posted 1 year ago

The Diesel Scandal - Time to Go Clean?

Volkswagen caught cheating emissions tests leading to a huge recall and a pause in sales of diesel models in the US.

One of the largest automotive companies in the world has been found to be manipulating emissions testing results to comply with strict standards in the U.S. Volkswagen Group shares dropped 17.1% on Monday after it admitted rigging tests to defeat tough U.S. regulations, by installing a software programme that switched engines to a cleaner running mode when plugged-in for testing. Cars affected had 2 litre diesel engines that were fitted to the Audi A3, VW Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat models built between 2009 and 2015.

The U.S. regulator has the ability to issue punitive fines of up to $18 billion dollars across the 482,000 vehicles affected, and has ordered a recall to fix the issue. 

UPDATE: The number of vehicles affected across the globe is believed to be around the 11 million mark, including the Audi A3, VW Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat models.

The ripples from the scandal are said to be heading for Europe and the UK as it is thought that the same issue found by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exists in the European market, which implemented stricter new Euro6 rules for diesel cars on 1st September.

So how did they do it?

It seems that since 2009 Volkswagen had been using complex coding in their ECU’s (engine management computers) that turned on ‘pollution control’ measures  if the vehicle detected pedal and steering movements which suggested the car was being tested for pollutants - which we expect to be moderate acceleration without steering input, as the vehicles would be on ‘rolling roads.’

The scandal was uncovered by an independent group, The International Council on Clean Transportation, who wanted to explore the differences between lab-testing and real road results. They found on a drive from San Diego to Seattle the their VW Jetta was emitting 15 to 35 times as much Nitrogen Oxide as legally allowed.

VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn issued an apology on Sunday.

"The board of management 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," Winterkorn said.

What does this mean for U.K. drivers?

The problem hasn’t officially hit these shores but with one environmental pressure group claiming that 9 in 10 European diesel cars fail to hit NOx  targets in real-life conditions, it surely will. Transport and Environment’s clean vehicle manager Greg Archer said  “Every new diesel car should now be clean but just one in ten actually is.” If this is the case then Volkswagen Group may not be the only organisation affected.

The problem is certain to leak over into the U.K. market, but drivers will be protected by consumer law and the manufacturer(s) will be forced to rectify any problems that exist. 

In the long run this is potentially bad news for diesel car drivers as the UK Government could increase Vehicle Excise Duty, impose a larger surcharge on diesel fuel and increase company car tax for diesel car owners, all in the name of the environment. In the short term, diesel car values may be affected and unless manufacturers can legitimately cut down their pollutant outputs in diesel vehicles, it could spell the end of Diesel cars all together, as petrol/electric hybrids become increasingly advanced.

Is It Time to Go Clean?

There is no denying that diesel fuel has always been dirty fuel when compared to petrol, you only have to observe the back of a bus to see the black smog billowing from their exhausts. While manufacturers have ploughed millions of pounds into developing their Diesel Particulate Filters,  these latest revelations have shown their efforts aren't reducing the Nitrous Oxides emitted. We as a population have ignored hybrid vehicles for years now because, put simply, we love diesels. In 2014 diesel models accounted for over 50% of vehicle sales in the UK while hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles accounted for less than 3%. Manufacturers know this and have continued to produce diesel vehicles because there is still money in it, and the manufacturers will go where there is money. It is clear that manufacturers need to re-think their strategy on diesel cars and look to developing more petrol/electric hybrids which (for the time-being) are the most accessible solution and have shown the most potential for the future. 

What Volkswagen have inadvertently done is open the door for the big technology firms, such as Apple, Google and Tesla, to showcase their advanced alternatives to dirty diesels and the public will take in every word. Apple are currently hoping to have their first car out in 2019, which will be fully electric but not autonomous as previously rumoured. The Project director of the Google Car has forecasted their self driving vehicle could be available as soon as 2017, and Tesla have already planted a firm foot into the automotive industry with their Model S which is vastly increasing in popularity as every quarter goes by. 

After being deceived for so long by one of the world’s most trusted vehicle manufacturers, Volkswagen’s loyal fanbase and traditional diesel-buyers now have every right to look at new entrants into the automotive sector. This latest scandal is likely to be a huge catalyst for change in the automotive industry and consumer buying habits. Most importantly the environment will benefit hugely too.