Vintage diesel cars still have cachet

27 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

EPA announces more-rigorous testing of all diesel cars in wake of VW scandal.

Defeat devices have been banned in the EU since 2007, but it is up to each member state to check if they are installed to cheat car emission limits, the European Commission has clarified.Federal regulators are launching more aggressive testing of diesel-engine cars sold in the United States in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday.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?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — 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 revelations about Volkswagen and other car manufacturers, according to reports from the usually well informed Transport and Environment NGO (T&E) come at a pivotal time in negotiations on new regulations. The German automaker this week admitted that 11 million of its diesel cars sold globally are outfitted with software that skirts emissions regulations. 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.

T&E says three of the EU’s biggest car manufacturers —Britain, Germany and, France — have been working to ensure new tests can easily be manipulated by car-makers. 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.

EU sources admitted that the current tests for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are incorrect by up to 20% and that nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions are up to 10 times greater in reality than the tests performed in the laboratory show. 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 tests will include the monitoring of vehicles borrowed from individual consumers as well as extensive highway testing with equipment that can track a car’s emissions as it is being driven, the EPA said. “We must continue to improve and adapt our oversight, and we will,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation.

The agency on Friday said it’s closing some of those gaps by adding real-world testing for all automakers. “Per the regulations of 40 CFR §86.1809, EPA may test or require testing on any vehicle at a designated location, 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. 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? 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.

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. The whole structure of measuring car emissions is open to manipulation, with the EU only responsible for drawing up the limits and regulations, but member states responsible for testing and certification.

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. 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. Internal market and industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska called on all member states to swiftly agree on the final measures needed so that measurements of air pollutant emissions reflect real driving conditions.

However, emissions vary according to how warm the engine is; gradient of road; altitude, and other variables that the industry is battling to ensure allow it maximum flexibility. EU sources admit that even with new tests they will not be able to precisely calculate emissions but believe they can reduce the margin of error by at least a half. 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 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.

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.

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