Known globally as the ‘diesel dupe’, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recently uncovered that many Volkswagen (VW) vehicles sold in this country had specific devices fitted that could change a vehicle’s emissions during tests. Essentially, if the device detected a test, it would automatically change its performance, thereby delivering better results. Since this came to light, VW, a German car manufacturer, has been forced to admit that it did indeed cheat on its US emissions tests.

VW has been trying very hard to sell diesel vehicles in this country. To achieve this, they launched a major marketing campaign that hailed the vehicles’ low emissions. However, the EPA findings, which looked at 482,000 cars (Audi A3, VW Beetle, Jetta, Passat and Golf), found that these vehicles did not actually have the low emissions that were promised. Since then, VW has admitted that this issue is not only true for cars in this country, but actually affects 11 million cars around the globe, 8 million of which are in Europe.

“The world’s largest auto manufacturer by sales in the first half of this year still faces a growing tangle of legal threats after it admitted that as many as 11 million of its diesel cars worldwide are equipped with software capable of fooling official pollution tests.”

It isn’t entirely clear how the device works. However, according to the EPA, computer software is installed on the engine that enables it to detect test scenarios. During testing, a vehicle is usually on a stationary rig and at this point, the software would place it in ‘testing mode’, meaning lower performance and power was emitted. Once off the rig, the car would switch back to normal mode automatically.

The results of this were quite shocking. The actual nitrogen oxide pollutants emitted by these vehicles were as much as 40 times higher than what is legally allowed in this country. So not only were consumers being duped into believing they drove a relatively green car, the environment as a whole was being damaged beyond belief as well.

VW Takes It a Step Too Far

It is interesting to note that there have been various emissions measuring problems in vehicles across a range of manufacturers.

“New test results published today showed that dozens of diesel cars from multiple manufacturers fail to meet specified European emission targets. Vehicles from Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo, and Jeep were all tested in real-world conditions — and all of them found severely wanting.”

However, this is due to the fact that the tests are wrong. It is very difficult to take accurate measurements on emissions. This is something that the EU has been aware of for a long time and some environmental activists suggest that vehicle manufacturers are essentially given a ‘free pass’ to pollute as much as they want. The difference with VW, however, is that they actually installed a device to cheat the tests even more.

The Real Consequences of the Emissions Scandal

Ever since the news of the VW emission cheat broke out, people have been wondering what this actually means for the environment and themselves. Researchers have completed a piece of work and the results are grim. They actually showed that 59 premature deaths have been caused by the cheat in the US alone.

“The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters on Thursday, concluded that most of the 59 premature deaths were caused by particulate pollution (87%) with the rest caused by ozone exposure (13%). Most of the deaths were estimated to have occurred on the east and west coasts of the US.”

This is a shocking statistic and, considering some 11 million vehicles have actually been affected worldwide, it is likely that the figure is actually much higher.

Another substantial consequence is found in the fact that people who were actively trying to lower their carbon footprint to protect the environment feel that they have been conned. They chose VW vehicles specifically because they wanted to make a positive impact on the world and have instead made the situation worse.

The VW Response

The VW response to the crisis has been nothing short of interesting. They have admitted to the fact that they have cheated. They have also confessed that some 11 million vehicles around the globe have been affected. They have even expressed their ‘deepest apologies’ and the company’s entire senior management structure has had a huge shake up. However, they have also been very quick to pass the blame. One way in which they have tried to do this is by blaming the EU.

“In a letter to Antonio Tajani, the European commissioner in charge of industrial policy, written in February 2013, Mr Potocnik said ministers from several EU countries believed the “significant discrepancy” between how cars performed in the real world compared with in the testing laboratory was the “primary reason” air quality standards were not falling to levels required by EU law.”

This does indeed show that the EU was aware of problems for the past two years and failed to take action. While activists and protesters agree that this is a huge failure on the part of world governments, they feel that VW had the opportunity to make changes in 2013, but chose not to do so. After all, if the EU was aware of the problem, so was VW.

As VW had to admit that it is true that they shouldn’t have broken the rules just because they could break them, their focus shifted elsewhere. Instead of blaming the EU, therefore, they are now blaming software engineers.

“Horn claimed the defeat devices were put in place by a few rogue software engineers. ‘This was not a corporate decision, from my point of view, and to my best knowledge today,’ he said. ‘This was a couple of software engineers who put this in for whatever reasons.’ Volkswagen has not been able to identify who these individuals might be, or even how many would have been involved in the scheme, according to the CEO.”

After Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, called for VW to make full disclosures on the situation and stated that the reputation of the company and, in fact, Germany as a whole, would depend on the response of VW, it seems this blame game is falling on deaf ears. In fact, many of those addressed by Horn when blaming the engineers, feel that it showed arrogance on the part of the German manufacturer. Whether or not VW will be able to recover remains to be seen. They have taken a serious hit both financially and in terms of their customers’ trust.