VW is facing
up to $18.07 billion in fines; recalls, mandatory vehicle emission
fixes on the horizon; investigations underway at EPA and in
California as “defeat devices” uncovered that evade clean air
In Washington, EPA issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air
Act to Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, and Volkswagen Group of America,
Inc. alleging that four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars
from model years 2009-2015 carry a “defeat device” which
circumvents EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants.
Specifically, the EPA alleges that a sophisticated software
algorithm on certain Volkswagen vehicles detects when the car is
undergoing official emissions testing, and turns full emissions
controls on only during the test.
The effectiveness of these vehicles’ pollution emissions control
devices is greatly reduced during all normal driving situations,
according to the EPA. “This results in cars that meet emissions
standards in the laboratory or testing station, but during normal
operation, emit nitrogen oxides, or NOx, at up to 40 times the
standard. The software produced by Volkswagen is a “defeat
device,” as defined by the Clean Air Act,” the EPA wrote in its
Notice of Violation.
VW facing up to $18.07 billion in fines
VW is facing up to $18.07 billion in fines for an estimated
482,000 violations of the Clean Air Act, and the EPA may seek
injunctive relief. This could take the form of a mandatory recall.
Meanwhile, individuals associated with the violations may be
subject to a further $1.8 billion in civil penalties.
For purposes of comparison, BP paid $18.7 billion in fines to
settle claims stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Is there room for some benefit of doubt for VW?
Alas, not much room for hope. According to EPA, VW admitted to
installing the software earlier this year, which EPA has
characterized as a “defeat device”.
In a statement released Sunday, Volkswagen CEO Prof. Dr. Martin
The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board (EPA
and CARB) revealed their findings that while testing diesel
cars of the Volkswagen Group they have detected manipulations
that violate American environmental standards.
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. 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
We do not and will not tolerate
violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law.
The trust of our customers and
the public is and continues to be our most important asset. We
at Volkswagen will do everything that must be done in order to
re-establish the trust that so many people have placed in us,
and we will do everything necessary in order to reverse the
damage this has caused. This matter has first priority for me,
personally, and for our entire Board of Management.
VW’s meteoric diesel sales boom
Volkswagen is touting its line of diesel passenger vehicles as “a
whole family of front runners,” ironic in that the company has
been accused by EPA of running a front.
One thing there is no doubt about in the background to this
story, “Volkswagen has sold more diesel cars in the U.S. than
every other brand combined,” and the company attributes its TDI
Clean Diesel success to “long range without sacrifice”, describing
its efforts as a “Promise kept”.
California is separately issuing an In-Use Compliance letter to
Volkswagen, and EPA and the California Air Resources Board have
both initiated investigations based on Volkswagen’s alleged
“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, EPA is committed to making sure that all
automakers play by the same rules. EPA will continue to
investigate these very serious matters.”
“Working with US EPA we are taking this important step to protect
public health thanks to the dogged investigations by our
laboratory scientists and staff,” said Air Resources Board
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.”
The allegations cover roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold
in the United States since 2008. Affected diesel models include:
• Jetta (Model Years 2009 – 2015)
• Beetle (Model Years 2009 – 2015)
• Audi A3 (Model Years 2009 – 2015)
• Golf (Model Years 2009 – 2015)
• Passat (Model Years 2014-2015)
What is NOx again?
NOx pollution contributes to nitrogen dioxide, ground-level
ozone, and fine particulate matter. Exposure to these pollutants
has been linked with a range of serious health effects, including
increased asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses that can
be serious enough to send people to the hospital. Exposure to
ozone and particulate matter have also been associated with
premature death due to respiratory-related or
cardiovascular-related effects. Children, the elderly, and people
with pre-existing respiratory disease are particularly at risk for
health effects of these pollutants.
Clean Air Act background
The Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to certify to
EPA that their products will meet applicable federal emission
standards to control air pollution, and every vehicle sold in the
U.S. must be covered by an EPA-issued certificate of conformity.
Motor vehicles equipped with defeat devices, which reduce the
effectiveness of the emission control system during normal driving
conditions, cannot be certified. By making and selling vehicles
with defeat devices that allowed for higher levels of air
emissions than were certified to EPA, Volkswagen violated two
important provisions of the Clean Air Act.
The investigative background
EPA and CARB uncovered the defeat device software after
independent analysis by researchers at West Virginia University,
working with the International Council on Clean Transportation, a
non-governmental organization, raised questions about emissions
levels, and the agencies began further investigations into the
issue. In September, after EPA and CARB demanded an explanation
for the identified emission problems, Volkswagen admitted that the
cars contained defeat devices, according to EPA’s Notice of
So, you were hoping to get good performance and cleaner air from
your VW or Audi – what now?
“It is incumbent upon Volkswagen to initiate the process that
will fix the cars’ emissions systems,” says EPA.
But, for now, owners of cars of these models and years do not
need to take any action. “Car owners should know,”‘ the EPA said
in a statement, “that although these vehicles have emissions
exceeding standards, these violations do not present a safety
hazard and the cars remain legal to drive and resell.”
For now, switch to renewable diesel. Nexte’s (NEF.F)
NEXTBTL renewable diesel, sold extensively in the EU and the US,
reduces NOx emissions by 9% compared to conventional diesel fuel.
on that here.
VW and renewable diesel
In June, Amyris (AMRS)
successful completion of a diesel demonstration program with
Volkswagen of America that was designed to test the
commercial readiness of Amyris renewable diesel and its ability to
enhance VW’s innovative and advanced diesel technology. The
collaboration included evaluating emissions reductions and
demonstrating performance of Volkswagen’s existing TDI Clean
Diesel technology using advanced renewable diesel fuel.
Utilizing vehicles provided by VW in real-world
driving conditions, the two-year-long program to assess the
results reinforced the company’s data that greenhouse gas (GHG)
emissions were reduced by more than 60 percent on a well-to-wheel
basis when using Amyris’s No Compromise renewable diesel. In
addition, the program demonstrated fuel economy that was similar
to or improved over petroleum-based fuels, together while
maintaining outstanding engine performance under a variety of
Audi, renewable diesel and advanced fuels
In April, Audi’s
pilot plant in Dresden has started production of the
synthetic fuel Audi e diesel. After a commissioning phase of just
four months, the research facility in Dresden started producing
its first batches of high‑quality diesel fuel a few days ago. To
demonstrate its suitability for everyday use, Federal Minister of
Education and Research Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka put the first five
liters into her official car, an Audi A8 3.0 TDI clean diesel
Quattro on Tuesday.
Joule and Audi formed
a partnership in 2011 to accelerate the development and
commercialization of CO2-neutral fuels. These efforts
include fuel testing and validation, lifecycle analysis and
support for Joule’s production facility in Hobbs, New Mexico,
where demonstration-scale production of ethanol is underway. Audi
is also supporting Joule’s hydrocarbon product, which was
previously tested and shown to meet ASTM specifications in diesel
blends of up to 50%. This product will follow ethanol to market.
In May, Global
Bioenergies and Audi announced that the first batch of
renewable gasoline has been produced, converted into isooctane
from isobutene, by the Fraunhofer Institute at the Leuna refinery
near Leipzig where Global Bioenergies is now building its demo
Not the first defeat device rodeo for the EPA
The Notice is the first major violation involving mass-produced
defeat devices in US vehicles since a
1998 consent decree between the EPA and Caterpillar,
Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Mack, Renault Vehicles Industriels, and
Volvo Truck Corp. Following that NOV, the companies agreed to pay
heft fines and were subjected to NTE standards for heavy truck
Why risk evading regulations with defeat devices?
As Fundamentals of Motor Vehicle Technology observes,
“devices used to ‘clean up’ vehicle pollutants are costly and
their use often results in a lower power output and higher fuel
What’s the connection between power, performance, fuel economy
and NOx emissions?
In a nutshell, diesel engines that use high compressions and a
lean air-to-fuel ratio get great mileage, but they produce high
temperatures inside the engine, and at 2500 degrees the nitrogen
that is coming into the car with air (Earth’s atmosphere is 78%
nitrogen) begins to react with oxygen to produce NOx.
Wasn’t BlueTec technology from Daimler-Benz supposed to address
Yes, and VW/Audi licensed the technology. It does indeed reduce
NOx, when switched on, using a variety of techniques but notably
featuring a Selective Catalytic Reduction converter that produces
nitrogen and water from nitrous oxides.
When was BlueTec deployed in the Jetta?
The 2008 Model year. Leading us to suspect that in fact it is
BlueTec that is at the heart of the issue here.
Why is power a problem especially for diesel vehicles?
Gasoline engines, traditionally, have more pep, or horsepower,
which is what you use when you want to travel at high-speed on the
highway. Diesel engines are better known for torque, which is what
you need when you’re climbing a hill and carrying a heavy load.
Consequently, diesel cars have had a “low power” rap for many
years, fairly or unfairly, and manufacturers have been eager to
maximize and tout the power and performance of diesel cars.
Why is power specifically an opportunity area for mischief when
it comes to diesel and emissions control?
At the heart of SCR technology is a diesel exhaust fluid
injection, and that specifically can reduce power output and
increase engine temperature. Consequently, technology has been
developed over the years to delay DEF injection, for example, when
It may well be the case — we don’t yet precisely know — that DEF
injection has been postponed via this snarky algorithm that the
EPA mentioned, until the vehicle next visits the shop for an EPA
More on the story
More information on EPA’s
Notice of Violation.
More information on CARB’s In-Use
Jim Lane is editor and publisher of Biofuels Digest where this
was originally published.
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