One Year After Volkswagen Scandal, CAFEE Sees More Innovation But Not More Money

Dan Carder, Volkswagen Scandal

Last fall, Dan Carder’s cell phone started ringing off the hook. The area codes hailed from major U.S. cities. At the time, Carder was working in his lab at West Virginia University, where he is the director of the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions (CAFEE). Annoyed with phone calls, he finally picked up. The reporter on the line, sensing that Carder had no idea that he had broken international news, advised Carder to Google himself. 

With Google’s help, Carder found out that his team’s research – which first discovered that Volkswagen diesel vehicles were releasing higher emissions than advertised – helped reveal that Volkswagen was cheating emissions tests. Since then, Volkswagen has had to pay roughly $15 billion in a federal settlement, and continues to face lawsuits from individual states. Meanwhile, CAFEE has received international attention and is taking on more innovative projects, but Carder’s biggest concerns continue to be keeping his team together and find the funding to pay them. He spoke with West Virginia Public Broadcasting about life at CAFEE, one year after the Volkswagen Scandal. 

Dan Carder Interview Highlights 

On Innovation

The university launched a new initiative called the Innovation Corporation. CAFEE is part of that, and as part of that, the university has made a significant investment, millions of dollars, to open a new facility for us off campus. We’ve always had the desire to do the more fundamental, more leading edge research. Many times we’ve found ourselves unable to do that because when you’re inevitably looking at the bottom line each month, trying to figure out how to pay the staff – so, you know, there are a lot of sleepless nights wondering where am I going to find the money to pay them next month. 

On Keeping the Team Together

We’re a research funding-based organization, so all of our payroll has to come through projects. My number one focus right now is trying to keep our team together. It’s a challenge. The state is at least facing times that don’t look so good, but I’ve got to find a way to, you know, keep Mark here. If I have to do bake sales, or something like that, I’ll learn how to bake this weekend. 

On Why Notoriety Doesn’t Translate into More Funds in Academia

When you submit a proposal, that proposal is reviewed by a number of people. You’re really very objectively assessed based on the idea itself. Just because you happen to be somebody who’s done this or been recognized for something like what we did, that doesn’t make your idea better than the next. 

On Reactions to the Volkswagen Scandal

We’ve had a lot of mixed responses. That was another remarkable thing about this story. We had a lot of private individuals individuals – there were some that were very, very passionate about, you know, “Thank you so much, we feel like we were mislead or deceived because we thought we were not only getting a quality car,” which, they are quality cars. You don’t get to be number one in the world by making a sub-par product. But on the other hand, you had people who were very passionate who thought they were going to get their vehicle taken away. There was someone was going to drive their car through my office and things like that. So, the amount of passion we saw out of individuals sending emails was pretty amazing.