Volkswagen facing crisis over emissions test software

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The United States Environmental Protection Agency has issued a notice of Clean Air Act violation against Volkswagen and the company has admitted using hidden software in official emissions testing procedures that gave lower readings than cars being driven on the road. 

Volkswagen is now being investigated around the world by national authorities trying to establish the extent of the alleged deception, and other car makers could yet be caught up in the scandal. 

The US agency alleges that four-cylinder diesel engines sold by Volkswagen and Audi between 2009 and 2015 include software designed to circumvent EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants, and Volkswagen has fully admitted the charges. The system automatically detects when a test is taking place and makes a number of changes, including air-fuel ratios and exhaust flows as well as injecting urea into the system in cars fitted with the technology. Investigators found NOx levels many times higher during everyday driving compared with the certified figures. 

Volkswagen could face fines of up to $37,000 for every affected car on the road, and legal charges to individuals within the company. CEO Martin Winterkorn stepped down over the scandal on Wednesday 23 September, but the consequences for the German manufacturer could take months to emerge. 

“Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, EPA is committed to making sure that all auto makers play by the same rules. EPA will continue to investigate these very serious matters.”

The California Air Resources Board has published correspondence with VW, which states that US authorities got in touch with the company over emissions anomalies back in 2014. VW then issued a recall for the software to be updated, but subsequently admitted the presence of the defeat device in its cars.

Volkswagen responded quickly to the allegations, saying that the engines concerned have been taken off sale and that the company will cooperate fully with investigators. Former CEO Martin Winterkorn issued a resignation statement, saying: “I am shocked by the events of the past few days. Above all, I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group. 

“As CEO I accept responsibility for the irregularities that have been found in diesel engines and have therefore requested the Supervisory Board to agree on terminating my function as CEO of the Volkswagen Group. I am doing this in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrong doing on my part. Volkswagen needs a fresh start – also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation. The process of clarification and transparency must continue. This is the only way to win back trust. I am convinced that the Volkswagen Group and its team will overcome this grave crisis.” 

Updated September 24, 2015

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Dean has been with UKi Media & Events for over a decade, having previously cut his journalistic teeth writing and editing for various automotive and engineering titles. He combines extensive knowledge of all things automotive with a passion for driving, and experience testing countless new vehicles, engines and technologies around the world. As well as his role as editor-in-chief across a range of UKi's media titles, he is also co-chair of the judging panel of the International Engine of the Year Awards.

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