The huge flap over the Volkswagen “defeat code” for diesel EPA testing is a cautionary tale for all engineers and executives — regardless of product category. Gaming the system to meet a deadline or to gain commercial advantage will eventually cause great harm to your organization and your personal career arc.
Some of my fellow car enthusiasts may argue that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the EPA were overreaching when they set the requirements. Sorry, other car companies either complied or chose not to make diesels available for sale until they could pass the tests. You can’t even give VW “style points” for programming that defeat code into their operating system. The funds used to catch the fraud were from a huge settlement reached between the EPA and heavy-truck makers for trying the same scheme years ago.
Aside from the obvious damage to the environment, cheating on this scale costs people at firms that are trying to play by the rules. Look at the famous Bernie Madoff stock market scam; how many honest fund managers got kicked to the curb or lost out on bonus plans because they couldn’t achieve legitimate results that equaled Bernie’s magical numbers?
Legendary gear engineer Don McVittie once told an AGMA committee, riffing on the humorist Jean Shepherd, “In God we trust, all others bring data.” He didn’t have to say it twice. Without honorable data — numbers everyone can agree on — we cannot have science. This same “data cooking” crisis is hitting the pharmaceutical industry hard. Bad things happen when you cherry-pick data or ignore warning signs.
There are no international gear cops to vet your catalog ratings or review a new design. We rely on the good will of our engineers and managers to comply with our consensus standards; standards we are confident will give acceptable performance. Mass recalls are very rare in our industry as a result. Let’s keep it that way.