Feds’ in­ter­est in lux­ury cars a boon to con­sumers


National Post (Latest Edition) - - POST DRIVING - Lor­raine Sommerfeld

You’ ll be re­lieved to know the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s Fresh­wa­ter Fish Mar­ket­ing Cor­po­ra­tion did not use your tax dol­lars to pur­chase any make of Porsche, Lexus, Mercedes, Tesla, BMW, Lam­borgh­ini or Fer­rari since Nov. 4, 2015. Whew.

While the coun­try’s self­anointed alt- me­dia source, Rebel Me­dia, con­tin­ued to fart in a metal bucket and en­joy the noise, the cher­ryp­ick­ing of facts re­ceived un­der the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act also con­tin­ued to pro­vide sim­i­lar use­less en­ter­tain­ment.

If con­sumer goods are to be reg­u­lated and tested to main­tain any kind of safety and in­tegrity in the mar­ket­place, then it is up to good gov­ern­ment to foster the most strin­gent grounds for test­ing that it can. And yes folks, that costs money. Per­haps you’d be hap­pier mon­i­tor­ing your own wa­ter con­tam­i­nants or Lis­te­ria out­breaks, or per­haps you don’t bother with all those pesky re­calls when they do oc­cur. Or per­haps you’re happy to let a man­u­fac­turer, even one as well sto­ried and fa­mous as Volks­wa­gen, stamp their own seal of ap­proval on their prod­ucts. I mean, how could that go wrong?

They say if you ask the right ques­tion, you can get any an­swer you de­sire. By ask­ing cur­rent Lib­eral gov­ern­ment agen­cies if they’d pur­chased any ve­hi­cle that was one of the seven listed up top that came to more than $ 50,000, they could ba­si­cally make a birth­day cake out of en­ti­tle­ment, ice it in spoiled brat and light it on fire. Ex­cept the agency that made the pur­chases — En­vi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Change Canada — is tasked with know­ing what any car is belch­ing out, and if it ad­heres to Cana­dian law. The agency ac­tu­ally pur­chased, new or used, 47 cars rang­ing in cost from $ 11,020 to $ 96,724 to test for emis­sions. They are duly sold at gov­ern­ment auc­tion when test­ing is con­cluded.

Noooooo! s cream t he Up In Arms bri­gade. Bor­row those cars! Rent those cars! Get the man­u­fac­tur­ers to give you those cars! Ex­cept test­ing can take time and mod­i­fi­ca­tions are of­ten made dur­ing that test­ing. And if one les­son has been learned the hard way, it’s been that let­ting a man­u­fac­turer pro­vide a prod­uct of their own choos­ing for in­de­pen­dent tests will means you get one that is, well, what­ever the maker chooses it to be.

Restau­rant re­view­ers go to great ex­tremes to pro­tect their iden­ti­ties so they can de­liver a true glimpse i nto how you, a nor­mal per­son, will be treated. The Au­to­mo­bile Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion ( APA) does un­der­cover work with W- 5 and pro­duces the most revealing un­der­belly of the auto in­dus­try deal­ing with con­sumer pro­tec­tion. With­out this se­crecy, this stealth, you don’t get the truth, you get a glossy ad­ver­tise­ment. As for the ridicu­lous focus on the cars the agency pur­chased? “Given that the Euro­pean brands ( Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Fiat, Porsche and VW) are up to their ears in al­le­ga­tions or law­suits over cheat­ing on emis­sions tests, it is ab­so­lutely cor­rect to tar­get those brands f or test­ing from a risk- re­duc­tion per­spec­tive,” says Ge­orge Iny, pres­i­dent of the APA.

The VW emis­sions scan­dals ripped apart the diesel in­dus­try. Diesel in pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles was for years touted as the miss­ing link, our bridge from gaso­line to, well, ev­ery­thing else. Who needs electrics or hy­brids when we have clean diesel? Diesel, com­plete with lit­tle green leaves on the dash to re­mind us we’re not just not pol­lut­ing, but we’re also prac­ti­cally scrub­bing the air clean around us. Ex­cept it was a lie.

And i t wasn’t the U. S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency ( EPA), or the Cana­dian equiv­a­lent that dis­cov­ered the de­cep­tion, it was three uni­ver­sity re­search stu­dents deep in the woods in West Vir­ginia who did. They re­al­ized they couldn’t ad­e­quately t est for emis­sions with a skint bud­get in an area that had no diesels in rental fleets, and they soon found they couldn’t beg or bor­row any, so they went to Cal­i­for­nia, where they could do both. Cars not s up­plied by a man­u­fac­turer.

No­body was more sur­prised t han t hose t hree me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents, Arvind Thiru­ven­ga­dem, He­manth Kap­panna and Marc Besch.

“It’s not that there was sus­pi­cion. On the con­trary,” says Thiru­ven­ga­dem. “We were j ust ver y c uri­ous. These diesel emis­sion tech­nolo­gies were quite new. And we knew they worked on paper. But t hey had never been tested in pas­sen­ger cars un­der real driv­ing con­di­tions.”

The car you drive now orig­i­nally came with a sticker in the win­dow telling you what kind of fuel econ­omy you could ex­pect. You prob­a­bly re­al­ized with a cou­ple of tanks of fuel that those num­bers were ar­rived at by ask­ing a lep­rechaun to pick a num­ber be­tween one and 20; fuel econ­omy num­bers, with few ex­cep­tions, are so skewed as to be rigged to achieve pre- or­dained out­comes. Con­sumer up­roar forced some more re­al­is­tic num­bers to start emerg­ing over the past five years or so, but the plunge is back on as we once again get com­pla­cent.

You can’t de­mand a gov­ern­ment hold the feet of ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers to the fire if you are go­ing to si­mul­ta­ne­ously re­move the tools they need to main­tain the flame.

Nearly 80 agen­cies re­sponded in the neg­a­tive to the “have you bought a Lam­borgh­ini” ques­tion, though there were a smat­ter­ing of Mercedes pur­chases, in the form of Sprint­ers — those sex­i­est of sexy panel vans — that were bought for the Na­tional De­fence and RCMP depart­ments, which is im­pos­si­ble to ar­gue against. Lots of John Deeres showed up to be counted, and not nearly enough big pick­ups, if you ask some­one who has trav­elled across this coun­try.

The ve­hi­cles pur­chased by the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment look like they should. To get up on your hind legs about an agency do­ing its job — pro­tect­ing our cit­i­zens and en­vi­ron­ment from po­ten­tial cor­po­rate fraud — makes you look like an ass.

APA’s Ge­orge Iny of­fers some­thing to think about.

“Why is gov­ern­ment pub­lic re­la­tions so in­ept that it can’t make a sim­ple case like this one? The pub­lic health and en­vi­ron­men­tal benefits of a well- run emissi ons pro­gram with en­forced stan­dards far out­weigh the costs of pur­chase and dis­posal of a cou­ple of dozen cars a year,” Iny says.

“For an ex­am­ple of what can hap­pen when com­pla­cency sets in, you can look at al­most any large Euro­pean city; the air qual­ity has been de­te­ri­o­rat­ing since the early 2000s, de­spite more strin­gent stan­dards on the books. Man­u­fac­turer cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in pri­vate com­pli­ance labs is rid­dled with con­flicts. The neg­a­tive pub­lic health im­pacts are very large.”


No make of Tesla has been pur­chased by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment us­ing tax dol­lars since Novem­ber 2015, writes Lor­raine Sommerfeld.


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