According to the Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 18, 2015, Volkswagen has deliberately violated the Clean Air Act via sophisticated software in its diesel-powered vehicles. This software enabled cars sold for the past six years to pass emissions tests but then pollute horribly when taken back on the road.
When the cheating software detects an emissions test, it activates full emissions controls — but solely during the test. Otherwise, such cars’ emissions violate federal standards.
This “defeat device,” as the EPA dubbed the software, is designed to subvert official tests and enable 2009-2015 Beetle, Jetta, Golf, VW-owned Audi and Passat models equipped with two-liter diesel engines to emit up to 40 times more pollution than is allowed under U.S. emissions standards, while cloaking that fact during emissions tests.
VW’s more profitable Porsche sports cars are not part of the equation.
VW’s emissions test tricks involved installing software in vehicles sold in the U.S. that gave a misleadingly low nitrogen-oxide reading during emissions tests. Nitrogen oxide is a gas that contributes to smog and respiratory ailments such as emphysema, asthma and bronchitis.
The tricky software was able to sense when an emissions test was being run by assessing the vehicle’s speed and its steering wheel’s position, then reconfiguring the engine to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions — but only for the test. Then the pollutants returned to normal levels for the cars — which is to say, quite high and far beyond EPA standards.
Volkswagen also indicated it will cease selling the rest of its 2015 model Volkswagen and VW-owned Audi cars with 4-cylinder turbo diesel engines and will not offer its 2016 diesel cars, which had just begun arriving at U.S. VW dealerships.
Germany’s Volkswagen, whose brands also include Lamborghini and Bentley, recently topped Toyota as the world’s No. 1 auto seller. Yet it’s had trouble building its empire in the United States, where it’s claimed just 2% of the market.
Recently VW has intensified its North American strategy by constructing a major assembly plant in Tennessee and starting to build a plant in Mexico to make Audi SUVs.
In the U.S., besides an EPA investigation, the Justice Department has launched a criminal probe into VW’s action. In the end, VW may face fines of as much as $18 billion, reports the Associated Press.
German authorities are staging their own tests to ensure that VW diesels comply with Europe’s own emissions laws. The European Commission, administrative arm of the European Union, has contacted Volkswagen and the EPA for details.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn has apologized, saying VW had “broken the trust of our customers and the public.”
The automaker also has set aside $7.27 billion to cover the scandal’s potential costs, which will include recalls, repairs and lawsuits, not to mention reduced sales.
Already, on Sept. 21, 2015 VW’s stock shares in Europe dropped by as much as 23%, wiping out more than $17 billion in value.
In all, the Volkswagen recall to fix illegal emissions test software involves at least 500,000 vehicles sold in the U.S. and about 11 million vehicles sold worldwide (diesel engines are far more common in Europe than in the U.S.).
In the U.S., the government-ordered recall involves 482,000 VW and Audi cars produced by Volkswagen since 2009.
However, the EPA assures owners and drivers of such cars that they are safe and legal to drive and resell and no action is needed at this time.
Some owners received a $1,300 federal tax credit for buying a Jetta wagon or sedan in 2009, based on the federal government’s belief that the vehicles had “clean” diesel engines. In fact, they were spewing pollutants far beyond federal standards — except when tested.
The scandal is likely to stall VW’s efforts to expand its sales in the U.S., where it’s been promoting diesel engines it claimed were “clean” and more fuel-efficient than gasoline engines, but also environmentally responsible.
In response to the scandal, VW lawsuits are being prepared against the automaker. Law firms may take cases on the basis of Volkswagen having deceived consumers into thinking they were buying environmentally friendly vehicles.
Also, VW owners’ vehicles may have lost much resale value due to the illegal software scandal, costing them money. That, too, can be the basis of a VW lawsuit.
Beyond that, when repairs are made on recalled autos, their fuel consumption is likely to increase, costing owners more for diesel fuel.
If you own a 2009-2015 Volkswagen Beetle, Jetta, Golf, Audi or Passat car equipped with a two-liter diesel engine, notify Jim Adler & Associates. You may be entitled to financial compensation.