VW Is Said to Cheat on Diesel Emissions; U.S. to Order Big R

VW Is Said to Cheat on Diesel Emissions; U.S. to Order Big R

Postby admin » Sun Sep 20, 2015 6:43 pm

VW Is Said to Cheat on Diesel Emissions; U.S. to Order Big Recall
by Coral Davenport and Jack Ewing
September 18, 2015

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday directed Volkswagen to recall nearly a half-million cars, saying the automaker illegally installed software in its diesel-power cars to evade standards for reducing smog.

The Environmental Protection Agency accused the German automaker of using software to detect when the car is undergoing its periodic state emissions testing. Only during such tests are the cars’ full emissions control systems turned on. During normal driving situations, the controls are turned off, allowing the cars to spew as much as 40 times as much pollution as allowed under the Clean Air Act, the E.P.A. said.

“We expected better from Volkswagen,” said Cynthia Giles, the E.P.A.’s assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance. She called the automaker’s actions “a threat to public health.”

Agency officials issued the car company a notice of violation and said it had admitted to the use of a so-called defeat device. The recall involves 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from model years 2009-15.

A spokeswoman for Volkswagen confirmed that the company had received the notice and said the automaker was cooperating with the investigation. She declined to comment further on the case.

The software was designed to conceal the cars’ emission of the pollutant nitrogen oxide, which contributes to the creation of ozone and smog. The pollutants are linked to a range of health problems, including asthma attacks, other respiratory diseases and premature death.

Experts in automotive technology said that disengaging the pollution controls on a diesel-fueled car can yield better performance, including increased torque and acceleration.

“When the pollution controls are functioning on these vehicles, there’s a trade-off between performance and emissions,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation, a research group. “This is cutting corners.”

It was Mr. Kodjak’s group, in conducting research on diesel vehicles, that first noticed the discrepancy between Volkswagen’s emissions in testing laboratories and on the road. They brought the issue to the attention of the E.P.A., which conducted further tests on the cars, and ultimately discovered the use of the defeat device software.

California has issued a separate notice of violation to the company. California, the E.P.A. and the Justice Department are working together on an investigation of the allegations.

Over the next year, E.P.A. officials said, owners of the affected vehicles should expect to receive recall notices from the company, including information about how to get their cars repaired at no cost to them.

The recall covers roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the United States since 2009.

Affected diesel models include the 2009-15 Volkswagen Jetta, 2009-15 Beetle, 2009-15 Golf, 2014-15 Passat and 2009-15 Audi A3.

Friday’s notice of violation was the Obama administration’s “opening salvo” in the Volkswagen case, said Thomas Reynolds, an E.P.A. spokesman. The Justice Department’s investigation could ultimately result in fines or penalties for the company. Under the terms of the Clean Air Act, the Justice Department could impose fines of as much as $37,500 for each recalled vehicle, for a possible total penalty of as much as $18 billion.

The notice of violation is part of a broader, more aggressive enforcement effort by federal regulators on the auto industry. Analysts and activists said it was intended to send a message to automakers that they would be harshly treated for compromising federal rules.

“This is several steps beyond the violations that we’ve seen from other auto companies,” said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group. “They appear to have designed a system with the intention to mislead consumers and the government. If that’s proven true, it’s remarkable and outrageous. It would merit a heck of a lot more than just a recall and a fine. We would see criminal prosecution.”

In recent years, the federal government has aggressively pursued automakers for failing to disclose safety violations, although the settlements often reached have fallen short of expectations. On Thursday, General Motors agreed to pay the federal government a $900 million penalty for failing to disclose defects in ignition switches, a deal that disappointed many of the victims’ families. In 2013, Toyota recalled more than 10 million vehicles and agreed to pay the United States government a $1.2 billion settlement, admitting that it concealed information from consumers and regulators about problems with that caused the cars to unexpectedly accelerate.

Analysts said that the administration now appears to be pursuing similar tactics against automakers that conceal violations of health and environmental rules. In November 2014, the administration announced the largest penalty ever for a violation of the Clean Air Act after the Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia agreed to pay a combined $300 million as part of a settlement for overstating vehicle fuel-economy standards on 1.2 million cars.

“They want to make it clear that they’re going to crack down on cheaters,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of the environmental advocacy group Clean Air Watch. “They’re cheating not only car buyers but the breathing public. They want to lay down the law, enforce the law and show they’re not going to tolerate cheaters. The laws and regulation are only as good as the enforcement.”

The notice of violation is especially embarrassing for Volkswagen because it comes days after the company trumpeted plans to introduce 20 plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicles by 2020 as part of a campaign to reduce vehicle emissions.

News of the recall request also arrives in the midst of the Frankfurt Motor Show, one of the biggest events on the auto industry calendar. Volkswagen has taken over an entire exhibition hall to show off its cars, while Audi has a separate pavilion.

Volkswagen, which also owns the high-end sports car makers Porsche and Lamborghini, recently surpassed Toyota as the world’s biggest automaker. But VW has been struggling to gain market share in the United States, where it has long been weak. The investigation is unlikely to help. In the eight months through August, sales of Volkswagen brand cars in the United States fell 3 percent, to 238,000 vehicles. By comparison, Toyota sold 1.15 million vehicles in the same period.

Richard Corey, an executive officer on the California Air Resources Board, credited “dogged detective work in the lab” for the discovery of the software, which he said resulted in the admission from Volkswagen that the company was using the devices.

E.P.A. officials declined to reveal why they chose to initiate the investigation.

The Volkswagen case is not the first federal investigation into the use of defeat devices. In 2007, the federal government reached a landmark settlement requiring Casper’s Electronics, of Mundelein, Ill., to stop selling the devices, and to pay a $74,000 civil penalty. The company had sold approximately 44,000 defeat devices through its website and retailers since 2001.

Aaron M. Kessler contributed reporting.
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Re: VW Is Said to Cheat on Diesel Emissions; U.S. to Order B

Postby admin » Fri Oct 09, 2015 11:50 pm

A Perfect Portrait of Corporate Crime
by Jim Hightower
October 8, 2015

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Image
Martin Winterkorn, VW’s disgraced CEO, was forced to resign after the auto maker's eco-friendly diesel cars actually polluted the air more than allowed by law. Finally, a CEO must pay the consequences for betraying consumers and the environment?

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, here’s one worth a thousand times that.

It’s a shot of three Volkswagen board members, gathered for a press conference to announce the resignation of Martin Winterkorn. VW’s disgraced CEO was forced out after the auto giant was busted for rigging its supposedly eco-friendly diesel cars with secret software. That dirty tricky let the vehicles spew up to 40 times more toxic pollutants into the air than allowed by law.

In the picture, the lead-faced VW spokesman looked like he was gagging, as though he’d just swallowed a live toad. One grim-looking fellow board member was glaring in ill-disguised disgust, while the other nervously looked straight into the camera, as if pleading: “Please tell me this isn’t happening, and please, please keep me out of the picture.”

It’s a perfect portrait of a shameful corporate crime, with these highly paid overseers essentially confessing that businesses don’t commit crimes — their executives do.

Yet the three board members still played the corporate game, referring to Volkswagen’s deliberate deception of millions of car buyers as “irregularities” and suggesting that some mysterious villains had installed the malicious software without the top bosses knowing it.

Horsefeathers. Eleven million VWs and Audis were tampered with in the past six years. Either these “overseers” knew what was going on, or they’ve been derelict in their sworn duty to prevent corporate abuse.

Volkswagen has long been known for strict, top-down decision making, with even minor matters requiring the OK of its governing officials. The company’s premeditated, systemic betrayal of consumer trust — not to mention its flagrantly illegal poisoning of our air for six years — is hardly a minor matter.

No wonder the photogenic blame-dodgers looked like deer caught in a VW’s headlights.
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Re: VW Is Said to Cheat on Diesel Emissions; U.S. to Order B

Postby admin » Sun Nov 22, 2015 12:51 am

Galvanized by VW Scandal, E.P.A. Expands On-Road Emissions Testing
By DANNY HAKIM and JAD MOUAWAD
NOV. 8, 2015

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Image
A Rube Goldberg-type machine is being used as the United States and Canada try to catch emissions cheaters. Credit Laura McDermott for The New York Times

Concerned that cheating on vehicle emissions could be prevalent across the automobile industry, regulators in the United States and Canada are significantly expanding their on-the-road emissions tests to cover all makes and models of diesel cars.

The tests, which come in the wake of Volkswagen’s admission that it installed software on more than 11 million cars to evade emissions standards, are being conducted randomly and in real-world conditions, rather than in traditional laboratory settings, to increase the odds of catching cheaters.

“We are very anxious to find out if there are any other programs out there,” said Christopher Grundler, director of the office of transportation and air quality at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The first tests on brands manufactured by Volkswagen, completed last week, found the cheating software on about 10,000 VW, Audi and Porsche models not previously disclosed by the German manufacturer. Volkswagen disputes the E.P.A.’s claim, saying the software recently uncovered was not intended to thwart emissions testing.

Image
A 2014 Volkswagen Touareg TDI with emissions testing equipment. VW disputes the E.P.A.’s latest findings of illegal software. Credit Laura McDermott for The New York Times

Since then, no other automobile company has been found to have installed so-called defeat software, although it will take several weeks for all makes and models to be tested.

Mr. Grundler declined to describe the tests, except to say they will focus on 2015 and 2016 model year diesel cars. They will also be performed on all new cars that manufacturers seek to certify, he said.

The move by the E.P.A. is a significant expansion of its testing regimen, which previously did road testing for pollutants mainly on large trucks. It also makes road-test spot checks of older cars to ensure that their pollution-control mechanisms are still effective. Tests are also being performed in cooperation with regulators in Canada and California.

But Volkswagen’s scandal has highlighted deficiencies in the existing lab tests in both North America and Europe.

“Regulators must think more like the cheaters,” said Luke Tonachel, a specialist in auto emissions for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “E.P.A. is starting to use new tests that can’t be readily gamed by manufacturers.”

An official with the trade group the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said it supported the E.P.A. expansion of road testing.

Europe has been planning its own real-world testing for several years, though those tests will not start until 2017. Other countries, including South Korea, China, India and Mexico, have announced or are considering road tests.

The new and more unpredictable testing represents a sea change from the traditional, highly controlled lab setting where vehicles are put on a treadmill, wired with sensors and run through a standardized and familiar routine.

“Manufacturers have asked us what the test conditions would be, and we’ve told them that they don’t have a need to know,” Mr. Grundler said. “It will be random.”

The road testing could dim the future for diesels, which have higher pollution emissions, making electric and hybrid vehicles more attractive in terms of their effect on the environment.

American regulators believe that road testing is relatively crude and cannot match the precision of lab results at detecting nitrogen oxide and other fine particles and pollutants. Rather, the aim of their road tests is to help validate lab findings by catching cars whose road performance reveals higher emissions readings.

Road testing involves capturing exhaust gases with a Rube Goldberg-type machine the size of a pair of large suitcases that fits in the trunk of most cars, with a few pieces hanging off the back. The technology, which was developed by an E.P.A. engineer, is decades old but until now has been used mostly to test diesel trucks.

To obtain test vehicles, the E.P.A. gets cars directly from manufacturers or sometimes requests loaners from dealers. It also uses rental cars and even reaches out to ordinary drivers to obtain the specific make and model needed for testing. In those cases, the car owner is offered $20 a day and a loaner car in exchange for the use of the vehicle for a couple of weeks. Once the tests are done, the cars are returned cleaned, with a full tank of fuel and an oil change.

Lab testing in Europe is done exclusively by automakers and their contractors, and they are permitted to use preproduction vehicles that will never be sold. The rules also allow them to modify the cars in various ways, for instance, by stripping out back seats to make them lighter, taping up the doors and grilles to make them more aerodynamic and fully charging the battery to put less stress on the engine.

The United States has a more robust lab-testing system. Regulators perform their own lab emissions tests to check manufacturers’ claims. American regulators test preproduction vehicles and those that are already on the road.

As the United States and Europe incorporate road tests, their regulatory regimens are diverging further. Thus far, American regulators are using road tests to catch illegal cheating strategies, known as defeat devices, but they will continue to rely on tests in laboratories.

Europe plans to test in a different way. In addition to lab tests, cars sold in Europe will have to pass separate emissions tests on the road with a new set of maximum emissions of nitrogen oxides.

Europe’s road tests as currently proposed will still not be performed by regulators. They will also continue to involve preproduction vehicles, according to John German, a former E.P.A. official and a senior fellow at the International Council on Clean Transportation, an environmental group that played a pivotal role in uncovering Volkswagen’s cheating.

Mr. German also said the proposed European road test “does not include cold starts” of the engine, which is when most emissions occur.

The European plan, under development since 2011, still faces what could be a contentious fight in the European Parliament, amid criticism that policy makers have watered down earlier proposals.

Automakers say they need to be allowed to exceed Europe’s existing nitrogen oxide standards significantly in the new road tests, which are performed under less predictable conditions than lab tests.

Environmental groups disagree and were angered last week after a review panel appeared to side with automakers.

Under the latest European plan, the road tests, which begin to take effect in 2017, would initially allow automakers to emit more than twice the current European limits on nitrogen oxides. The requirements would become tougher by 2021, when all new cars would be required to emit a level of nitrogen oxides in road tests that is no more than 50 percent above current limits.

European regulators previously sought to allow automakers to exceed the current regulatory limit by less than 20 percent. Environmental groups want automakers to eventually meet the same number on the road that they do in the lab.

Lucia Caudet, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, the European Union’s executive branch, said that since diesel cars, in practice, were already emitting far more nitrogen oxides than permitted by European standards, the new tests would still be a substantial improvement. “We consider this agreement progress,” she said, “although of course ideally we would like to see real driving emission reduced further.”

American regulators have chosen a different approach because the E.P.A. doesn’t think emissions tests conducted on the road are accurate enough to measure to a specific emissions standard. “We think they are much better suited for these screening purposes and looking for defeat devices,” Mr. Grundler said.

The auto industry has publicly embraced the coming European tests, while lobbying to make them less demanding.

At a hearing last month, a member of the British Parliament asked Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the leading auto-industry trade group in Britain, how the industry could restore consumer confidence.

“The fix for this will be the introduction of so-called real-world driving emissions,” Mr. Hawes said.
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