The “service action” asked owners to take their cars in for software update to make sure tailpipe emissions were “optimized and operating efficiently.”
What drivers didn’t know was that the letter was an attempt to satisfy government regulators who were concerned about discrepancies between emissions on the road and during testing.
According to Car & Driver, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) opened an investigation in May 2014.
In December 2014, VW told the EPA and CARB that the problem was a “glitch” that could be fixed with a simple software update. Nearly 500,000 vehicles were recalled.
In reality, the software was designed with a “defeat device” to sense when the car was being tested and cut emissions to acceptable standards. The simplest fix — updating the software — would likely decrease performance of the vehicle on the road.
In July 2015, CARB notified VW that the repair was unsatisfactory and they would not certify the 2016 model-year vehicles. Only then did VW admit that they had intentionally installed a “sophisticated software algorithm” to cheat emissions.
The timing of this week’s announcement could not have been worse. Just days ago, the Justice Department promised to crack down on corporate crime and prosecute individual executives.