EU could toughen car emission tests after VW scandal

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Business Highlights.

EU officials had warned of the dangers of defeat devices two years before the Volkswagen emissions scandal broke, highlighting Europe’s failure to police the car industry.WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that it will launch sweeping changes to the way it tests for diesel emissions after getting duped by clandestine software in Volkswagen cars for seven years.

Why would a company that relies on public trust and a reputation for ace engineering risk $18 billion in penalties, corporate ignominy and global embarrassment? A 2013 report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre drew attention to the challenges defeat devices posed and how they were able to skew results of exhaust readings from diesel vehicles.

The German automaker this week admitted that 11 million of its diesel cars sold globally are outfitted with software that skirts emissions regulations. In a letter to car 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 EPA sent automakers a letter announcing expanded efforts to uncover “defeat devices” and other mechanisms to thwart air pollution laws, agency officials said at a news conference. It would be a modern-day David and Goliath story except the David figure was not really the EPA; it was West Virginia University and a non-profit organization called the International Council on Clean Transportation that initially revealed VW’s fraud on its own customers and anyone making use of their lungs. But the officials said details of the new procedures will be kept confidential to make it harder for the industry to use technology to circumvent them. 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.

When they found that certain diesel-powered VW cars were rolling pollution factories in spite of the German company’s claims to the contrary, they were kind enough to alert the EPA and the EPA swung into action. The overall economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.9 per cent in the April-June quarter, up from a previous estimate of 3.7 per cent, the Commerce Department reported Friday. The additional monitoring will help to ensure that “the industry is competing on a level playing field and that consumers are getting what they paid for,” she said. 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? Instead, it was the victim of VW’s conspiracy of lies until the university and the ICCT determined that VW’s emissions figures were too good to be true.

Regulators will be especially vigilant for technical tricks, such as the altered software that VW engineers used to fool the EPA’s pollution tests on nearly half a million cars, said Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. “We are not going to tell them what these tests are; they do not need to know,” Grundler said of automakers. “They only need to know that we will be keeping their vehicles longer and driving them more.” The VW cheating scandal was initially discovered by outside contractors using portable monitors that measure emissions while a car is on the highway. To try to understand the thinking behind the Volkswagen scandal, it helps to recognize the underlying attitude the auto industry has displayed for decades in the face of government efforts to cut emissions and improve efficiency—the key steps in fighting auto-induced smog and global warming: Don’t tell us how to build the cars we put on your highways. The agency is using random spot checks of production cars to make sure that automakers are being honest and to detect any other rule-breaking technology, like VW’s sneaky emissions software that tested clean in a lab but ran dirtier in real-world conditions. The second quarter expansion in the gross domestic product, the economy’s total output of goods and services, was a marked improvement from an anemic 0.6 per cent increase in the first quarter when the economy was battered by a harsh winter. Grundler said the EPA had been using the same devices for years but had focused its testing on large trucks, which account for far more air pollution than the relatively small number of diesel-fueled passenger cars in the United States.

The issue heated up this week on news that Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of Daraprim, the only approved treatment for a rare, life-threatening parasitic infection, by more than 5,000 per cent to $750 a pill. Agency officials repeated assurances that VW and Audi models with the “defeat devices” were safe to drive and said the manufacturer will eventually be required to make repairs at no cost to consumers, though it may be months before potential recall notices are issued. What can you say about an industry in which the first question that comes up on the showroom floor with a customer about to spend half a year’s salary is: “What color do you want?” VW is not alone in trying to get around mileage-and-emissions requirements.

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. From 2008 through 2014, average prices for the most widely used brand-name drugs jumped 128 per cent, according to prescription benefit manager Express Scripts Holding Co. Over the past four decades, Ford has been forced to roll back its claimed efficiency, Hyundai-Kia has been fined for lying about its gas mileage, and Chrysler, General Motors, and Honda, along with most diesel engine manufacturers, have been caught cheating on clean air tests.

In many others, their own laboratory tests were too narrowly applied, the equivalent of sampling a couple of food items from a vast buffet to pass judgment on the whole dining experience. Its chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, stepped down this week, and the company is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department and faces billions of dollars in fines. In VW’s case, engineers devised a software trick, known as a “defeat device,” that let its diesel-powered cars deliver acceptably clean results only when being tested, while on the road they spewed the lung-damaging soot and nitrogen oxides that cause smog and exacerbate asthma and other lung diseases. The inability of regulators across the EU to expose this deceit has shone a spotlight on the lobbying power of the European motor industry, which has made a huge gamble on diesel. SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — For a change, Silicon Valley is buzzing about something besides a sleek new device, mind-bending breakthrough or precocious billionaire.

A rare visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this weekend has captivated his extensive fan club in the area and commanded the attention of major U.S. technology companies eager to extend their reach into a promising overseas market. It will also give Modi, a Hindu nationalist elected to office last year, an opportunity use the world’s high-tech capital as a pulpit to promote his plan to transform India into a hub of innovation.

He envisions a “Digital India,” where ubiquitous high-speed Internet access will empower entrepreneurs to build software and other technology products that will raise the standard of living in a country where many households are still impoverished. Well more than a decade ago, the Bluewater Network of San Francisco, an environmental group whose targets included the dirty, two-stroke engines then prevalent in personal watercraft and snowmobiles, published a paper called Fuel Economy Falsehoods. On-road emissions tests conducted by the JRC “show that the real-world nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions of . . . light-duty diesel vehicles substantially exceed the regulatory emissions standards,” the study added. “The existing on-road tests unequivocally point to weaknesses in the current type-approval procedure.” Since the EU banned defeat devices in 2007, the European Commission has attempted to introduce legislation to test diesel cars in a more realistic “real-world” environment. NEW YORK (AP) — As world leaders descend on the United Nations this weekend, former President Bill Clinton will be taking them to East Africa through virtual reality. It concluded that “fuel economy is actually far lower than government agencies would have us believe.” It petitioned the EPA to get its act together.

Older versions of the Passat should be fixed soon after that, but other models, including Golfs, Jettas and Beetles, will take longer, Grundler said, because designing a solution “will require additional engineering development that will take longer.” The tests were tightened up in 2008, but they remain unrealistic, especially in dealing with the peculiarities of the now-ubiquitous hybrid gas-electric vehicles. You feel as though you’re sitting in the same living room as Clinton chats with an entrepreneur in Karatu, Tanzania, who sells solar-powered products. Two EU officials observed that there was nothing new in mid-level technical officials flagging their worries about a seemingly doctored test environment.

The fuel efficiency tests are similar: Rather than testing every model it sells, a company routinely tests an efficient model and extrapolates from that to report its fuel economy for a whole class of less-efficient vehicles. The argument in favour of this method is that it ensures that all vehicles are tested under the same conditions; the argument against it is that they miss real-world factors. WASHINGTON (AP) — Worries about the global economy pushed American consumers’ spirits to the lowest level in almost a year, the University of Michigan reported Friday.

Richard Curtin, chief economist for the survey, said consumers are disturbed by signs of trouble in the Chinese economy, the world’s second-biggest, and continued economic stress in Europe. In a 2013 article on the difficulties in measuring realistic fuel economy on hybrid cars, Car and Driver magazine said “It’s time [for the EPA] to stop extrapolating 75-mph fuel economy from 50-mph tests.” That year, Ford announced that its Fusion hybrid had earned an EPA rating of 47 miles a gallon in both city and highway driving. OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — ConAgra employees will learn next week about upcoming changes that the company’s chief executive said Friday likely will include jobs cuts and a shuffling of operations that could boost the company’s presence in Chicago and lower it in Omaha. RIDGEVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Volvo has broken ground on its first auto manufacturing plant in North America, and says workers at the $500 million plant will build a car still being designed in Sweden.

It must assess powerful penalties on VW—$18 billion, based on the maximum allowed fine of $37,500 per vehicle, an amount that no auto company can write off as merely the cost of doing business. Even the out-of-it others say they stumble on news while they’re catching up with friends on Facebook, scanning their Twitter feeds or looking for entertainment online.

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