VW emissions scandal: recalls to begin early in 2016, some cars need hardware fix

Volkswagen Golf Mk7 2.0 TDI badge

The VW Group plans to start recalling cars affected by the EA 189 diesel engine emissions scandal in January 2016, its new boss has said.

Speaking to German media, Matthias Muller said cars affected will be fixed by the end of next year. He also revealed that, although most cars will require a simple software update, some will need more serious intervention in terms of hardware changes. 

Muller said it will take two to three years for the brand to fix its reputation and the scandal is a chance for the VW Group to begin a new efficiency programme, with plans for the Group’s brands to be more decentralised.

The news comes after VW, Skoda, SEAT and Audi have all set up websites allowing owners to check if their vehicles are involved in the recalls. All the sites ask owners to input their vehicle’s VIN number before revealing if the car is fitted with the affected EA 189 engine. 

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In a previous interview Muller hinted towards job cuts at the Volkswagen Group as a direct result of the diesel scandal while also announcing that all unnecessary projects will be suspended. Muller said the road to recovery “will not be a painless process.” 

Over 4,000 new cars have already been withdrawn from sale in the UK and a recall of 11 million affected vehicles issued to Volkswagen, SEAT, Skoda and Audi customers across the world. 

In the UK, more than 1.1million vehicles will be affected by the ‘dieselgate’ scandal recall across VW’s various brands and the Group has suspended the sale of EU5 models in all markets. 

Answers from VW in short supply 

We now know that most of the cars affected by the diesel scandal will only need a software update but some will need a hardware fix. Despite this Volkswagen has yet to answer specific questions on how customers will be affected by the emissions scandal, weeks after the news first broke. 

Auto Express asked VW whether their vehicle fix would affect existing fuel economy and emissions, and if Volkswagen’s rogue ‘defeat device’ was active during European emissions testing.

VW group cars

Auto Express also asked if any compensation would be offered for the inconvenience suffered by customers, for any differences in economy and emissions after the remedial work had been completed or for the loss of value of vehicles due to the emissions scandal.


Volkswagen is still unable to answer any of these questions. A spokesman told us, “Some can’t be answered for legal reasons, others can’t be answered for technical reasons. We think it’s going to be weeks rather than months before people find out what the technical fix is.”

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The 4,000 vehicles withdrawn from sale at VW Group dealers in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal represents around 3% of the brands’ total stock in the UK. Although all new cars sold from September onwards have to be compliant with the new EU6 regulations, there is limited dispensation on existing stock of EU5 cars allowing dealers to sell these older models.

For those already owning affected cars, VW will contact them “step by step with details of a process to get their vehicles corrected in the near future. In the meantime, all vehicles are technically safe and roadworthy.” 

VW Group recall: numbers of UK cars affected

The VW Group has said that the following quantities of UK vehicles are set for a recall… 

  • • VW passenger cars – 508,276
  • • Audi – 393,450
  • • SEAT – 76,773
  • • Skoda – 131,569
  • • VW commercial vehicles – 79,838

Total VW Group cars set for UK recall: 1,189,906 

Check if your VW Group car is subject to the recall

The websites below let owners of VW Group cars check whether or not their models are fitted with the EA 189 engine and subject to the recall. All you need is your car’s VIN number which should be located at the bottom corner of the windscreen on the driver’s side or in the car’s service book. 

  • • VW recall website 
  • • Skoda recall website 
  • • SEAT recall website
  • • Audi recall website   

VW Group UK hq

What is the VW emissions scandal?

The recall notice comes after the VW Group was caught by US authorities for 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. 

VW Scandal: EA 189 engines affected

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. VW, SEAT, Audi and Skoda have confirmed they have sold cars with the engine featuring the rogue software and now all 1.1m models are set for a recall to have the code removed.

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. The 11-million vehicle planned recall is expected to cost the Group approximately £4.3 billion. 

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.
  • • 29/09/2015: VW Group announces plans to rectify 11 million of the vehicles involved. 
  • • 30/09/2015: VW Group announces that 1,189,906 UK cars will be recalled.
  • • 01/10/2015: 4,000 new cars with affected engines withdrawn from sale in the UK.
  • • 05/10/2015: VW Group brands start to launch websites where owners can check if their cars are affected by the recall
  • • 06/10/2015: VW CEO Muller announces potential job cuts within the Group along with freezing all unnecessary expenditures.
  • • 06/10/2015: Muller announces that the recall of affected models will begin early in 2016 and be completed by the end of that year with some cars needing a hardware fix.

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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 having walked 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. New boss Matthias Muller has also hinted at job losses accross the group.

    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, given that VW is issuing a recall in the UK, you might have to make a trip to the local garage at the VW Group’s expense. 

    The VW brands have released an online service where users input their VIN number to see if their cars are affected by the scandal but the company will still contact customers individually to make arrangements for the recall to take place. Recalls are due to begin early in 2016.

    However, the real issue is whether VW can remedy the problem and still replicate the emissions levels 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. VW Group brands are currently the only manufacturers involved but it may not be exclusively their cars that are taking the hit in residual values – other diesel models could be affected. 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 a big chunk of its market value in the stock markets, indicating the damage that has been done to the reputations of the brands involved. This could ultimately funnel down to the resale value of VW vehicles but it’s too early to say on what scale. 

    What about my vehicle tax band, will I have to pay a higher rate? 

    No. The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced that UK taxpayers will not incur higher vehicle excise duty (VED) if their existing vehicles are found fitted with the defeat device software. 

    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. The Group has already confirmed it will waste no time in getting to the bottom of the issue. However, new CEO Matthias Muller also announced the Group will conduct a critical review of all its investments. 

    Muller said: “Anything that is not absolutely necessary will be cancelled or postponed. And it is why we will be intesifying the efficiency program. To be perfectly frank: this will not be a painless process.” 

    The new CEO also hinted towards job losses within the Group: “We will do everything we can to ensure that Volkswagen continued to stand for good and secure jobs in the future.” 

    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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