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Carmakers face emissions probe after Volkswagen recall

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Pressure is mounting on Volkswagen after 11 million diesel cars sold worldwide were fitted with software that disguises pollution levels during testing.

The German carmaker was ordered by US regulators to recall half a million diesel cars on Friday (September 18).

The ‘defeat device’ allows cars to pass lab testing even though they actually emit 40 times the emissions standard. 

It affects 2009-14 Jettas, Beetles, Audi A3s and Golfs and 2014-15 Passats.

The US Environmental Protection Agency said that the fine for each vehicle that did not comply with federal clean air rules would be up to £24,000. With 482,000 cars sold since 2008 involved in the allegations, it means the fines could reach £11.5 billion.

The German government is investigating whether other companies are massaging their emissions data. The American regulator is widening its probe to other carmakers.

A Volkswagen statement said in total 11 million diesel cars worldwide were affected.

Volkswagen said: "Discrepancies relate to vehicles with Type EA 189 engines, involving some eleven million vehicles worldwide. A noticeable deviation between bench test results and actual road use was established solely for this type of engine. Volkswagen is working intensely to eliminate these deviations through technical measures."

Other governments have announced they will also investigate, with South Korea saying it will test up to 5,000 Jetta and Golf cars, along with Audi A3s made in 2014 and 2015.

The probe will be expanded to all German diesel cars if issues are found.

Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn apologised and said he would support the German transport ministry's investigation into the carmaker.

He said: "I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public.”

He has launched an investigation into the software that allowed Volkswagen cars to emit less during tests than they would while driving normally.

Volkswagen has also stopped selling the relevant diesel models in the US, where diesel cars account for about a quarter of its sales.

Regulations affecting diesel cars in the US are much stricter in the US and they represent just 3% of the new car market.

However, half of all new cars sold in the UK are diesel, with the company car market favouring the fuel.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "We are closely monitoring the situation and have been pushing for action at a European level for more accurate tests that reflect driving on the road.

"It's vital that the public has confidence in vehicle emissions tests and I am calling for the European Commission to investigate this issue as a matter of urgency."

BVRLA Chief Executive Gerry Keaney said: “We look forward to the results of the investigation, and will be monitoring the situation to see if similar activity also took place in the UK market.

"In recent years, the UK’s tax regime has encouraged fleets to choose vehicles based on official emissions figures, and while our emissions test is a fundamentally different system to the US, these revelations reinforce the need for a more accurate testing regime.

“These investigations have only just begun, so we’re watching closely to see if the scope widens further to include other manufacturers and vehicles. It is difficult to comment any further about potential impacts until we have a better understanding of how governments, manufacturers and customers react.”

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  • Peter Bonney - 22/09/2015 10:57

    One report stated the cheat was achieved by urea being injected in to the exhaust system when the car recognised it was being tested. Surely, this would only be possible on diesels fitted with the adblue type system? Doesn't anyone else find it scary that cars can now tell when they are being tested?

  • Sage & Onion - 22/09/2015 12:20

    Are we surprised that cheating goes on in these lab tests? It is commonly discussed these days that in real world driving, fuel economy (which is the closest link to how the layman can measure pollutants) is nowhere near the manufacturers stated figures (obtained from their lab tests) and it has been suggested to me in the past that various elements of "cheating" goes on in these tests by manufacturers to produce favourable mpg and emissions results. So I don't believe VW are alone in this. Interesting how they are only concerned with diesel though when the USA tend to favour larger petrol engines. Maybe they see diesel as a threat to reducing revenues from petrol sales? But if the "defeat device" is clever enough to detect testing by certain inputs (presumably throttle position etc) then does that mean that the results are achievable if the driver drives it sensibly? Or is there a secret manual switch that the tester (or someone else remotely) has to activate? In which case that is naughty. And how big an issue is this when you consider that some drivers and companies like to re-map engines on the after market, which alters the manufacturers engine management systems anyway?

  • FleetEnergyWatcher - 23/09/2015 10:01

    Was this all about VW in the US being afraid of retail buyers' reaction to having to use AdBlue? It's hard enough selling diesel cars to US buyers as it is, and then you have to tell them to buy this urea stuff as well ("no, Charlene, it's not made from THAT"), which costs twice as much in the US it does here. Very tempting to tweak the vehicles to use much less of the stuff except during official testing. Definitely better than the alternative - owners voiding warranties by fitting DIY AdBlue 'defeat switches' as sold on Ebay for the price of 10 litres of urea solution. It's a ridiculous thing for VW to chuck its reputation into the dumpster over - and probably see some of its US execs jailed for as well (or maybe not, VW is also a bank) - but these things happen and they'll get over it eventually. The bigger picture is that the affair is symptomatic of the diminishing returns on complexity. Eventually, combustion vehicles will use most of their power just to run the systems required to make them road legal. Starts to make EVs seems like models of elegant simplicity.

  • Roger Hill - 23/09/2015 11:39

    Now who picked up the 'get out of jail free' card at the last VW boardroom round of changes? Whats the market value of that?

  • Sage & Onion - 23/09/2015 18:14

    After reading more articles on this issue, the following possibilities are nagging at me. Firstly, regarding the "defeat device". This device apparently measures inputs from throttle position, engine speed, air pressure, and steering wheel position, so that it can tell when its on a test bed situation. So, when a vehicle goes into a dealer for a "loss of power" fault, how does the dealer know what is causing the fault if it turns out the defeat device is faulty or putting the car into limp mode? This might explain quite a few "No Fault Found" episodes, or even explain repeat visits for the same "no fault" which strangely corrects itself. And this isn't limited to VW at all. And how many other Fleet Managers have had drivers report that their car suddenly goes into limp mode for no reason on motorways for example? Is the constant throttle position, constant engine speed, very little steering input, and low air pressure (if in the slip stream of another vehicle) causing the defeat device to kick in? Again, not limited to VW at all. Secondly, if there is a recall in the UK where these devices are removed, will that then cause cars to start failing MOT's on the emissions test? That could be a massive issue. But I still can't believe that VW are isolated in this, despite the SMMT coming out and declaring that it's not widespread in the industry, so I wouldn't make any knee-jerk reactions just yet. After all, consider all the platform and engine sharing that goes on in the industry, there's bound to be some cross-contamination in the industry, surely? Just my opinion. And just to inject a bit of humour, we'll wait for Boris to announce that all VW diesels are banned from the London Low Emission Zone.

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