Volkswagen (VW) admitted illegally installing software that cheats emissions tests on millions of diesel vehicles made from 2009-2015. The cars were marketed as environmentally-friendly, but on the road they emitted 40X more nitrogen oxide than allowed in the U.S., according to a statement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
UPDATE: VW Offers Buy-Back Plus Up to $7K for Owners
June 24, 2016 — As part of a $10 billion settlement, VW will pay the fair-market value of the cars before the scandal broke in September 2015, plus $1,000 to $7,000 in compensation depending on factors like the age of the car. Click here to read more.
April 21, 2016 — VW has offered $5,000 to each affected customer in a proposed settlement with regulatory agencies for cheating diesel emissions tests in the United States. The company will fix or buy back nearly 500,000 2.0-liter TDI “Clean Diesel” cars that were sold with sophisticated software designed to cheat emissions tests in the United States. Click here to read more.
January 14, 2016 — Volkswagen’s proposal to fix thousands of cars that cheat emissions testing by installing new catalytic converters has been rejected by the California Air Resources Board. Other options include updating the software or buying back the vehicles. Click here to read more.
VW Emissions Lawsuits
In December 2015, federal judges centralized over 500 lawsuits accusing VW of selling cars that cheat emissions testing into a Multi-District Litigation (MDL No. 2672) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, under Judge Charles R. Breyer. The judges denied a request by VW to centralize the litigation in Detroit.
VW Diesel Emissions Fraud
In 2014, the EPA got a tip from auto researchers at West Virginia University who said newer Volkswagen cars were cheating emissions tests. During testing, the cars’ emissions met standards. But on the road, they spewed up to 40X the acceptable level of nitrogen oxide (NOx), a toxic gas that can cause respiratory problems and asthma. According to federal prosecutors:
“These pollutants are linked with asthma and other serious respiratory illnesses. Exposure to ozone and particulate matter is also associated with premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects.”
“Defeat Device” Cheats Emissions Tests
U.S. government agencies confronted Volkswagen about emissions problems, and in April 2015 the company warned consumers about a software “glitch.” In September, VW admitted installing a “defeat device” — complex software that reduces emissions when it senses that the car is being tested, using data like steering angle, speed, engine run times, and atmospheric pressure.
The “defeat device” was invented by Bosch, a major technology firm in Germany. VW claims that two engineers are responsible for using the device to cheat emissions, rather than executives. In addition to reducing nitrogen oxide levels, the software may also reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on 800,000 cars, including some gas engines.
What Cars are Affected?
Affected 2.0 liter diesel models and model years include:
- Jetta (2009-2015)
- Jetta Sportwagen (2009-2014)
- Beetle (2013-2015)
- Beetle Convertible (2013-2015)
- Audi A3 (2010-2015)
- Golf (2010-2015)
- Golf Sportwagen (2015)
- Passat (2012-2015)
Affected 3.0 liter diesel models and model years include:
- Volkswagen Touareg (2009-2016)
- Porsche Cayenne (2013-2016)
- Audi A6 Quattro (2014-2016)
- Audi A7 Quattro (2014-2016)
- Audi A8 (2014 – 2016)
- Audi A8L (2014-2016)
- Audi Q5 (2014-2016)
- Audi Q7 (2009-2015)
The software was installed on about 11 million VW diesel vehicles worldwide (2009-2015 model years), including over 500,000 in the United States. They are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine (TDI), marketed as “CleanDiesel.”
Soon after the scandal broke, VW announced plans to recall all 8.5 million affected vehicles in Europe. The recalls in Europe will begin in January and will likely involve a software update. However, because nitrogen oxide emissions laws are less strict in Europe, the recall timeline in the U.S. is still uncertain.
In November 2015, just in time for the holiday season, Volkswagen offered $1,000 gift cards to nearly 500,000 drivers of diesel vehicles with illegal software designed to cheat emissions, but still no fix for the cars.
“CleanDiesel” Cars Were More Expensive
The problem is that many of those owners bought the cars with “CleanDiesel” engines because they were marketed as environmentally-friendly, with better gas mileage and lower carbon emissions than gasoline engines. After misleading conscientious consumers, VW hit them in the pocketbook — ranging from an additional $1,000 for VW Golfs, up to $7,000 for top-level Passat vehicles. Another problem is that the quickest, cheapest fix — updating the software — may also reduce performance due to trade-off between emissions and efficiency.
VW Emissions Lawsuits
Less than four days after the EPA announcement, dozens of class action lawsuits were filed on behalf of drivers in all 50 states, according to Reuters. One of the first class action lawsuits against VW was filed by Ari Levin, a man from New York who told ABC News, “Every reason that I bought the car was based on a lie.” He owns a 2010 turbocharged diesel Volkswagen Jetta, but now feels guilty every time he takes it out on the road.
VW Faces Billions in Fines and Criminal Investigations
The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into VW just weeks after announcing their intention to target more executives involved in corporate wrongdoing. VW CEO Martin Winterkorn abruptly resigned on September 23. The company faces up to $18 billion in fines and hundreds of lawsuits in the United States. State and city officials in Texas have also filed a number of lawsuits against VW for violations of consumer protection and clean-air laws.
More Car-Makers Could Be Sucked into Scandal
As the investigation continues, more auto-makers could be sucked into the scandal. Researchers found that mearly every Mercedes the group tested emitted 50% more carbon dioxide on the road than in the lab. Some vehicles made by BMW and General Motor’s Opel emitted 10X more pollution on the road than during emissions tests. The researchers warned:
“Through trickery, the gap between official fuel economy figures and those achieved by an average driver have grown to 40%. For new diesel cars, nitrogen oxide emissions are typically five times higher on the road than the allowed limit and just one in 10 cars meets the required level on the road.”