EPA says VW running massive Clean Air scam via Jettas, Audis, Passats

20 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Carmaker is accused of fiddling emissions tests.

Los Angeles: The investigation into Volkswagen’s alleged attempt to circumvent emissions standards on nearly half a million diesel vehicles could give a black eye to both the brand and diesel technology. “It’s pretty ugly,” said Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer. “Volkswagen has far outstripped everyone else in selling diesel cars. The German carmaker, which vies with Japan’s Toyota as the world’s biggest, has never made much of an impression in the land of the gas-guzzler with its small saloons and hatchbacks. This challenges everything they’ve been saying about those vehicles.” VW and others have marketed diesels as a fun-to-drive alternative to other green technologies, such as hybrids, often with leafy marketing about environmental benefits.

The US has higher emissions standards than the rest of the world and a history of enforcing them, so Mock and his American counterpart, John German, were sure the US versions of the vehicles would pass the emissions tests, German said. VW admitted systematically cheating on U.S. air pollution tests for years, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday in citing violations that could add up to $18 billion in fines. During normal driving situations, the controls are turned off, allowing the cars to spew as much as 40 times the pollution allowed under the Clean Air Act, the EPA said. “We expected better from Volkswagen,” said Ms Cynthia Giles, the EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance. The school’s Centre for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions had the right equipment — a portable emission measurement system to stick in the car trunk, attached to a probe to shove up the exhaust pipe.

The agency accuses VW of equipping its cars with software that can detect the test for emissions of nitrogen dioxide and switch the cars into a clean-running mode that can restrict those emissions significantly. The German automaker last year sold 78,847 diesel passenger vehicles in the US, well ahead of its nearest competitor, according to online auto sales company TrueCar. Testers drove the monitor-equipped diesels from San Diego to Seattle because if Volkswagen had gamed the emission test, they couldn’t be sure how, German said. The EPA, working with the Justice Department, is likely to push for a stiff fine because there are clear violations of the law and harm to the environment, said Margo Oge, former director of the agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality.

In another cheating case years ago, he said, long-haul trucks were equipped with devices that allowed the engines to gradually discharge more and more harmful nitrogen oxides the longer the vehicle cruised at the same speed. In Europe, where carmakers are responsible for testing the fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions of their vehicles on an official cycle, independent testing organisations, which rely on the car companies for business, promise to “optimise” the tests.

The gap between the mileages achieved on test tracks using a preset routine of gentle accelerations and low speeds and real-world roads has become a chasm. Modern electronics can even detect the pattern of the start of the test and switch into a special “economy mode” that makes for even lower emissions as the European regulation allow it, as well as the use of prototypes engineered to be as frugal as possible. They might even become the Milli Vanilli of the auto world, Lyman said — a reference to the musical duo that suffered bad PR when it was revealed its singers were lip-synching to other people’s recorded voices — and be asked to give back awards won by its “clean diesel” vehicles. Lawyers familiar with automotive law say the company could face criminal exposure if prosecutors agree with the EPA’s assertion about the defeat device. Over the next year, EPA officials said that owners of the affected vehicles should expect to receive recall notices from the company, including information about how to get their cars repaired at no cost to them.

Carmakers are required to state fuel-efficiency figures and emissions levels before a car goes on sale and the EPA subsequently acquires and tests production cars to check the results. Someone at VW had to decide that cheating the system was going to be a better use of time, money and resources than meeting the regulatory requirements, Tynan said. “It sounds pretty damning from what EPA said,” said Carl Tobias, a products-liability law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “I think they need to be worried about more than just the fines.” “It may be that DOJ will pursue some kind of criminal charge, and that could be very serious,” Tobias said.

But as the test routine is unlike real-world driving it would be possible to programme a car’s software to recognise it and temporarily change the characteristics of the engine to improve emissions. Last year, Mercedes-Benz was accused of overstating fuel economy performance of its vehicles by 40 percent compared with real-world results, according to a study by Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment. Tobias, the products liability law professor, said it will be easier in some states than others to establish a class of consumers who can claim injury from Volkswagen’s actions. VW may have found it easier to write software that passed EPA tests than compromise the way its diesels drive, he said. “We’re not discussing what the California fines might be at this point,” said David Clegern, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, in an e-mail Friday. “Our priority is to get these vehicles into compliance and proceed from there.

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