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Feds Reveal Widespread Cheating By Volkswagen In Clean Air Tests; Fines Could Exceed Billions Of Dollars

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On: Wed, Sep 23, 2015 at 9:43AM | By: Carl Malek

Feds Reveal Widespread Cheating By Volkswagen In Clean Air Tests; Fines Could Exceed Billions Of Dollars

In a stunning announcement released earlier this week, the federal government revealed that Volkswagen intentionally installed software in nearly half a million diesel-equipped vehicles to help them achieve higher emissions control efficiency numbers; it could result in what could be a landmark case for green vehicles, and perhaps a new hurdle for the recently resurgent diesel vehicle market.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detailed its findings, and the subsequent issue of violation it gave to Volkswagen, claiming that the company's emissions software violated two key provisions of The Clean Air Act and, as a result, allowed the affected models to emit up to 40 times the allowed amount of certain pollutants into the atmosphere. Both the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) launched investigations into the software after receiving inside tips from anonymous sources. The investigations caused several Volkswagen officials to admit that they installed, and subsequently concealed, a "defeat device" that allowed the emissions software to detect when it was hooked up to official EPA screening equipment, and to turn on the emission control systems only during those tests; thus the final results were manipulated, and the devices also reduced the effectiveness of emissions controls during normal operation, unbeknownst to consumers.

These new allegations cover nearly 482,000 vehicles that were sold in the United States during a seven-year window. Some of the models affected include diesel versions of the Jetta, Beetle, Golf, and Audi A3 built between the 2009 and 2015 model years. The bigger Passat is also included in the findings, but only if they were built during the 2014 and 2015 model years. Federal officials were quick to point out that the illegal software does not represent an imminent threat to consumer safety, but the cars would still be recalled for repairs to correct the software and eliminate the "defeat device". If these findings are indeed proven to be true, Volkswagen could face massive fines that could exceed well over a billion dollars. This figure would eclipse the $300 million dollar fine that the agency assessed to Hyundai-Kia for exaggerating the fuel economy of several of its models. The fresh charges could also throw a massive monkey wrench into Volkswagen's broader plans for the expansion of "Clean Diesel" vehicle sales in North America, especially at a time when sales in the U.S. are actually beginning to creep their way upward.

In a statement, Volkswagen Group America representatives revealed that it had indeed received notices from the EPA and CARB and claimed that "VW is cooperating with the investigation; we are unable to comment further at this time."

Federal officials revealed that the defeat devices were first uncovered during an independent analysis by researchers at West Virginia University. A subsequent analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation raised the first questions about the emissions level readings they were getting. The EPA and CARB revealed that it later went to Volkswagen and demanded an explanation for the problem in question; at that point Volkswagen admitted that the cars contained "defeat devices". Cynthia Giles, the assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Enforcement, released a statement regarding the defeat devices, saying, "Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health. Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, the EPA is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules."

It will be very interesting to see what happens during the next few months and what changes could be made in testing as a result of this discovery, especially for other green vehicle segments in an era when the quest for maximum efficiency has kicked into high gear, and, as a result, the need for rules to be followed becomes more and more urgent.


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