Volkswagen proposes simple technical fixes for diesel cheat in Europe

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Technical updates will start being rolled out to the first recalled vehicles in Europe during January 2016(Credit: Volkswagen)

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The Volkswagen Group has been in a lot of hot water since the "dieselgate" scandal began. When it came to light that VW had been using a "defeat device" on its diesel vehicles to circumvent official emission testing procedures, the company quickly admitted to its wrongdoing and has been working to comply with regulators and find a fix. In Europe, that fix may be very simple. This week, the German authorities accepted the small technical change and software upgrade proposed by VW.

The software defeat device that the Volkswagen Group (which includes VW, Porsche, Audi, and others) used to cheat regulations was implemented on several of the company's diesel vehicles globally. In Europe, two of the engines under investigation are a 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter diesel labeled EA 189. These utilized engine software that detected when the vehicle was being compliance tested and changed the output metrics in order to win approval. Thus the recorded nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions were compliant despite being much higher than allowed during normal use.

Volkswagen has proposed a simple engine change and a software fix that would force the two EA 189 engines to be compliant with European emissions regulations. The proposal has secured the approval of the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (Kraftfahrtbundesamt or KBA). With the KBA's ratification, VW is now working on technical updates that will start being rolled out to the first recalled vehicles in January 2016. Volkswagen's other brands, including Audi, SEAT, SKODA, and their commercial vehicle arm, will be creating corresponding measures for their affected vehicles.

The fix for the 1.6-liter diesel engine is the replacement of a section of clean air intake to add a straight, non-baffled piece of pipe called a "flow transformer" directly ahead of the air mass sensor (also called an air flow meter). This sensor determines the amount of air mass throughput, which in turn affects engine management parameters for optimum combustion. The new pipe, which extends from the air filter to the air mass sensor, will allow a straight flow of air for a much more accurate measurement of air mass passing through to the intake.

Volkswagen says that the current flow pipe in that location baffles the air, making measurements inaccurate. Once the new flow straightener is installed, a software update will be performed to accommodate the new addition. VW estimates that the time for these fixes will be less than an hour. The larger 2.0-liter engines will only require changes to the software and, as such, the update should take around half an hour to complete.

Volkswagen says that these fixes will make the two EA 189 engines compliant with emissions requirements. VW is also promising a similar technical solution for affected 1.2-liter diesel engines, which will be delivered to the KBA before the end of November 2015.

The company advises that the changes are not expected to have adverse effects on engine output or fuel economy, but that until all vehicle models affected are tested after the updates, the results cannot be assured.

Due to the large number of vehicles affected, the update program is expected to run for the whole of 2016, and VW is foregoing statute of limitations rights in warranties and guarantees on vehicles with EA 189 engines until December next year.

VW says that complementary mobility options such as loan vehicles and rides to and from the dealerships doing the work will be provided while recalled vehicles are being updated.

In North America, Volkswagen is undergoing a similar process to find compliance fixes for its diesel vehicles. Proposals are before the US Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board for consideration.

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