Volkswagen Caught Cheating on EPA Emissions Tests


Photo courtesy of US News

Austin Mei, Contributing Writer

The German automotive giant Volkswagen was caught red-handed on Sept. 18 in the implementation of illegal “defeat devices” within their supposed clean-diesel vehicles. The proclaimed “defeat device” isn’t a physical module on the car, but rather a sophisticated program hidden within the engine software that turns on emission-cutting techniques when the vehicle is driven under specific test conditions.

The program examines factors such as speed, air pressure, engine performance and operation, and the position of the steering wheel to gauge whether to limit emissions. When the defeat device is active, the vehicle consumes more fuel, but produces significantly less pollution. When driven under normal circumstances, the vehicles can emit up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide in the US, violating the Clean Air Act. Nitrogen oxide is not only a greenhouse gas, but can cause respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema.

The defeat devices were discovered by the International Council on Clean Transportation after they realized a significant discrepancy in lab tests and real-world performance. The organization partnered up with researchers at the West Virginia University and monitored emissions of the clean-diesel vehicles on a test drive from San Diego to Seattle, which proved the use of the devices.

Applied technology teacher Steven Elza shares his insight on diesel vehicles, and believes that the scandal is a huge setback in solving America’s ongoing energy crisis.

“In the early eighties, there were a couple diesels; one in particular was slow, it was noisy, it smelled, it smoked, and it didn’t start when it was cold, and really it ruined the diesel market,” Elza said. “They just don’t sell them here because the American market has such a negative perception of what a diesel engine is. I really think it hurts the progression of diesel, and I believe that diesel is one of our best alternative fuels.”

So far, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that approximately 482,000 cars in the US, with some 11 million cars worldwide are affected with the defeat devices, which involve the clean- diesel versions of the Volkswagen Jetta, Beetle, Golf, Passat, and also the VW manufactured Audi A3. Volkswagen has been implementing these devices in their clean-diesel vehicles since 2009.

The company has halted its sales of its 2015 and 2016 models in the US, and has set aside $7.3 billion to handle the issue. The company could also be subject to additional fines up to $18 billion in the US alone, and possibly even criminal charges.

Senior Nathan Xu voices his opinions on misadvertised and mislabeled products.

“I do not think it’s a good practice, I don’t think it’s justified, but I feel like it’s something that has permeated our economy,” Xu said. “It’s unpreventable, and it’s something that we just have to deal with. I think companies should be urged to avoid this practice.”

Since the discovery of the defeat devices, Volkswagen’s stock has plummeted drastically. In addition, flustered car owners have filed series of lawsuits against the company. Amid these allegations, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has stepped down from his position, although he denies any misconduct. Volkswagen’s board has since selected Matthias Mueller, CEO of Volkswagen subsidiary Porsche to be the new face of the company.

Mueller vows to turn the company back on its tracks.

“My most urgent task is to win back trust for the Volkswagen Group – by leaving no stone unturned and with maximum transparency,” Mueller said.  “As well as drawing the right conclusions from the current situation.”