The scandal which erupted around the world in news and social networks earlier this week has had us all reaching for our log books and scanning pages of our service history for vital testing data on our own diesel engines – astounded that such apparent widespread neglect for the importance of accurate test results could go un-noticed for so long, with one website claiming it all began 17 months ago. More on that later.
We recap the story – and reflect how you are reacting on Twitter as #dieselgate unfolds.
— Rob Lightbody (@lightbody) September 21, 2015
We are yet to hear if other brands and models are affected by this scandal – although Audi has already become the obvious choice for fingerpointers. The apparent good news at the moment is that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) have assured UK and European VW drivers that tests in our continent are different from those in the US and, as such, there should be no recalls or retesting for us.
The official statement on their website says
“The UK automotive industry understands the concerns consumers may have following the actions of one manufacturer in regard to emissions testing and the subsequent decision to recall a large number of its cars. This is, however, an issue affecting just one company and there is no evidence to suggest that any other company is involved, let alone that this is an industry-wide issue.
“Consumers should be reassured that cars sold in the UK must comply with strict European laws. All cars must complete a standard emissions test, which, unlike in the US, is independently witnessed by a government-appointed independent agency.
“On the separate on-going debate about real world testing, industry accepts that the current test method for cars is out of date and is seeking agreement from the European Commission for a new emissions test that embraces new testing technologies and which is more representative of on-road conditions.” So our diesel emissions should be safe in Europe – although SMMT do admit that real-world testing and current test conditions need a rethink.
The Dept Of Transport have called for a world-wide investigation in to this scandal which surrounds the revelation that a ‘defeat device’ has been embedded in to the software of VW Diesel vehicles meaning that they ‘know’ when they are in test conditions and instruct the car to perform differently. This seeming ‘safe mode’ means that the emissions were lower in testing and, astonishingly, up to 40 times higher than they should have been when the car got on the road. It’s an extraordinary finding and one which has seen share prices sink, not to mention the loss of trust in VW’s retailers and customers.
— BBC Business (@BBCBusiness) September 23, 2015
Regardless of the breadth of the scandal, the VW Board are suspected to be in a crisis meeting today to thrash out how this happened, and what steps can be taken. It is suspected that VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn will be caught in the crossfire. Earlier this week the Mr Winterkorn issued a statement saying he was “endlessly sorry” with Michael Horn, the US boss of the brand, holding his hands up to say that they had “totally screwed up”.
Yesterday Volkswagen released an official statement on their UK website – which particularly addresses customers’ concerns over similar scandals in Europe
“Volkswagen is working at full speed to clarify irregularities concerning a particular software used in diesel engines. New vehicles from the Volkswagen Group with EU 6 diesel engines currently available in the European Union comply with legal requirements and environmental standards. The software in question does not affect handling, consumption or emissions. This gives clarity to customers and dealers”
“Further internal investigations conducted to date have established that the relevant engine management software is also installed in other Volkswagen Group vehicles with diesel engines. For the majority of these engines the software does not have any effect.”
The statement confirms that 6.5billion Euros has been set aside to “…to cover the necessary service measures and other efforts to win back the trust of our customers…”
Finally they are keen to confirm that “Volkswagen does not tolerate any kind of violation of laws whatsoever. It is and remains the top priority of the Board of Management to win back lost trust and to avert damage to our customers. The Group will inform the public on the further progress of the investigations constantly and transparently.”
Meanwhile, Autocar magazine’s website has detailed a time line of events leading up to this week’s extraordinary revelations, suggesting that this was first highlighted as an issue back in May 2014 when two VW vehicles were found to have above average emissions Blogging on their site, journalist Matt Burt explains “
May 2014 The West Virginia University’s (WVU) Centre for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions publishes results of a study commissioned by the International Council on Clean Transportation that found significantly higher-than-claimed in-use emissions from two diesel cars, a 2012 Jetta and a 2013 Passat. A BMW X5 also tested passed the tests. WVU alerts California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the issue”
The report continues to explain that VW spent the rest of that year excusing these high emissions saying they were due to technical issues but the following May (2015) both investigating bodies found that none of the issues claimed by VW could be to blame for the test results. According to Autocar, this summer, VW learned that they could no longer sell their problematic brands until the CARB and EPA issue approval certificates. Both bodies confirmed they wouldn’t issue these until the anomalies are satisfactorily explained. Autocar conclude their timeline saying that VW were forced to make a staggering admission earlier this month:
“3 September 2015 During a meeting VW admits it has designed and installed a defeat device in these vehicles in the form of a sophisticated software algorithm that detects when a vehicle is undergoing emissions testing.
18 September 2015 CARB and the EPA make their findings public, stating that Volkswagen has violated two sections of the Clean Air Act, firstly by selling or offering for sale vehicles that did not comply with their certificates of conformity, and second by manufacturing and installing into these vehicles an electronic control module capable of switching its calibration to beat the emissions tests.”
Read the full timeline here.
Whenever it started, and however it began, and whoever is to blame there’s no doubting that this is one of the biggest scandals to hit the car industry in The States in decades – particularly for those Americans concerned with the human impact:
If VW and the SMMT are to be believed, there’s no need for panic here in the UK just yet – but one thing is for sure, we’ll be watching this story unfold for quite some time to come and following the fallout. Particularly as the human impact is revealed and, of course, if it is found that there is reason to increase your diesel car insurance premium as a result.
With thanks to @danahull, @speedmonkeymatt, @lightbody, @bbcbusiness, @matt_burt_
Information correct on 23rd Sept 2015