Volkswagen Tells Press: “The EPA Made Us Do It!”


Volkswagen chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch told the press in Wolfsburg Friday that the whole diesel emissions cheating mess started back in 2005. That’s when company’s engineers were unable to make its new 2.0-liter EA189 diesel engine comply with the limits for NOx emissions imposed by the EPA and, at the time, US rules for diesels were considerably more stringent than European standards. “Looking back, we regrettably have to recognize that the developers involved in the EA 189 project quite simply could not find a way to meet the tougher NOx limits in the United States by permissible means,” he said. “Or, at least they could not find a way they felt at the time to be meaningful and that fitted the time frame and the budget they had been given.”

As you know by now, VW engineers did find a way to “pass” the tests within the company’s self-imposed timeline by developing a “cheat”. Software that contained two emissions strategies- one to yield low NOx in lab tests, and another for real-world driving that produced significantly higher NOx emissions levels.

According to Automotive News, the first cars sold in the US with the EA189 engine were the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta sedan and Sportwagen. Nearly 500,000 of the diesel-engined VWs were sold in the US, touted as being almost as fuel efficient but less expensive than Toyota’s hot-selling Prius. They won the “Green Car of the Year” award and were widely praised by the automotive press.

The original EA 189 diesel used a novel “lean NOx trap” exhaust system to reduce NOx emissions. Other competitors trying to join in the “clean diesel” craze in the US used a urea-based exhaust treatment system that was effective but more expensive. Volkswagen switched to its own urea system for its 2012 cars, but the offending software continued to be used. Customers continued to rave that their diesel-powered cars actually got far better fuel economy than advertised.

“Later down the line, when the effective technical solutions to reduce NOx became available, these solutions were not in fact used as they should have been done, apparently in the mistaken interest of customers,” Poetsch said. “As a result, NOx levels on the test bench were particularly low but they were significantly higher on the road. With hindsight, this all sounds almost a little banal, but that is perhaps why we find the whole thing so painful.” He said the cheating software went against the values of Volkswagen and all of its 600,000 employees.

“We still do not know whether these people involved in this issue from 2005 to the present day were fully aware of the risks they were taking and of the potential damage they could expose the company to,” said Poetsch, “but that’s something else that we’re going to find out.” Volkswagen says 9 managers who “may” have been involved in the emissions manipulations have been suspended.

But that’s not the whole story, is it? Until last spring, Volkswagen was run with an iron fist by Ferdinand Piech. He was shoved aside by Martin Winterkorn, a long-time Volkswagen employee widely regarded as Germany’s best engineer. Now Winterkorn himself has been relieved of his command and another highly regarded engineer, Ulrich Hackenberg, has left the company unexpectedly.

The German government is pursuing a criminal investigation of the company. Any or all of those men may yet be called to account for their actions. For German authorities, the question will be a Nixonian, “What did they know and when did they know it?”

One person who thinks he knows what happened is perennial auto industry gadfly Bob Lutz. He told Road & Track that Ferdinand Piech’s time at the head of Volkswagen was a “reign of terror … where performance was driven by fear and intimidation.” Lutz calls him a ruthless leader who workers would do anything to please — including breaking the rules. “I imagine that at some point, the VW engineering team said to Piech, ‘We don’t know how to pass the emissions test with the hardware we have,’ ” Lutz wrote. “The reply, in that culture, most likely was, ‘You will pass! I demand it! Or I’ll find someone who can do it!’ ”

Remember that statement by Poetsch, the one that said engineers “could not find a way they felt at the time to be meaningful and that fitted the time frame and the budget they had been given”?

Chances are, the time frame and the budget he is referring to were dictated by none other than Ferdinand Piech. Those with long memories may remember Piech strutting about 10 years ago telling anyone who would listen that his company’s diesel engines didn’t need no stinking urea injection system. Obviously, they did!


Source: Volkswagen, via Automotive News.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.