Recap of VW Emissions Scandal

Alexander Lee - 4B Nanotechnology
Posted on: January 14, 2017

On January 11 2017, Volkswagen Group pleaded guilty to weaving a vast conspiracy to defraud the US government. Volkswagen Group will pay a US$2.8 billion fine, as well as US$1.5 billion in civil penalties. These fines are just the latest bad news in the ongoing decline of Volkswagen following the exposure of their diesel emission scandal.

To recap, Volkswagen’s troubles began way back in September 2015 when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered that Volkswagen has been cheating on mandatory emissions testing for their diesel cars after investigating discrepancies in results in European and American car models. This was done in order to meet emission standards to allow the cars to qualify for environmentally friendly subsidies and tax exemptions. Diesel cars are notoriously polluting, as the catalytic converters used in most petrol cars to reduce pollution do not work effectively for diesel.

It turns out that Volkswagen had implemented software in their diesel car models to disable certain emissions controls during normal driving. However, these functions would be re-enabled during testing. Thus, the cars that were being tested by the EPA were designed to pass the emissions tests, but everyday cars on the road would fall far short of the requirements. In fact, the NOx emissions of everyday diesel cars were around forty times greater than those tested by the EPA. It turns out that Volkswagen had been placing these controls on their cars since 2009, and over eleven million cars worldwide were affected.

The resulting public fallout can only be described as disastrous. Volkswagen’s stock price fell by a third, and its CEO, Martin Winterkorn, resigned. Volkswagen issued a mass recall of many of the affected cars, which cost the company tens of billions of dollars. Countries worldwide launched investigations into their cars, many of which continue to this day as more information continues to be found.

Volkswagen Group is one of the largest automobile companies in the world, and produced just under ten million vehicles in 2016, second only to Toyota. They own many brands including Volkswagen, Audi, Bugatti, Lamborghini, and Porsche; many of these brands contained affected vehicles and have suffered due to the scandal.  The vehicles affected by the diesel emissions scandal make up a small minority of the total number of cars Volkswagen has produced, but even that minority results in millions of affected vehicles over almost a decade of emission cheating.

Additionally, the revelations over Volkswagen have also placed greater scrutiny on many other car manufacturers such as Chrysler. Many have been discovered to be doing similar things to their cars to make them appear green, though to a lesser extent. It appears that in our quest to lower emissions, many have chosen to cut corners and only appear environmentally friendly rather than actually achieving it.

After Wednesday, Volkswagen will formally pay the United States for the damage its software has caused and will be punished for cheating them out of subsidies and tax exemptions. However, its troubles are far from over, and the extra environmental damage caused by its cars will surely be felt by people all over the world for generations to come.