Volkswagen emissions scandal: full story on the diesel emissions testing crisis

Volkswagen Golf GTD exhaust

The VW Group has been installed as the headline act in media outlets around the world after being caught by US authorities violating vehicle emissions standards. Volkswagen was found to have installed a ‘defeat device’ software algorithm on its cars to manipulate exhaust emissions tests making its cars appear cleaner than they are. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found four-cylinder diesel engines made by the German car giant were built with a software device that detects when the vehicle is undergoing emissions tests and activates full emissions control measures to produce results far better than those achieved in real-world driving.  

The net result is that cars pass strict US emissions limits under laboratory conditions, but when unplugged from the testing rigs, the EPA states that the diesel engines emit nitrogen oxides (NOx) up to 40 times the legal limit. The limits for N0x emissions in Europe are less stringent than the EPA’s standards and it remains unclear whether the cars found to be deliberately cheating US tests have broken the law in Europe, although VW admits that the same software is present. 

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The engine in question is VW’s type EA 189, found in over 11 million diesel cars with 1.6 and 2.0-litre capacities across the Volkswagen Group’s product range but no longer fitted to new models in Europe. So far, VW, Audi and Skoda have confirmed they have sold cars with the engine featuring the rogue software, and SEAT has confirmed to Auto Express it has used the EA 189 engine in the past.

VW Tiguan badge

VW says five million of its cars around the world use the EA 189 engine, with known diesel models including the Mk6 Golf, Mk7 Passat and the first generation Tiguan equipped exclusively with the EA 189 engine. Further models that include the EA 189 engine in their line up are the Jetta and Beetle sold between 2008 and 2015.

Audi and Skoda have said 3.3 million of their cars with so-called EU5 compliant engines come with the ‘defeat device’ installed. Some 1.42 million Audis with the software are found in Western Europe, with 577,000 in Germany alone, and 13,000 in the US.

An Audi spokesman said the affected models include the A1, A3, A4, A5, A6, TT, Q3 and Q5. While Skoda also confirmed that 1.2 million of its cars are also affected by the diesel scandal.

Audi TT Ultra – front tracking

The Volkswagen Group has set aside £4.7 billion to cover potential damages arising from the emissions scandal, but the Group could face fines up to £12 billion in the US alone.

Since the emissions crisis started, the Group’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn has resigned and was replaced by the former Porsche chief executive, Matthias Muller. Winterkorn is now facing criminal prosecution in Germany for alleged fraud.

VW emissions crisis timeline: how it happened 

Martin Winterkorn

  • • 18/09/2015: The US environmental standards agency EPA files a Notices of Violation of the Clean Air Act to the Volkswagen Group stating cars sold between 2009 and 2015 included software to specifically pass EPA’s emissions tests.
  • • 20/09/2015: Then-CEO, Martin Winterkorn, issues a public apology admitting to “breaking the trust” of customers.
  • • 22/09/2015: VW announces the engine in question is the type EA 189, found in 11 million vehicles worldwide and the company has set aside £4.7 billion to cover the costs of the scandal.
  • • 23/09/2015: Martin Winterkorn resigns as the CEO of the Volkswagen Group. VW confirm new EU6-compliant diesel engines not affected by the defeat device software.
  • • 24/09/2015: Germany’s Transport Minister, Alexander Dobrindt states the cheating software can be found in 1.6 and 2.0-litre diesels in Europe.
  • • 25/09/2015: Matthias Muller appointed as the CEO of the Volkswagen Group. Dobrindt confirms 2.8 million diesel cars affected in Germany alone. VW confirms five million of its own cars affected.
  • • 28/09/2015: Audi and Skoda admit 3.3 million of their diesel cars were built with the emissions cheat software. Winterkorn faces criminal prosecution in Germany for alleged fraud.

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New VW Group CEO and bosses in the firing line

Matthias Müller

Martin Winterkorn isn’t the only high-ranking VW Group boss walking the corporate plank; other directors and chief executives have come under the microscope with the company needing to start on a “clean sheet”, according to the former CEO Winterkorn.

Jurgen Stackmann, previously chairman of SEAT is to be replaced by Luca de Meo from Audi, as Stackmann moves to other duties within the VW Group.  

US, Mexican and Canadian markets are to be combined under a single North American region, to be headed by former Skoda chairman, Winfried Vahland. Vahland is to be succeeded at Skoda by Bernhard Maier.

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The Volkswagen Group will also be split into four key divisions to simplify communications and operations – volume, premium, sports and commercial vehicles.

The volume division will consist of VW’s own brand, Skoda and SEAT, while the premium division will feature the likes of Audi, Lamborghini and Ducati. The sports segment will have the Group’s Porsche, Bentley and Bugatti brands, and the commercial division will house truck and commercial vehicle operations.

VW emissions crisis: your key questions answered

Volkswagen Golf GTI cornering

I own a VW car, what should I do? 

The VW scandal shouldn’t affect your everyday driving; the software only alters the car’s behaviour when undergoing emissions tests. However, VW may issue a recall in the UK to re-map the engine software, in which case the job will be done at VW’s expense.

The real issue is whether VW can remedy the actual emissions produced by its cars in the official tests. If not, it may face claims for fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of the 1979 Sale of Goods Act by owners. The Department for Transport has already announced it will be re-testing a range of diesel cars in the UK to compare real world figures to the ones achieved in official tests that are quoted by the manufacturers.

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I’m considering buying a VW, should I think again?

At this stage it’s too early to know how the automotive market will be shaped by the diesel scandal. However, as VW Group brands are currently the only manufacturers involved, it is exclusively their cars that are taking the hit in residual values. If you’ve got your eyes set on a specific VW it’s best to wait and see where the situation heads in the weeks to come although dealer have reported some buyers trying to negotiate big discounts in light of the crisis.

The same can be said for those looking to sell their VW, Audi or any of the makes involved. VW has lost 20 per cent of its market value in the stock markets, indicating the damage that has been done to the brands involved. This will ultimately funnel down to the resale value of VW vehicles but it’s too early to say on what scale. 

Which manufacturers are involved in the diesel crisis and which are not?

With VW Group companies firmly in the firing line, rumours have circulated that other car brands could also be involved but there’s no evidence of this yet. So far, BMW, Daimler, Mercedes Benz, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, the PSA Group and Renault-Nissan have all categorically denied manipulating emissions tests by using software based algorithms or other means.

Emissions and efficiency testing rolling road

What does this all mean for VW and diesel cars in the future?

VW is facing one of the biggest crises to hit the automotive industry in years. The company is already looking to have to deal with US authorities billing it up to £12 billion for violating the US Clean Air Act, and numerous other countries are currently launching their own investigations into the matter.

The next few weeks and months are crucial for the German car giant, it needs to choose its steps carefully to avoid damaging its reputation further. It’s important VW plans ahead, too, future models and R&D will surely be affected by the potential law suits and financial penalties the company faces.

But it’s not just VW that needs to clean up its act; it’s the whole automotive industry. Over half the cars bought in the UK are diesels, and buyers are now waking up to the fact that their cars are not as clean as they thought. To ensure diesels have a future in the automotive industry, manufacturers have to come together to ensure their cars are appropriately built and tested in a way that reflects real-world driving conditions.

What does this mean for emissions and mpg testing, how will it look in the future?

There are already plans to adopt more stringent emissions and mpg tests in the EU, and the VW diesel scandal will surely add fuel to the fire in showing just how important appropriate testing standards are for car buyers.

A World Harmonised Light Vehicle Testing Procedure (WLTP) is scheduled to come into force in 2017, and will introduce a global set of emissions testing standards. The WLTP is developed to be more representative of real world driving conditions, with more dynamic braking, acceleration and speed times.

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Another test currently under proposal is the Real World Driving Emissions (RDE) test, which would feature a real-world driving scenario for emissions tests. Cars would be hooked to machinery that records their emissions as they are driven on the road and feeds them to a computer. 

The real-world element would add a more accurate representation of vehicle mileage and emissions, helping manufacturers like VW win back trust from buyers. 

The Auto Express view on the diesel scandal

By editor-in-chief- Steve Fowler

Opinion bad dealers VW

This is one of the biggest scandals I’ve ever seen in over 25 years of reporting on the car industry. For a company like Volkswagen, which prides itself on engineering excellence, to admit to rigging emissions tests erodes trust not only among its own customers, but all car owners.

It remains to be seen whether any cars in other territories are involved, but if the company is capable of cheating emissions tests in the US, surely it could be doing it everywhere. And if Volkswagen is doing it, many assume that rivals are doing the same – after all they often share technologies and parts suppliers.

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If I was a VW customer who’d invested my hard earned cash in a car that was sold to me and marketed as being environmentally friendly, I’d be very angry knowing that the information I based my buying decision on might have been falsified. And I’d probably be looking for recompense. I’m not sure that near-£5bn VW has put aside to take care of this issue will be enough. And I’ll be really interested to learn exactly how they plan to fix the problem on the 11 million cars affected.

We’ve known for many years that the tests used for creating mpg and emissions figures are ludicrously out of touch with the real world, but now we know that car makers are capable of cheating in official tests, too. This is a very bleak time for the Volkswagen Group and the car industry in general. Much work needs to be done to restore the trust of existing and potential customers – and fast.

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