The three crises that rollicked the auto industry in recent months – a rising death toll related to the General Motors ignition-switch defect, the Jeep Cherokee hack and now the Volkswagen cheating scandal – all have one thing in common. Outsiders discovered the problems.
In the new matter of Volkswagen rigging millions of cars to outsmart emissions tests, researchers at West Virginia University and the International Council on Clean Transportation first spotted irregularities. In the hacking of a Jeep Cherokee, it was independent cyber-security researchers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller who found and reported cellular vulnerabilities that allowed them to control a car from halfway across the country.
And lest we forget in the case of General Motors, it was a Mississippi mechanic and Florida engineer who first made connections between non-deploying airbags and faulty GM ignition switches that had been altered over time. They worked on behalf of Brooke Melton, a 29-year-old Georgia woman killed in a Chevy Cobalt.
Amid the Volkswagen scandal, the role these independent third parties played in unearthing life-threatening problems is important to highlight, not only because it shines a light on the ethical indifference corporations paid to life-and-death problems of their creation. The role of the independents is noteworthy because, just as their contributions never been more relevant in protecting the driving public, they could soon be barred from the automotive landscape.