The egregious cheating on emissions causes me to ask what the differences are between the US and Europe both culturally and legally. Specifically there is no legislation protecting whistle-blowers from retaliation in the EU and Germany as there is in the US, but I don't know how much that would have affected the outcome. I may be wrong in assuming that a whistle-blower would have emerged if someone at Ford or GM tried to pull off a cheat like this, but I think there is enough to discuss about legislative incentives for or against whistle-blowing and whether legislation would even be effective, given cultural norms.

What factors contributed to or discouraged whistle-blowing in the VW Emissions Scandal?

There have been two US employees who have been identified as whistle-blowers for VW in the time since I posted this question. Daniel Donovan filed a lawsuit alleging retaliation, which was later withdrawn. The head of VW’s Engineering and Environmental Office in the US Stuart Johnson has also been identified as a whistle-blower.

VW offered a window of amnesty to any employees who came forward with information in November 2015. It also appears that in 2017 VW created an investigation office where employees can report violations.

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    It's a good question but “Europe” might not be the right level to think about this, sticking to Germany or Volkswagen would be best IMO. – Relaxed Oct 15 '15 at 17:09
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    This sounds more like a psychology/sociology question. Regardless, it's not really answerable. We don't know why there wasn't a whistle blown. We can only speculate. – user1530 Oct 16 '15 at 16:54
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – user1530 Oct 16 '15 at 17:17
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    @NathanL Like what? I think you seriously underestimate the heterogeneity of European cultures. If you look at empirical work trying to quantify cultural differences (I am thinking about Geert Hofstede or Edward T. Hall), you can easily find some European cultures that are closer to US/North American culture than to other European cultures. Obviously there are also differences, between the US and any given European country (and, incidentally, within the US or within European countries) but that does not make “Europe” the right level of analysis. – Relaxed Oct 17 '15 at 7:10
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    @NathanL Like I said, I think it's a great question and I actually upvoted it long ago. I just think it would be even better/easier to address if you would restrict the focus on Germany. All I am suggesting is a small edit, I don't see why this should lead to a long argument or why I should refrain from making any suggestion because I don't know enough to fully answer the question. – Relaxed Oct 18 '15 at 8:33

Counting on whistle blowers to keep companies honest is never going to work. Despite the handful of laws protecting them, becoming a whistle blower is essentially career suicide. Whistle blowers aren't compensated in any meaningful way, they'll likely have to find a new job in a completely different industry and even then their trustworthiness would likely be seen as a liability by any company hiring them.

It's mostly rumors at this point, but it is believed that many companies besides Volkswagen were cheating on emissions tests. This makes it easier for everyone involved to maintain cognitive dissonance, since everyone knows everyone else is cheating and if the regulators don't know everyone is cheating that's their fault.

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    It's also a worth realising that if everyone knows that everyone knows, then people won't see the point of saying anything because everyone already knows – PointlessSpike Oct 16 '15 at 14:41
  • I agree that counting on whistle-blowers is insufficient, but giving them incentive to do the right thing or protection in doing the right thing would certainly help. VW will certainly lose more than they have gained by cheating. Treating a whistle-blower as a liability is terribly short-sighted considering the cost one such individual could have saved this company. – NL - Apologize to Monica Oct 16 '15 at 15:21
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    (-1) I don't think this answers the question at all. Also, “it is believed” by whom? I have seen no specific allegations of deliberate cheating of the kind Volkswagen engaged in (even without evidence). What's well-known is that test performance might not reflect real-world performance but that's not quite the same (although I would see why VW or perhaps even German officials would like to blur the difference). – Relaxed Oct 17 '15 at 7:23
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    Almost two years on, my comment does not look very good and this answer is much more credible. Maybe you could edit it to replace “it is believed” by more concrete evidence/references? Editing the answer would also allow me to remove my downvote. – Relaxed Sep 25 '17 at 16:29
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    Note that in the US there are several laws rewarding whistle blowers. In short, they get a cut of the money the feds get out of fining the companies. That site says the average payout is 1.5 million dollars. That's hardly suicide of any sort, unless you were already raking in a huge salary. Of course these laws don't cover every possible work sector, and I cannot say how difficult it is to be judged as a valid recipient (and you get nothing if the company isn't charged). – zibadawa timmy Sep 27 '17 at 5:01

One influential way to describe cultural differences is Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory. Wikipedia provides some background on the methodology so I won't get into the details but the interesting thing is that Germany is very close to the US along four of the five dimensions, with only a moderate difference in the “individualism-collectivism” score.

By contrast, in this model, the scores for countries like France, Denmark or Austria, let alone Portugal or Romania, differ markedly from those of both Germany and the US. So it seems that broad cultural differences cannot account for the lack of whistle-blowing tradition in Germany and that “Europe” is definitely not the right scale to think about this.

  • both USA and Germany are also investigating and prosecuting companies bribing foreign officials. Only Germany implemented such law some 30 years after USA. – user14816 Sep 28 '17 at 12:14

This is not a matter of cultural differences between nations. It is more a product of large corporation thinking, that transcends borders. It could have happened at any corporation, there's nothing about any of the multiple Euro cultures that contributed.

The benefits of working for a large corporation are good compensation, a career path, and job security. The drawbacks are being a cog in the machinery - the individual has little opportunity to make a major difference.

By the time someone has made it to senior engineer or senior manager, they have at least a decade of being schooled in the corporation's culture, especially the 'follow orders' dictum. So it's not in their nature to question what they're being told to do.

In the case of the emissions cheat, not that many people knew it was in place - Winterkorn, a few top managers, and a few top engineers, all highly paid, all definitely 'in the fraternity'. None of them are likely to blow the whistle to give themselves away. No one else was predisposed to look for the cheat, and to a degree, that sort of behavior by the CEO of a corporation with the reputation of Volkswagen would normally be considered unthinkable.

People in the emissions testing department wouldn't have spotted it, because their testing mimics the government tests - done on a dyno where the car wasn't moving. That was the cheat - go full emissions when the car is sitting still, disable emissions control when the car is moving.

It would make for an interesting movie. Ambitious executive bets a billion euros that the diesel tech his people came up with would do better than the competition. When it didn't, and the new model year was coming up, and they'd have no diesel cars to sell, he panicked and told the engineers to fudge it.

While it hasn't been fully explained, my estimate is that they probably planned to cheat for one year only, to buy themselves time to fix the problem. Then, that effort probably got pushed aside when more pressing needs arose, and the top leadership more or less forgot about it. Oops.

  • Can this answer be backed up? – indigochild Sep 30 '17 at 22:32

There were possibly whistleblowers at VW, who are still unknown, only silently giving hints to the press or environmental groups. As mentioned before, it means career suicide. Many like "betrayal" here, but nobody loves a "traitor".

The emissions scandal was a cooperative plot by politicians and industry in Europe, to create a facade of tight environmental laws for the public, and, at the same time, signal car manufacturers that any loophole and lame excuse would be accepted, even if legal compliance was more than dubious. It was not only VW, but almost all manufacturers selling cars in Germany/Europe, who would greatly reduce emission controls, when out of the test cycle. Including US companies like Ford and Opel(GM until recently).

German authorities, such as Kraftfahrtbundesamt (for motorized traffic), are even today extremly unwilling to enforce the limits in real driving. One environmental group (Deutsche Umwelthilfe) is fighting a fierce struggle of litigation, to enforce emission limits. A whistleblower would hardly have been heard.

The situation was different in the US, where VW didn't have the political backing and corruption network, and local manufactureres were happy to get rid of some competition.

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