The Volkswagen Screw Up

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Didn’t we all think that VW were the good guys?

For a long time Volkswagen has been widely known as one of the most successful auto-makers. We all believed in the company’s ability to design great cars that just like The Beetle, might go through several obstacles and still be preserved in the production line. But the latest events have made us believe quite the contrary. As announced by Volkswagen, there are over 11 million VW cars equipped with an illegal software that reduces the cars’ emissions whenever they go through emission test. According to an article by The Wall Street Journal, the automaker has told the German government “that some of its European-sold diesel-powered cars are affected by the same software that helped some of its vehicles evade emissions-testing standards in the U.S.”

What’s more heartbreaking is the fact that VW is responsible for several early deaths in Europe as well as in the US. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “in 2010 there were ~160 000 premature deaths in the US due to PM2.5exposure and ~4300 deaths related to ozone exposure (US EPA 2011).” A new study in the Environmental Research Letters estimated that VW’s cheating emissions are responsible for at least 60 early deaths in the US. “The exact amount of the excess NOx emissions and the location of these emissions from the VW vehicles with the defeat device is a part of our ongoing investigation, so we can’t provide specific estimates at this time,” an EPA spokesperson explained. Researchers are currently working on figuring out the negative effects VW’s scandal has had in Europe, where the number of early deaths is expected to be higher compared to the US. This is quite striking an accusation and makes the big picture even more puzzling. Is this some sort of a bad PR, some would ask?

 

The discovery

Back in 2014, some road tests made by the West Virginia University researchers, revealed suspicious emissions results. Two VW models were tested: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta and 2012 Volkswagen Passat. When tested on highways, the 2011 VW Jetta released 15 times more nitrogen oxides per kilometer than the allowed US limit of 0.04 grams/ kilometer. When tested on urban roads in Los Angeles and San Diego, the car emitted 25 times and 37 times more respectively. While up and downhill on rural streets, the car emitted up to 38 times more. The 2012 VW Passat’s emissions tests showed similar results on road tests. The car emitted 9 times more on highways, 17- 20 times more on urban roads, and 17 times the allowed limit on rural roads.

VW’s cheating software allowed certain cars to reduce emissions by using a special equipment that was activated during the times the car was undergoing an emission test. “The software turned the equipment off during regular driving, increasing emissions far above legal limits, possibly to save fuel or to improve the car’s torque and acceleration,” according to a recent article by The New York Times, which explained that VW was using two technology forms to reduce emissions: one is by trapping the pollutants and the other by treating them with urea.

 

Is it the first time VW tries to cheat?

It turns out this is not the first time the popular automaker has tried to cheat. In 1973 VW was fined $120,000 for equipping its vehicles with a similar software that was able to regulate the car’s pollution control systems. “When the United States began regulating tailpipe pollutants in the 1970s, Volkswagen was one of the first companies caught cheating. […] This time, it equipped its vehicles with software that was programmed to fake test results, an action the E.P.A. rebuked in 1998, when it reached a $1 billion settlement with truck-engine manufacturers for doing the same thing,” according to a New York Times article. Among the VW cars that contain the software are Jetta (2009 -2015), Beetle and Beetle Convertible (2012-2015), Passat (2012- 2015), Jetta SportWagen (2009-2014), Golf (2010- 2015), Golf SportWagen 2015, as well as the Touareg (2009- 2016). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found out that other car models that contain a similar software are Porsche Cayenne (2013- 2016) and several Audi models such as A6 Quattro (2014-2016), A7 Quattro (2014- 2016), A8 and A8L (2014-2016), Q5 (2014-2016), and Q7 (2009-2016).

 

“The Environmental Protection Agency said that in September it would order Volkswagen to recall seven of its American car models with affected engines, which amount to total of about 500,000 vehicles. Volkswagen has not released a list of international models — which make up the majority of the 11 million affected vehicles — that have engines with the software in question,” according to WSJ.

 

Will the cars be repaired, and if so when?

The company has announced that it plans to fix all of the cars that contain the illegal software by installing a tubular part that will make most of its vehicles comply with the European standards, which compared to the American standards, are way lower. “In the United States, consumers may have to wait more than a year. Many of the vehicles will require a hardware and software change, a major repair that could take as much as 10 hours per car. In the meantime, the company said it would offer up to $1,000 to owners of diesel cars in the United States,” the WSJ reported. VW has announced that it will start fixing the cars in January of 2016, free of charge. An article by the Telegraph has explained in details how to tell if your car has the illegal software, whether you need to get your car fixed or not, what you may face in case you don’t get it fixed, and whether the scandal will affect your car’s insurance policy.

“An easy way to find out is to check your V5C documents and service books to see if you have the Type EA189 engine. You can also call the VW UK customer care centre to confirm your engine type,” according to the Telegraph. In case you find out that your car is in fact one of the vehicles that needs a software update, you are not obligated to return your car to VW and get it fixed. According to a spokesman of the Department of Transport, if you decide to do nothing about the problem, “that wouldn’t be illegal,” but he suggests drivers to get the cars fixed if they don’t want to spend more money in the long term. The Telegraph also assured all owners of the affected cars that their car insurance will not be affected by the scandal. “Our car insurance customers can be reassured that there are no implications for their insurance and they will continue to be covered as usual,” Aviva senior motor underwriting manager, Colin Harvey said for the Telegraph.

 

What will happen next?

After the scandal, VW has withdrawn the EPA application for its upcoming 2016 vehicles in the States mainly because the company is still working on finding a way to fix the vehicles that have the cheating software. The application withdraw may come also due to the fact that the company may still be working on finding “a good way to pass emissions tests without cheating,” as Wired put it. “The fix is not only too costly, but may not even be functional yet,” Rebecca Lindland, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book said for Wired. “If there was a software fix they would have implemented it long ago. This isn’t a simple matter of a recall or fixing a broken or compromised part. This is the entire power-train, impacting the daily driving experience, not just in specific situations. This impacts the very foundation of the vehicle.”

The scandal has cost VW a lot of money, and it is not over yet. In the US, VW sales percent has gone down by approximately 25%. The company was able to sell 23,882 vehicles by November 2015, while in November 2014 VW sold 31,725 cars in the US. According to a post on the VW official website, VW CEO Martin Winterkorn announced his resignation saying that being the company’s CEO, it was his full responsibility for the current events. “As CEO I accept responsibility for the irregularities that have been found in diesel engines and have therefore requested the Supervisory Board to agree on terminating my function as CEO of the Volkswagen Group. I am doing this in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrong doing on my part,” Winterkorn said. According to Reuter reports, Winterkorn will be replaced by Porsche CEO Matthias Müeller. Currently VW is facing several lawsuits from its clients, while in the US, the regulators are still waiting for further details whether the VW models can be fixed or not before they order the company to recall all vehicles equipped with the cheating software.

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About the Author:

Juxhina Malaj - a wanderluster and bibliophile who loves photography, nature, documentary films, re-watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and drinking green tea.
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