Shame on Volkswagen for Lack of QA Oversight

A lack of integrity costs billions. VW is proof.

Volkswagen, what were you thinking? For one of the most well-respected car manufacturers in the world to be caught gaming the emissions testing system is truly shocking. It’s the biggest scandal to hit the car manufacturing industry in a long time. Volkswagen shares are down 35% as I write this, and there has been a negative impact on other car companies as confidence in the emissions testing system is thrown into doubt.

There’s no way for VW to paint this as an error. Engineers and developers were clearly complicit in creating software that deliberately made diesel engines operate differently when they sensed that the car was being tested. This goes beyond a failure of QA, as it was clearly planned, and presumably signed off at a high level. Who at VW thought this was a good idea? Where was the oversight? Where’s the integrity and the pride? Where are the corporate values?

The damage for VW is incalculable at the moment. The stock is still plunging. There’s a wave of law suits pending. Hefty fines are an inevitability. Almost half a million cars may have to be recalled in the U.S. alone. That figure rises to 11 million worldwide. And all of that comes before you consider the reputational damage. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alone has the power to fine VW up to $18 billion. What are the chances the company goes bankrupt over this.

Clearly this is a major failure on many levels. If some executives and managers were misleading officials externally and maybe their own superiors internally, then it’s a failure of the oversight system for quality control. An organization this size should have quality standards in place with autonomous controls and independent oversight.

But the alternative is worse.

The idea that it was done with the knowledge of VW’s top people would suggest the company is rotten to the core. VW was a well-respected brand, a desirable brand, with a legion of loyal customers. Its net profit was $12.3 billion last year. Where was the need to cheat the system?

Long term success is as much about building trust and maintaining honesty, as it is about producing a great product. Good software depends on developer integrity.

The software developers who ensured that these diesel engines switched to a low emission mode in the lab must have been ordered to do so. The QA department that tested the software must have been aware. Even if some people had the wool pulled over their eyes, there was no way to pull this off without a lot of people being complicit.

The fact that nobody opposed this or spoke up suggests that the company culture and values inside Volkswagen are questionable.

Someone at VW must have calculated that this was a risk worth taking. Now they’re finding out the true cost of a lack of integrity. VW will be paying for this for years to come.