Automotive

Volkswagen admits "defeat device" used to circumvent US emissions tests

Volkswagen admits "defeat devi...
The 7th-generation Golf is one of the vehicles that allegedly employs a "defeat device" to fool US emissions regulators
The 7th-generation Golf is one of the vehicles that allegedly employs a "defeat device" to fool US emissions regulators
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The 7th-generation Golf is one of the vehicles that allegedly employs a "defeat device" to fool US emissions regulators
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The 7th-generation Golf is one of the vehicles that allegedly employs a "defeat device" to fool US emissions regulators

Volkswagen and its subsidiary Audi may currently be in Frankfurt showcasingtheir wares, but the attention of the boardrooms of both companies is likely tobe elsewhere. The US EPA has issued Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, and Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. with a notice of violation (NOV) ofthe Clean Air Act by running software in their vehicles that turns fullemissions controls on only when undergoing official emissions testing.

Atest program conducted independently by the International Council for CleanTransportation (ICCT) and West Virginia University (WVU) in 2014 first raisedconcerns of elevated levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in real worlddriving. They took their concerns to the US EPA and the California AirResources Board (CARB), which prompted the agencies to begin investigationsinto the high NOx emissions in Volkswagen's 2.0-liter diesel vehicles.

InJuly, the agencies shared their findings with Volkswagen Group America, whichearlier this month admitted using a "defeat device" on its vehiclesto circumvent official emission testing procedures. The device, which isdescribed in the NOV as a "sophisticated softwarealgorithm on certain Volkswagen vehicles detects when the car is undergoingofficial emissions testing, and turns full emissions controls on only duringthe test," is allegedly found in four-cylinder VW and Audi diesel carsfrom model years 2009-2015. These include the Jetta, Beetle, Audi A3, Golf andPassat models.

According to the Clean Air Act, anyvehicle equipped with a defeat device that reduces the effectiveness of theemission control system during normal driving conditions cannot be certifiedfor sale in the US. That means around 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in theUS since 2008 have been on the roads uncertified and the EPA has ordered VW torecall all the affected vehicles and fix the cars' emission systems. However,the EPA has stressed that anyone driving these cars isn't breaking the law, andcan legally continue to drive and resell the vehicles. It also points out thatthe defeat device violation doesn't affect the car's safety.

It is mindboggling that the world's second biggestautomaker would employ such practices and even more mindboggling for it tothink it could get away with it. It is unclear if Volkswagen is the onlyautomaker looking to fool authorities in such ways, but the EPA says it iswidening its search and will look for defeat devices in diesel vehicles fromother auto manufacturers. But for now, it is only Volkswagen that has taken ahit, with the company's stock price falling almost 20 percent on the back ofthe news.

"Ipersonally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers andthe public," said Volkswagen CEO, Martin WinterKorn. "We willcooperate fully with the responsible agencies, with transparency and urgency,to clearly, openly, and completely establish all of the facts of this case.Volkswagen has ordered an external investigation of this matter. We do not andwill not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law. Thetrust of our customers and the public is and continues to be our most importantasset. We at Volkswagen will do everything that must be done in order tore-establish the trust that so many people have placed in us, and we will doeverything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused."

That will bea major task, with the possibility that fines of up to US$37,500 could beimposed on each defeat device-equipped car under the US Clean Air Act. Thatwould add up to a bill of over $18 billion – and that's just in the US. Thefinal bill could be much higher, with authorities in other countries sure to launchtheir own investigations. And then there's the negative hit to the brand in theeyes of consumers, which is impossible to calculate.

Source: EPA,CARB (PDF), Volkswagen

Update (28 Sept. 2015): Last week, the scandal claimed its first casualty, with Martin Winterkorn stepping down as CEO of Volkswagen AG and being replaced by Matthias Müller, the current Chairman of Porsche AG, who will continue in that role until a successor is found.

Late last week, the Volkswagen Supervisory Board issued a statement addressing the deception, saying that, "the company will leave no stone unturned in getting to the bottom of this, will call those responsible to account, and take the necessary actions." It also revealed that the lawyers had been called in and some employees have already been suspended.

"The test manipulations are a moral and political disaster for Volkswagen," said Berthold Huber, Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board. "The unlawful behavior of engineers and technicians involved in engine development shocked Volkswagen just as much as it shocked the public. We can only apologize and ask our customers, the public, the authorities and our investors to give us a chance to make amends."

Volkswagen has revealed the roughly five million Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand vehicles, including the sixth-gen Golf, seventh-gen Passat and first-gen Tiguan, are affected by the "defeat device" software worldwide. However, no vehicles, including the aforementioned models, that passed the EU6 emissions standard throughout Europe are affected. The company says all markets around the world will be informed how many vehicles are affected locally, while it works on remedies with certification authorities.

The company again stressed all of the affected vehicles remain technically safe and roadworthy.

16 comments
Daishi
Aside from government fines there might be some potential for a class action lawsuit from customers that bought the cars based on false emissions data as well. It wouldn't be for nearly as much money but it still adds to the legal mess they are now in. I wonder how different the emissions results are without the defeat device vs with. It's a really really bad decision by them but hopefully if the government does hit them with a $18 billion fine they find a good use for the money because that's one hell of a fine.
Galymax
According to findings from West Virginia University, VW Golf, Jetta, Beetle, Passat, as well as the Audi A3 and A4 produced 10-40 times as much nitrogen oxide and other dangerous emissions as the EPA limit.
Galymax
VW said today that the defeat device was built into up to 11 million cars.
gizmowiz
I hope the EPA and all owners sue the company into bankruptcy. Serves them right for outright fraud that fouled our air and endangered our lives (especially for asthmatics). We must show the world that cheating DOES NOT PAY.
Buellrider
VW head guy WinterKorn really meant to say that "he was truly sorry that they were caught". How unethical can these guys be? If someone (WinterKorn) doesn't end up in jail for this then the United States justice system will show that only folks without means go to jail. I used to have a Volkswagen Golf(gas) that I bought new in 1985. I liked it but it was my first new car and I let some things slide that I wouldn't today because I was young and inexperienced. Paint was falling off outside the wheel wells and the dealer just rattle canned it as their fix. Every time I'd be in a long tight curve the oil pressure warning horn would sound off and that was for all the years I owned that car. Apparently it was a design flaw where the oil would not feed the pump when in a tight curve. I'll never own another VW and that you can take to the bank.
Bob Vious
It doesn't surprise me at all that companies cheat the system to keep their workers working. Probably every major company does that to some degree. I disagree with it, but I'm just being realistic. What does bother me is that the regulatory agency involved didn't have the cynicism to think someone might do this, and act accordingly. Or, were those guys on the take?
flyerfly
The dishonesty is no good. I do feel bad that most comments on this site seem fairly one sided though. If you know anything about diesel engineering and all the new Tier 4 requirements you would know that achieving what the EPA is asking for is very very hard. It is very very costly and is making people seek after Tier 3 engines as if they were gold. The new engines are not as reliable and they are far more expensive. All the paperwork involved for an engine dealer/installer is extremely burdensome and costly. I can say that the EPA is ruining the economy and people on the consumer end do not seem to notice. While I am all for the environment I do wish that the two faced holier than thou approach of the EPA would go away. Volkswagon should not have done this but the EPA made it soooo expensive to comply the normal way that the temptation was to great. In the end the EPA does not care about the environment as much as they do about the control and are salivating about the fines. All those advocating suing Volkswagon seem to also be seeing the $$$...sad. If they are hit with the huge fines they won't have as much money for R&D to make things better...the EPA will have more money to grow bigger and make more restrictive rules...and the death spiral will continue. Go buy a horse and buggy while you can. Oh wait...they produce methane! DANG! While I don't work with Volkswagon I am an engineer and feel sorry for the whole state of affairs.
peteepositive
I don't think VW will lose out as bad as some may assume. Not all buyers are tree huggers. There are some who buy just for performance, or milage. The emissions regulations set are a joke anyhow. Can't tell you how many times I had put my windows up, due to thick black smoke coming from a diesel truck. It's also a fact, you can fail an emissions test for too little polution. While saving our earth, and cutting emissions is a great idea, a diesel is not particularly something to do it with. How about electric, propane, or hydrogen. Or even fumes from gas. All these are way better for emmissions,and even cheaper to use. Diesel even cost less to make than gasoline, yet is more expensive to buy at the pump. So really, they tricked emmissions testing, which is a joke standard to begin with.
wanderkip
Bet VW is only the "tip of the iceberg" for this issue and other car companies, both foreign and domestic are knee-deep in software tweaks as well. The debate over the DMCA, (Digital Millennium Software Act) is heating up and escalates the software tinkering discussion far beyond John Deere "protecting" home mechanics. If consumers have access to the ECU mapping, or could pay a local hacker a few bucks to gain 50 hp and 5 more mpg and still reset for testing... how many owners would actually do so? My guess is not many. Whether your politics leans towards environmental or economic initiatives, the majority of Americans seem to model their ethics around the consensus of law. If they figure the EPA exists for their benefit and federal laws set objective standards, as long as our lives aren't too dramatically affected, we will go along like good little sheep. Best bet now is to buy a cheap, used, late-model TDI and wait for the VW Buyback mandate to make a tidy profit!
the.other.will
The cost of fixing the problem is relatively simple to estimate. Fines will be decided by multiple governments but will eventually resolve to a list of big numbers of euros. The harm to buyers is more complicated. Fixing the problem will likely translate into poorer performance & greater fuel consumption. Resale value will go down, partly from those numbers, partly from stigma. How will buyers be compensated? The fines should be directed towards reducing air pollution & compensating buyers, not dumped into general funds.