The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

Joshua Voth

Most, if not all, of us have heard something regarding the atrocious news surrounding the emissions scandal involving the Volkswagen Group, a famous and well-loved German automobile manufacturer. This article will dispel all lies and rumors and will keep you up-to-date with the goings on at VW.

On the 18th of September, 2015 German automobile manufacturer VW was issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The Clear Air Act is a federal law enacted by the United States of America. It was created to control air pollution on a national level and it also strictly outlines and dictates the air quality laws for the rest of the world.

After extensive testing of Volkswagen automobiles (which was, in part, performed by the West Virginia University), it was found that diesel vehicles manufactured between 2009 and 2015 had been directly and systematically programmed to evade emissions testing. The extensive testing performed on vehicles found the erred results in the TDI (turbocharged direct injection) engines.  The programmed electronics were engineered specifically to evade emissions controls tests; basically the cars were engineered to lie, giving false information to owners, drivers, mechanics and dealerships.

This was a huge error on Volkswagen’s behalf, resulting in economic and environmental repercussions. The ethics then in question are quite troubling, as the emissions given off do in fact have large-scale effects on our planet’s well-being as well as negatively affecting human health. Peer-reviewed studies published by ERL (Environmental Research Letters) estimated that approximately 59 premature deaths will and have been caused by excess pollution between 2008 and 2015. These are directly linked to vehicles with what are now called “defeat devices” installed; they produce inaccurate results, satisfying standards while being egregiously inaccurate.

With the release of this awful news, CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned and the automobile manufacturer announced plans to make amends by spending $7.3 Billion to fix the estimated 11 million cars which had the defeat devices installed.

But how was the data falsified? After all, Volkswagen is not the first to have been caught doing this. Suffice it to say that the TDI Jetta exceeded U.S. emissions limits by a factor of 15 to 35, and the TDI Passat had exceeded them by a factor of 5 to 20.  Emission standards show that both of these emission factors greatly outweigh safe and legal limits for emissions in both the United States of America and Europe.

It is unfortunate and perhaps sad to see such a profitable and trusted brand such as VW fall into deceit.  Deutsche Welle, a German broadcaster, said that this scandal has dealt a blow to the country’s psyche and the famous “Made in Germany” branding. However, Volkswagen has committed to fixing their issue.  It is purported that in January 2016, vehicles will be recalled and fixed, and new vehicles will be installed with proper hardware, without any defeat devices.  They are also issuing vouchers to current owners so that they can fix their vehicles free of cost — that, however, will be up to the owner (unless governmental legislation in the USA requires all TDI 2008 through 2015 to have their cars fixed).  It has also been reported that one quarter of these vehicles have already been deprived of their defeat device.

Popular tech figure and CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, was asked to comment on this emissions scandal. His response was quite positive when he said, “What Volkswagen is really showing is that we’ve reached the limit of what’s possible with diesel and gasoline. The time has come to move to a new generation of technology.”

Whether this was shameless self-promotion or an honest effort to encourage ethical behaviour, we do need to remember that our decisions have a huge impact on those around us, whether it be the machinery we create or the ones we operate. After promising to make amends, Volkswagen hopes to rebuild its customers’ trust as it continues to manufacture high-quality, trustworthy vehicles that are safe for our families and our planet.