VW cheating scandal prompts EPA to road-test all diesels

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

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 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 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. Chris Grundler, head of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality, told the news service that his agency would begin testing cars on the road in addition to the tests performed with cars on treadmills. “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,” the report said. 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.

From the letter (PDF), which was sent out on Friday: 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 company has not yet issued a formal recall for the vehicles that were affected, and the E.P.A. said such notice would come from the manufacturer and not the E.P.A. itself. 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. 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. 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. 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 software in the cars’ engine-control computers checked the speed, steering wheel position, air pressure and other factors to determine when dynamometer tests were under way. 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 nonprofit 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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