EPA to road test cars after Volkswagen emissions scandal

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

E.P.A. to Bolster Testing Because of Volkswagen Scandal.

With its stock prices plummeting, federal fines looming and a changing of the guard, this has been a rough week for the Volkswagen Group. 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.

— The top U.S. environmental regulator says she wants to make sure Volkswagen’s use of software in its vehicles to evade U.S. auto emissions limits was a “one-off,” and other models will be tested aggressively to determine if other carmakers are trying to defeat pollution tests. The agency said Volkswagen had used a device programmed to fool emissions testers into thinking that the car was emitting much less pollution than it was during regular driving. “Manufacturers should expect that this additional testing may add time to the confirmatory test process,” the E.P.A. wrote in its brief letter.

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. 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 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. 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?

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. 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. Regulators worldwide are miffed in the wake of VW’s admission that as many as 11 million of its diesel cars sold globally are outfitted with the emission cheating software.

Chris Grundler, head of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality, defended the agency’s testing procedures, noting that passenger vehicles with diesel engines account for far less than 1 per cent of overall vehicle emissions of nitrogen oxides and other pollutants. The agency did have on-road testing equipment – but it was assigned to monitor automaker gas mileage estimates and heavy-duty diesel trucks, where cheating had been uncovered in the past. 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. VW has admitted to installing software on Volkswagen and Audi cars with four-cylinder diesel engines that switches on pollution controls when they are being tested. 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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