VW Faces Daunting Challenges in Fixing Emissions Cheating

28 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

VW faces daunting challenges in fixing emissions cheating.

DETROIT (AP) – Volkswagen faces daunting challenges in fixing software that enables cheating on diesel engine emissions tests, a task that’s becoming more urgent because of growing anger from customers. Greenpeace activists hold banners as they stand on top of Volkswagen cars with stickers reading “No more lies” in front of VW’s “Sandkamp” gate in Wolfsburg, Germany Volkswagen’s own staff and one of its suppliers warned years ago about software designed to thwart emissions tests, two German newspapers reported on Sunday, as the automaker tries to uncover how long its executives knew about the cheating. The world’s biggest automaker is adding up the cost to its business and reputation of the biggest scandal in its 78-year history, having acknowledged installing software in diesel engines designed to hide their emissions of toxic gasses. But experts say it’s likely to cost much more as VW tries to comply with U.S. clean air regulations while appeasing diesel owners who paid extra for the cars, thinking they could help the environment without sacrificing performance. “We understand that owners of the cars affected by the emissions compliance issues are upset,” VW said on a consumer website launched Sunday.

The company’s internal investigation is likely to focus on how far up the chain of command were executives who were responsible for the cheating, and how long were they aware of it. But experts said VW will have to strike a careful balance to appease government regulators, make customers happy and avoid emptying the company cash box. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, citing a source on Volkswagen’s supervisory board, said the board had received an internal report at its meeting on Friday showing Volkswagen technicians had warned about illegal emissions practices in 2011. A more expensive fix that adds a treatment system wouldn’t hurt performance, but it would cost thousands per car and by one analyst’s estimate, could total more than $20 billion including vehicles in the U.S. and Europe. Separately, Bild am Sonntag newspaper said Volkswagen’s internal probe had turned up a letter from parts supplier Bosch written in 2007 that also warned against the possible illegal use of Bosch-supplied software technology.

The paper did not cite a source for its report. “There are serious investigations underway and the focus is now also on technical solutions” for customers and dealers, a Volkswagen spokesman said. “As soon as we have reliable facts we will be able to give answers.” Bild said Martin Winterkorn, who quit as Volkswagen CEO last week, was demanding his salary for the rest of his contract through the end of next year but the board did not want to pay it. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board accused VW of installing secret software on 2-liter four-cylinder diesel engines that turned on pollution controls for lab tests and shut them off during real-world driving. It said that would leave 40,000 cars stuck on Italian lots. “As a precautionary measure, we ask that you suspend immediately the sale, registration and delivery only of vehicles carrying the Euro 5, EA 189 motor,” the newspaper quoted Massimo Nordio, chief executive office of Volkswagen’s Italian unit, as writing in a letter to dealers. As a result, 482,000 Jettas, Beetles, Golfs and Passats from the 2009 to 2015 model years belched out 10 to 40 times as much ozone-causing nitrogen oxide as U.S. law allows. In Volkswagen’s home market Germany, where 2.8 million of the 11 million affected diesel cars are on the road, the government watchdog KBA has set an October 7 deadline for the company to present a plan to bring diesel emissions into line with the law, Bild reported.

The transport ministry said the KBA had written to VW demanding it “commit to concrete steps and a timetable” to ensure its cars in Germany meet requirements. Software in the main engine control computer figured out when the cars were being tested on a treadmill-like device called a dynamometer that the EPA used for verification and turned the controls on. With the pollution controls on, the cars are less efficient and won’t accelerate as fast, the two main reasons why people bought the VW diesels, said Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor and a diesel expert for Kelley Blue Book. But that would anger customers and likely would force VW to compensate them for the reduced mileage, just as Hyundai did when it got caught with inflated fuel economy estimates, DeLorenzo said. “If it’s really sluggish and doesn’t get out of its own way, that’s a bigger issue (to customers) than fuel economy,” DeLorenzo said. “People notice that big of a change in performance.” The other option is to add a diesel exhaust treatment system that’s used by other manufacturers and even by VW on larger diesel engines. Volkswagen and other European manufacturers have promoted “clean diesel” technology, benefiting from diesel’s fuel economy but meeting stringent tests for emissions of toxins.

But the suggestion that this was achieved by cheating on tests could affect the viability of the entire diesel sector and the fate of companies that have bet on it. VW probably tried to avoid urea systems in the beginning because their cost would have driven Jetta and Golf prices above competitors, especially gas-electric hybrids, DeLorenzo said.

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