The German automaker Volkswagen, the world’s biggest car company by sales, has deliberately produced and distributed some 11 million cars worldwide equipped with software designed specifically to cheat emissions tests. What’s more, knowledge of the emissions cheating was apparently widespread, and it appears the company may have purposely deceived its consumers and dealerships. Volkswagen had allegedly engaged in similar behavior in the U.S. market in the early 1970’s and was assessed a small fine at the time.
The vehicles in question virtually all have diesel engines and experts say the company’s efforts to conform to stricter U.S. emissions standards led to the egregious decisions. The tougher emission standards were phased in between 2004 and 2007. At the time, the government acknowledged that meeting the new standards for NOx, or nitrogen oxide, as well as soot, would pose difficult challenges to automakers. During that period, Volkswagen retreated from the U.S. diesel car market in order to retool, but returned with a diesel version of the Jetta in 2008, which it said was a “clean diesel.” That vehicle received raves and won “Green Car of the Year” at the Los Angeles Auto Show! That apparent breakthrough now seems an elaborate ruse.
The company’s two-liter diesel engines in the United States have been equipped with a “defeat device” that allows the cars to pass federal emissions tests despite the fact that while on the road they emit more than 10 times the permitted amounts of NOx.
Understandably, though ironically, the “clean diesel” cars were a big hit with “eco-friendly” customers, many of whom now feel deeply betrayed. The affect has been particularly strongly felt in California, a state that prides itself on its environmental record, and in which the most VW diesel car owners reside. “Thanks to VW’s blatant and intentional fraud, I am now the subject of ridicule for having bragged about my good gas mileage and reliability,” wrote one owner on the VW Vortex forum.
A mandatory stop-sale order is in effect for the affected vehicles. Independent engineers say that any attempt to repair the cars emissions systems would be very difficult and could likely harm engine efficiency and performance. None could offer a reliable estimate of repair costs.
Dealers and car owners aren’t sure how Volkswagen will attempt to handle the issue. Dealers aren’t sure what to tell their customers, many of whom may demand a refund or exchange for their car. As one California dealer put it, “We can’t take the hit for it. That would put us out of business.”
Volkswagen means “people’s car” in German. The company got its start in the late 1930’s as a state owned entity operated by the German Labor Front, a Nazi organization. For awhile, at least, it is likely to be considered the Verbotenwagen.
(Rudolf Diesel was a German engineer who invented the diesel engine. He died in 1913, at age 55, under mysterious circumstances).