OK, VW couldn’t figure out how to balance the ever stricter polution norms with the public demand for simultaneously more powerfull  and cheaper to run/cleaner diesel engines so they decided to fake it. And it seems they were not the only ones to do that.

This development poses some questions.

– What were they hoping for? Did they really think that something like this could have gone unnoticed for ever?
– What were the regulators thinking? That it’s possible to solve pollution by simply changing some norms?
“Moore’s Law” (“overall processing power for computers will double every two years” has been valid, for a while, in a very young technological field.
Internal combustion engines have been around for more than a century, they are rather old. Everybody knows that it is hard to teach new tricks to an old horse yet we tried to clean exhaust gases well beyond the reasonable instead of radically changing the technology. Computers seemed to be able to help, but only for a while…

Could this be just another ‘application’ of the Peter Principle? “Managers rise to the level of their incompetence?” GM was, sometime ago, the No. 1 Automobile Company. It recently went through a painful bailout. Toyota, the next champion – its methods were studied at the most prestigious management schools – was hugely embarrassed lately by a technological failure.
OK, you might argue that what went on at VW was an ‘upfront’ fraud, not at all an ‘honest’ mistake. Indeed but still a mistake, even if a potentially catastrophic one. Mainly for the shareholders, of course, but also for the rest of us.
A certain dose of distrust towards established authority is healthy for the society, as a whole, while too many proofs of the established figureheads behaving callously generate a diffused disrespect for the law which is really bad for everybody.

In fact what happened at VW is exactly what people tend to do when they do not see any way out of a certain situation.
When they don’t really think that anything bad can happen to them, regardless of whatever they do.
Or both.

So. Is there anything to be learned from here? Except for the oldest lesson history keeps teaching us: ‘reaching the top is easy, staying there is the really tough job’?
Maybe.
Toyota says that transparency, “both inside and outside the company“, is a good way towards avoiding this kind of mistakes. “You have to be able to listen to your customers, not just hear them.