Thursday, 24 September 2015

Car emissions and ethics

This was originally supposed to be a post about the dis-benefits of gaming the system as a car manufacturer and how there were wide-ranging impacts beyond the basic "it pollutes more, who's going to pay", but while writing, it scope-crept into a much wider piece on ethics.

VW recently gamed the vehicle emissions test, so that their vehicles recognised that they were being tested and produced more favourable results when on test.  No harm done, right?

Yeah, right.

The impact of this is massive, even beyond the initial fine that VW will be expecting.  It goes beyond VW, beyond the car industry, beyond everything to the core of our society.

This should send out a solid message to all of us - integrity is critical, not just while we're being tested, but when we're out there "in the wild".  Do we still do what we promised, and if not, what are the consequences?

Say that VW make the cars conform 100% and it makes the cars undriveable?  You bought it after a test drive, so can you get a refund?  If not, claims are bound to come along.  These cars aren't cheap, and that's quite a bit of capital that VW might have to buy back.  What if your promises don't live up to expectations?  Did you make claims at interview that you wouldn't be able to reproduce for real?  We all big ourselves up, right?

Moving back to VW, if owners accept that the performance needs to be 'as is', are they going to pay the back tax on excise duty and initial tax?  How does a prospective buyer know if the car is modded or not?  How do the people that you're working for know that you're a quality product unless you're honest and have a track record of that honesty?  We pretty much promote people based on their capability to blag (small lies), so isn't that acceptable?  Once you're caught, how can people be sure that they can trust in the future?  This is about fundamental ethics.

If you bought your VW as a company car, then will you get additional taken from your wages to cover the higher tax bracket?  Perhaps you might have chosen a different car in the first place?  This has parallels in the interview, psychometric testing and test scenarios.  Did you game the system to pass?  I know of people who did that and can't do what it 'said on their tin'.  How do we cope with that in employment?

It isn't yet known how many other manufacturers are affected, but as manufacturers share parts then it wouldn't be surprising for most of VAG to be affected.  Other manufacturers may do even worse stuff than this, but you can be sure that people are now going to be keeping a close eye on behaviour.  So how does that play out in employment?  Is it acceptable to share information on how to game interviews at your work?  Shouldn't the pass/fail be about the basics of 'will you fit in?' or 'can you do the job?'.  Ethically you should present a good view of yourself but not game the system to pass, or is it OK to do this if you're just going for a post that you want but not if you create a line of cars that break regulations?  Does scale matter?

So, before you talk about your capabilities in the future, think about how that may impact on you and your customers.  If they knew the truth, would they still choose you?  What are the consequences of your claims beyond your current role?

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