Volkswagen Dieselgate Cheat Sheet: The High (And Low) Points So Far

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We’re nearly two months into the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal, and thanks to the internet (not to mention Planet Earth’s 24-hour news cycle), the story of what went wrong and what Volkswagen is doing to fix it is more complicated than ever. 

And so, we’d like to provide a little cheat sheet — a handful of bullet points to bring you up to speed on the crisis and how it might affect you. We won’t include all the intricate subplots and what-ifs here, but we’re sure the upcoming Dieselgate movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio will tackle every last one of them.

* * * * *

Spring of 2014: Volkswagen’s diesel scam is brought to light by Daniel Carder and his colleagues at West Virginia University. Carder explains that Volkswagen’s software can tell when a vehicle is undergoing an emissions test and engage the car’s full suite of emissions controls. When the test is complete, the software deactivates those controls, boosting emissions up to 40 times.

August 21, 2015: More than a year after Carder reveals his findings, Volkswagen finally admits that it has installed illegal software on 11 million Audi, Porsche, Seat, Skoda, and VW cars since 2009. The company insists that the code was only placed on vehicles with 2.0-liter diesel engines (which, as we’ll see in November, may not be entirely true.) The bulk of the 11 million regulation-dodging vehicles are registered in Europe, but 482,000 were sold in the U.S., including:

  • 2009–2015 Audi A3 TDI
  • 2009–2015 VW Beetle TDI
  • 2009–2015 VW Beetle Convertible TDI
  • 2009–2015 VW Golf TDI
  • 2015 VW Golf Sportwagen TDI
  • 2009–2015 VW Jetta TDI
  • 2009-2014 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI
  • 2012–2015 VW Passat TDI

September 18, 2015: Roughly one month after Volkswagen’s shocking admission, the Environmental Protection Agency goes public with details of the scandal. Owners, elected officials, and everyone else appears flabbergasted, given how loudly Volkswagen has touted the eco-friendliness of its “clean diesel” vehicles. 

September 21, 2015: Volkswagen suspends sales of 2.0-liter diesels in the U.S. (The company keeps selling them in Europe, however, for another month.) Around the same time, Volkswagen rescinds paperwork for the EPA to approve 2016 diesels, putting the authorization process on hold indefinitely. The company estimates that it will cost upwards of $7.3 billion to fix all 11 million vehicles equipped with illegal software. The true cost of the scandal could be three times that sum, though. 

September 23, 2015: Volkswagen’s controversial CEO Martin Winterkorn abandons his corner office sporting a $67 million golden parachute. Other heads are expected to roll.

September 25, 2015: Porsche head Matthias Mueller becomes VW’s new CEO (a position he might not hold for very long). The crisis worsens as regulatory agencies promise to toughen up on tests, and both Volkswagen dealers and owners prepare rafts of lawsuits.

September 28, 2015: Volkswagen launches a website, admitting guilt and promising to repair all tainted vehicles. Whether the company can rebuild trust with consumers is another matter.

September 29, 2015: Volkswagen says that it will recall all 11 million diesel vehicles equipped with illegal software. So far, no recalls have been issued, though. That’s probably because repairing those cars will require not just a software upgrade, but also the installation of mechanical devices. Sound pricey? It will be.

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