EPA alleges emissions fraud in VW, Audi cars

Independent testing uncovers defeat devices in diesel models

Published: September 21, 2015, 3:00 AM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 2:40 PM

2012 VW Passat TDI - Nameplate

Volkswagen could be slapped with some $18 billion in penalties after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleged the German company used software to circumvent government emissions tests.

The EPA issued a notice of violation in California, alleging that four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars from model years 2009-2015 included software that circumvents EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants.

During independent analysis at West Virginia University, the non-governmental International Council on Clean Transportation discovered a sophisticated software algorithm on certain Volkswagen vehicles that reportedly detected when the car was undergoing official emissions testing and turned on full emissions controls. However, full emission control was on only during the test and was reportedly greatly reduced during normal driving situations. The result is that cars meet emissions standards in the laboratory or testing station, but emit nitrogen oxides, or NOx, at up to 40 times the allowable standard in everyday driving. The software is defined as a “defeat device” by the Clean Air Act.

Confronted with the allegations, Volkswagen admitted that the cars contained defeat devices. A stop-sale notice to North American dealers has been issued for the affected models.

“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 (CARB), EPA is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules.”

“Working with the EPA, we are taking this important step to protect public health thanks to the dogged investigations by our laboratory scientists and staff,” said CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey. “Our goal now is to ensure that the affected cars are brought into compliance, to dig more deeply into the extent and implications of Volkswagen’s efforts to cheat on clean air rules, and to take appropriate further action.”

That further action could be a fine, which could be as hefty as $37,500 U.S. per car. That would total over $18 billion if the government agencies decide to seek the maximum penalty. The agencies have not revealed whether they intend to fine the manufacturer, though.

“The Board of Management at Volkswagen AG takes these findings very seriously. I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public,” said Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen AG in a statement. “We will cooperate fully with the responsible agencies, with transparency and urgency, to clearly, openly, and completely establish all of the facts of this case. Volkswagen has ordered an external investigation of this matter.

“We will do everything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused,” concludes the company statement. “This matter has first priority for me, personally, and for our entire Board of Management.”

It is now incumbent on Volkswagen to fix the cars’ emissions systems, which will mean a recall of the affected cars in order to remove the defeat devices and ensure that full emissions controls are running full time. The EPA and CARB assure owners that although their cars’ emissions exceed standards, they do not pose a safety risk and the cars remain legal to drive and resell.

The affected vehicles are 2009 thru 2015 year models of the Audi A3, and Volkswagen Beetle, Golf and Jetta, as well as 2014-15 Volkswagen Passats.