Volkswagen is facing billions in financial losses, massive public shame, and criminal investigations or class action suits in at least five countries, as the scandal over falsified emission controls extends to 11 million vehicles released during the 2009 to 2015 model years.
“Volkswagen became the world’s top-selling carmaker trumpeting the environmental friendliness, fuel efficiency, and high performance of diesel-powered vehicles that met America’s tough clean air laws,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday, in a round-up of a rapidly-developing story. “Instead, they got a foul-smelling surprise: In actual driving, the VWs spewed as much as 40 times more pollution from tailpipes than allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
The scandal focuses mainly on emissions of nitrous oxide, a key component of smog, a significant lung irritant, and a powerful greenhouse gas considered 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide over its 114-year lifespan.
On Friday, acknowledging research by the International Council on Clean Transportation, the EPA and the California Air Resources Board said VW’s diesel fleet used secret software to bypass onboard pollution control equipment, except when a vehicle was actually undergoing emission tests.
“Industry analysts say the company was likely trying to reduce costs and improve performance to match its marketing,” Krisher and Jordans write. “VW got away with this scheme for seven years, and according to the EPA, didn’t come clean even when repeatedly confronted with evidence of excessive pollution.”
On Monday, AP said VW had recalled 500,000 vehicles. Then VW “stunned investors Tuesday by admitting that the problem was much bigger than that: internal investigations had found significant discrepancies in 11 million vehicles worldwide,” CNN Money reports.
“The story reads like the most paranoid anti-corporate fantasy, until you get to the line where the firm admits what it did, and then discover that Honda and Ford got caught years ago doing the same thing in a less sophisticated way,” writes Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at NYU/Marron. “There’s even a term of art for such tricks: they’re called ‘defeat devices’ because they’re designed to defeat emissions testing.”
The software was installed deliberately, and the scope of the deception was mind-boggling, Kleiman adds. “This wasn’t one rogue engineer or engineering group at work. People up and down the chain had to be party to the crime. And note that the conspiracy held together for six years, and was finally broken not by an internal leak but by the work of outside scientists at West Virginia University. Wasn’t there a single decent human being around when this was being planned and carried out?”
The auto blog Jalopnik questions whether “Dieselgate” will mean the end of VW, since there’s no “obvious good fix” for the company’s diesel vehicles.
“It’s clear that, since they cheated, Volkswagen has a mode within the electronics of the vehicle that’ll make the engines in roughly 500,000 cars they sold run cleaner. It seems likely this fix will make the cars slower and less efficient,” writes analyst Matt Hardigee.
“That’s a fix that’ll make regulators happy, but it’s going to be pretty terrible for customers. The resale values of the vehicle could plummet. Volkswagen is going to face lawsuits. People will no longer trust Volkswagen and, in many cases, these are Volkswagen’s best customers.”