The emissions cheating scandal swirling around Volkswagen today has wiped out half of the company’s stock value in 5 days. JPMorgan analyst Jose Asumendi has warned investors that VW’s liabilities from the scandal could be as high as $45 billion, according to CNN. That’s the total of fines, the cost of fixing or buying cars back, and civil damages the company may be responsible for.
Now Bosch, which supplies the common rail fuel delivery system for the 2.0 liter Volkswagen engines at the center of the scandal, says it warned the company about illegal diesel emissions back in 2007. According to ArsTechnica, a company whistleblower also warned the company in 2011, but was ignored.
The problem with diesel engines is they create more nitrous oxide emissions than gasoline engines. Other manufactures deal with this issue by injecting liquid urea into the exhaust gasses. BMW and Mercedes use this system to manufacture diesel engines that conform to all applicable emissions standards. Oddly enough, Bosch supplies the urea injection system, which is why it knew Volkswagen was not doing something other carmakers were. The urea treatment equipment would have cost VW an additional $335 per car. That’s a total of $165 million for all 500,000 cars affected, according to Green Car Reports.
Someone made the decision to omit the system from Volkswagen’s cars and the investigation is going to come down to Martin Winterkorn or former Volkswagen chairman of the board Ferdinand Piech, two men who have clashed often behind the scenes. Piech, the grandson of Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, was forced out last April after a showdown with Winterkorn. Recently, Piech got his revenge by thwarting Winterkorn’s bid to become chairman of the board.
It is common knowledge that the 78-year-old Piech often bragged about how Volkswagen did not need urea injection to meet diesel emission requirements. Now one of these two bitter rivals may be facing criminal charges. And didn’t Bosch itself have a duty to speak up if it knew something improper was going on?
In case you are wondering how the cheating scandal worked, it was made possible by the very regulations designed to test diesel emissions. In order for those tests to be repeatable, the rules require running the engines for so many miles at a certain speed in a certain gear, then at another speed for so many miles in a certain gear, and so on.
It is fairly easy to “train” the onboard engine control computer to recognize when a test cycle is underway. When that happens, the computer is then instructed to report inaccurate exhaust measurements. The testing agencies never bothered to do real-world testing to verify the accuracy of their tests. Instead, they relied on data supplied by automakers. That’s akin to asking the fox to provide security for the chicken coop.
Another odd element to all this is that Volkswagen Group actually makes a well regarded diesel engine that meets all applicable emissions standards. It’s the turbocharged V6 diesel fitted to the Volkswagen Taureg, Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q5, Audi A6 Quattro, and Audi A8L.
For the sake of a few hundred dollars a car, Volkswagen may be forced out of business or could become a takeover target for another company. Might Apple or Google be interested in buying a complete car company for half price? How about Tesla Motors? They always have an eye out for a bargain.
It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out. At the least, Volkswagen can’t say it wasn’t warned. Of all the seven sins, hubris may be the most deadly.