Following an announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board (EPA and CARB) alleging that the Volkswagen Group has violated US emission regulations by fitting its cars with a software that is able to turn off the vehicle's emissions control system, Volkswagen has announced that it has ordered an independent investigation on the matter.
It alleges that the software is fitted on diesel-powered Volkswagen and Audi models made between 2009 to 2015.
A statement released by the EPA reads, “As described in the NOV (notice of violation), a sophisticated software algorithm on certain Volkswagen vehicles detects when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and turns full emissions controls on only during the test. The effectiveness of these vehicles’ pollution emissions control devices is greatly reduced during all normal driving situations. This results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory or testing station, but during normal operation, emit nitrogen oxides, or NOx, at up to 40 times the standard. The software produced by Volkswagen is a ‘defeat device,’ as defined by the Clean Air Act.”
It adds, “EPA and CARB uncovered the defeat device software after independent analysis by researchers at West Virginia University, working with the International Council on Clean Transportation, a non-governmental organization, raised questions about emissions levels, and the agencies began further investigations into the issue. In September, after EPA and CARB demanded an explanation for the identified emission problems, Volkswagen admitted that the cars contained defeat devices.”
In response, Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen AG has said that the company has ordered a group of independent, external investigators to look into the allegations.
In a press statement released today, Winterkorn said: “The Board of Management at Volkswagen AG takes these findings very seriously. I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public. We will cooperate 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 and will not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law.
“The trust of our customers and the public is and continues to be our most important asset. We at Volkswagen will do everything that must be done in order to re-establish the trust that so many people have placed in us, and we will do everything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused. This matter has first priority for me, personally, and for our entire Board of Management.”
Cycle Beating – Everyone does it, but don’t get caught
Like many developed countries, the US has strict regulations on vehicle emissions and fuel consumption.
As it is not possible to test every single car model that is sold in the country, the EPA accepts emissions testing results conducted internally by the vehicle manufacturer, accepting it on goodwill that the tests are conducted in accordance to the requirements set by the EPA.
At the same time, the EPA will also conduct random testing on its own.
The use of a ‘defeat device’ is well known in the industry and if the allegations are proven to be true, then it is a case of “Everyone does it, but Volkswagen was unfortunate enough to get caught.”
Regulators are well aware of the existence of such software being loaded into cars, but it is difficult to conclusively prove it.
Emissions tests are often conducted in a very specific manner, following a very specific driving pattern. Thus, it is quite possible for any manufacturer to load a customised software into the vehicle’s engine computer, enabling it to tell if the vehicle is being put through an emissions test.
In 2014, the EPA slapped Hyundai and Kia with a total fine of USD300 million for overstating its fuel economy claims, the highest fine paid to the EPA in history.
In the same year, Ford was forced by the EPA to compensate more than 200,000 customers in the US with payments ranging from USD200 to USD1,500 after it was found to have overstated the fuel economy of Fiesta, C-Max, Fusion and Lincolm MKZ models sold in the US. It however, escaped hefty fines after the company agreed to re-test the vehicles under the supervision of EPA officials.