraph is able to more broadly summarize the implications of Volkswagon’s car distribution on a world-wide scale and its estimated financial losses.

  4. I agree with most of your points Yousseff. While we haven’t talked about it in class, I thought the title and blurb underneath were good – they caught my attention and I might have read this article if I were just searching the web and weren’t familiar with this news. About the nutgraph – although this doesn’t agree with what we learned in class, I think a nut graph about broader statistics would have been disctracting and maybe irrelevant if it doesn’t relate it back to Volkswagon. Finally, I did not appreciate the kicker. I found that I don’t with a lot of kickers – they’re boring. While they may bring up the topic of “What’s next,” it’s often done in an overused way.

    Overall, didn’t like this article, but that could be because of the content, as well as the shortness that Kelly spoke of. Thanks for a good review!

  5. Hi Yousseff, thanks for choosing this article! I agree with your points. While the lede is relatively compelling, I find the headline to be the most interesting part of this article. The lede does not give much information besides summarizing the state of the issue. With no nut graph, it is difficult to navigate the rest of the article. I also agree that the lack of quotes from the EPA or the company itself takes away from the validity of the article. The last paragraph, usually the kicker, was very vague and left too many questions to be a meaningful kicker, in my opinion. There are too many unanswered questions and I am slightly overwhelmed by them to care about reading more into the issue (isn’t that the point of a kicker?). I also agree that the article was very short and overall lacked detail and depth. The concept was interesting, though!

  6. I agree, the implementation of specific statistics pertaining to the emissions cheating would have been beneficial to understanding the severity of the fraud, but in the body of the article not the nut graph. The embedded link that lead to the story explicitly explaining the illegal devices in the Volkswagen cars was important to my overall understanding of the emissions cheating and I wish that the journalist had included even a sentence summarizing exactly what function the illegal devices performed. Still, this was a really interesting article and I was surprised to find that this cheating had slipped past the EPA and so many buyers for so long. Additionally, the title and blurb were intriguing in themselves without resorting to clickbait.

  7. I agree with Youssef in that this article does not provide much statistics as well as the measurement methods used to detect the fraud. I would imagine that the format/style for this topic would be different if it is to be written in Autoweek or Consumer Reports. While there is a lack of statistics and quotes from experts, I find that the author does a great job in narrating the story because the article is quite easy to follow since the readers might have the impression that as if they are listening to the author telling them about a story about Volkswagen. Depending on the reader’s previous knowledge on Volkswagen Scandal, this article might or might not be useful for them. For instance, for a person who is not attentive to the Volkswagen Scandal and have heard about buzzwords relating to this scandal in the news, this article does a good job at informing me the context of the scandal. Whereas if the reader is an avid follower of cars related-news, this article might be another article with the same coverage of the Volkswagen Scandal as other media outlets have done.

  8. I think that this Atlantic article did an effective job in conveying basic information about the VW scandal. The lede addresses the “rippling effect” of the news, which culminated with CEO Martin Pinkerton’s resignation, a serious event that serves as a punch at the paragraph’s end. I agree with Sarah that a nut graph containing broad statistics may have been a bit number heavy and I appreciate the human element of referring to the plight of affected drivers. My one recommendation would be to address the incentives VW had to make the choice to cheat and perhaps cite why they thought they’d get away with it; the fact that such a major company actively made that decision despite high stakes is quite interesting, and could have added depth to the article overall.

  9. OK, let’s set a two points straight.
    In the original post by Youseff, it states, “However, the article does not go into much detail about how the researchers came to discover the discrepancies in fuel emissions.” Several subsequent posts also discussed the lack of data and specifics. That’s because West Virginia University had nothing to do with how this came about. It was the ICCT that started working on European diesel emissions in 2011 and developed the US test program to complement the European work. WVU simply won the contract put out by ICCT to do the testing. ICCT has continued to follow developments in the US and Europe and has been developing programs to help improve enforcement in Europe. If the Atlantic had talked to the ICCT instead of WVU, it would have had all the background and statistics that they could have wanted.

    In the first response, from dhillonmj, it states, “In one of my economics classes we observed that the CAFE system (based on fleet averages) allow for companies to produce less efficient larger vehicles so long as they have a few fuel efficient vehicles that allow them to satisfy the minimum average. Thus automakers try to use their highly fuel efficient vehicles to allow for more wiggle room in their inefficient vehicles.” You need to tell your professor that his/her information is out of date and no longer accurate. In 2005, NHTSA changed light-truck standards from a flat standard (i.e. one that applies to every vehicle, regardless of size) to standards based upon the vehicle “footprint” (i.e. wheelbase times track width). This system was then picked up by the 2007 Energy and Information Security Act (EISA) and mandated for all vehicles. Under the footprint system, smaller vehicles are assigned more stringent targets to meet, which means that selling more smaller vehicles does not help a manufacturer comply with the standards as they will face a higher target. Similarly, a manufacturer could sell nothing but large vehicles and the target would adjust so that the standard would be no more difficult to meet than selling nothing but cars. So, the professor’s statement is accurate only for the standards that were in place prior to 2008.

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