After VW fakery, EPA to change diesel testing

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

EPA to automakers: We won’t get fooled again.

WASHINGTON — US environmental regulators will add more spot-checks to cars already on the road following Volkswagen’s (VW’s) admission that it fitted as many as 11-million diesel cars worldwide with software that rigged pollution tests. “We are upping our game,” said Christopher Grundler, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Transportation and Air Quality. That’s essentially the message the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just sent to manufacturers about its new, more stringent emissions testing just a week after charging Volkswagen with gaming diesel emissions tests by using a “defeating device.” Things have moved swiftly since then. In a letter to auto manufacturers, the EPA said it will add on-road testing to its regimen, “using driving cycles and conditions that may reasonably be expected to be encountered in normal operation and use, for the purposes of investigating a potential defeat device” similar to the one used by Volkswagen.

The company’s CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned on Thursday after saying he would do no such thing on Tuesday and now other auto manufacturers are being dragging into the scandal. The hullabaloo also exposed flaws and gaps in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions testing practices that allowed Volkswagen to sell some 482,000 emissions skirting vehicles in the US over the course of seven years. The EPA, which also has something of a black eye from this whole mess, now says that it will be “adding to its confirmatory testing additional evaluations designed to look for potential defeat devices.” It’s worth noting that the agency does not single out diesel cars and instead implies that all emission standards for all kinds of fuel face new and more stringent scrutiny. It already has on-road testing ability but it has only been used to check manufacturer’s petrol mileage estimates and diesel trucks, two situations in which they had uncovered emissions cheating in the past. Such testing can be expected in addition to the standard emissions test cycles when Emissions Data Vehicles (EDV), and Fuel Economy Data Vehicles (FEDV) are tested by EPA.” TL;DR?

The agency is going to “look at all of the other models aggressively and do the testing we need to make sure there aren’t any hidden software devices or other ways that could defeat the emission system,” McCarthy said. The scandal now engulfing VW, which has admitted to outfitting cars with software designed to give false readings on emission tests, is unique both for the number of vehicles involved, and the digital complexity. The EPA and the California Air Resources Board have engineers who are “developing clever ways in which these things can be detected,” Grundler says.

That’s not surprising given how Volkswagen’s defeat devices apparently worked — detecting when only one set of wheels were moving so it could turn it on during the test and turn it off for standard, on-the-road driving. Reuters points out a tweet posted Thursday by Italian Transport Minister Graziano Delrio stating there will be 1,000 sample checks for all automakers selling vehicles in Italy.

VW then admitted it had sold 1973 model year cars with the devices, which consisted of temperature-sensing switches that cut out pollution controls at low temperatures. Regulators worldwide are miffed in the wake of the admission that 11 million Volkswagen Group autos, which includes Audi, Porsche and other brands, contain the software. Grundler, who has been with the EPA for more than three decades, says the lack of on-road testing for diesels “might change in the future.” An announcement of the changes could come on Friday.

The current VW case resembles a 1998 case involving seven manufacturers of heavy-duty truck engines: Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Mack Trucks, Navistar International Transportation, Renault Vehicules Industriels and Volvo Truck. The companies agreed to spend more than $1bn, including $83.4m in penalties, to settle the case — the biggest civil fine to that point for violating an environmental law. VW was able to fool the EPA because the agency only tested the cars on treadmill-like devices called dynamometers and didn’t use portable test equipment on real roads.

The EPA says about 500,000 U.S. cars including the Jetta, Golf, Beetle, Passat and Audi A3 have the cheating software, and VW says a total of 11 million cars have it worldwide. The software in the cars’ engine-control computers checked the speed, steering wheel position, air pressure and other factors to determine when dynamometer tests were underway. VW started the scheme with the 2009 model year, and may not have been caught without testing performed at West Virginia University on behalf of the International Council on Clean Transportation, a non-profit group that advises governments on regulations. Bill Nelson of Florida is frustrated that regulatory agencies such as the EPA are failing to protect the public. “Seven years is way too long a time that the EPA has been asleep at the switch,” he says. He says the VW case has similarities to those involving General Motors ‘ defective ignition switches and Takata Corp.’s exploding air bag inflators, where it also took years before those problems were disclosed to consumers.

European regulators were looking into VW’s on-road diesel emissions as far back as 2012, and since diesels make up half the cars there, the EPA decided to let Europe take the lead, he says.

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