Volkswagen has taken its lumps over the past year. Last September, the International Council on Clean Transportation, after independent emissions tests, was the first to claim Volkswagen diesel emissions — especially NOx — were many times greater than advertised. Instead of being the prince of clean diesel technology, it became the dark knight of dirty diesel detritus. Last week, a former VW employee pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the US for his role in the scandal.
GM thinks the Volkswagen diesel cheating scandal has left a vacuum in the marketplace — a vacuum it would be only too happy to fill. Speaking at the Center for Automotive Research’s annual Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Michigan last week, Dan Nicholson, GM’s vice president of global propulsion systems, said, “I am very optimistic about the diesel market in the U.S. It has been abandoned by others and we are happy to step in and be the leader. Frankly that’s what we’d like to do.”
New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland have filed lawsuits in their respective state courts seeking millions of dollars in damages for the higher-than-permitted emissions of the diesel engine cars VW sold in those states starting in 2009. The attorneys general for each state say they now know who lied, who destroyed evidence, and who in upper management knew about the cheating scandal but failed to act. They say they are ready to name names.
The majority of the diesel engines Volkswagen installed in the cars it sold in America since 2009 were 2.0 liter 4 cylinders. But some were 3.0 liter V-6 turbo diesels. Of those,16,000 were sold in California even though they failed to meet emissions standards set by CARB, the California Air Resources Board. On Wednesday, CARB rejected a proposed plan submitted by Volkswagen to fix the non-conforming auxiliary emission control devices and computer operated defeat programs installed on those engines. Those engines were fitted to various Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche models.
Somewhere, Ferdinand Piech is feeling glum this morning. He is the despot who ran Volkswagen at the time the company began installing software that allowed its diesel engines to bypass emissions control systems and spew up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrous oxides into the atmosphere. Volkswagen sold 11 million cars with the corrupted software around the world. Just under a half million of them were sold in the US starting in 2009 as part of Volkswagen’s Clean Diesel initiative.
Volkswagen chief Matthias Mueller has hinted in a newspaper interview that his company might completely abandon diesel engine technology in the wake of the its massive emissions cheating scandal. “Against this background, we have to ask ourselves whether… we want to spend more money on the further development of diesel,” Mueller told German business daily Handelsblatt. He said the company is taking a “fundamental” look at the issue, according to the Daily Nation.
Part of the reason for the reassessment is the tougher emissions regulations due to go into effect in 2020. “We have an inkling of what will follow in five or 10 years,” he said. “It’s clear even today that treating exhaust gas fumes will become very costly and elaborate,” he said. Despite the issues with emissions, diesel engines remain very popular in Europe, where two generations of drivers have come to rely on diesels as the engines of choice in their personal vehicles.
Also today, German financial watchdog Bafin filed a complaint with prosecutors against the entire former board of Volkswagen Group. It is concerned that senior Volkswagen officials violated German law by not advising investors about the extent of the diesel emissions scandal soon enough. Market manipulation is considered a serious offense in Germany.
German prosecutors on Monday announced they had begun a probe against two Volkswagen board members — former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn and another unnamed executive. The prosecutors said they had “sufficient real signs” that Volkswagen’s duty to disclose the possible financial damage of its manipulations may have arisen prior to Sept. 22, 2015 when it publicly admitted to its wrongdoings.
A person familiar with the legal proceedings told Reuters that Bafin saw the former board as having collective responsibility in the case and that prosecutors may widen the probe to include other executives. At the time the scandal broke in 2015, the board included current CEO Matthias Mueller, who was then in charge of the Porsche brand. Several sources tell Reuters that prosecutors are also investigating Herbert Diess, who is now in charge of the Volkswagen core brand.
Bafin and Volkswagen have declined comment.
Source: Automotive News | Photo credit: Volkswagen
This bit of news won’t affect most drivers in the US market, but it’s interesting just the same. BMW makes an M version of its largest luxury sedan that is powered by a diesel engine. The current 750d uses a 3.0 liter in line 6 cylinder engine with three turbos. Now the company says it will add a another turbo to the mix, bringing the total to 4. The new engine not only increases power, it also uses significantly less fuel.
The saga of the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal has been going on since last September. The company has been sued by the federal government and faces fines that could total as much as $46 billion. The California Air Resources Board is also taking legal action against the company.
The federal suit is pending before US District Court judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco. He has appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to act as Special Master to assist the parties in negotiating a settlement that is acceptable to both. At a hearing this week, Judge Breyer gave the parties a one-month extension to resolve their differences. That came after they advised the court that intensive negotiations have led to some progress. They also said issues remain and no settlement has been reached yet, according to a report in Automotive News.
“Volkswagen is committed to resolving the U.S. regulatory investigation into the diesel emissions matter as quickly as possible and to implementing a solution for affected vehicles, as we work to earn back the trust of our customers and dealers and the public,” VW said in a statement after the court hearing. “We continue to make progress and are cooperating fully with the efforts undertaken by Judge Breyer, working through Director Mueller, to bring about a prompt and fair resolution of the U.S. civil litigation.”
Judge Breyer cautioned the parties that if a settlement is not reached by April 21, he intends to let the case go to trial this summer. If that happens, your grandchildren will likely finish college before a final resolution takes place. Okay, that’s hyperbole. Substitute “high school” for “college.”
None of the litigants were willing to talk about the proposals on the table. There are basically two schools of thought on this topic. Some, like the Sierra Club, want to see heavy fines levied. That money would then be used to fund environmental cleanup programs. The Union of Concerned Scientists, weighed in this week, said, “Whatever we learn on Thursday, it is of the utmost importance that VW pay for its deception and remedy the damages of this corporate malfeasance. It is the role of the EPA and CARB to protect human health and the environment—a slap on the wrist and a nudge towards electrification is neither a suitable punishment nor remedy for the magnitude of this scandal.”
Like the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists suggest money from fines levied against Volkswagen could be put to good use. It recommends a program to get old diesel-powered heavy trucks off the road. It notes, quite correctly, that heavy trucks create far more pollution than passenger cars. They also have a much longer useful life and can be spewing out their contaminants for decades. Getting the worst of them off the road would do far more for the environment than taking all those VW diesels and crushing them.
In a statement earlier this month, Todd Sax, chief of CARB’s enforcement division, said he did not believe a fix was available that would allow the cars to comply with the emissions standards or the onboard diagnostic requirements. “We will have to decide what the best approach is to dealing with these vehicles, and one of the options potentially would be to accept something less than a full fix,” he said. Environmental groups were disheartened by Sax’s comments, interpreting them as a sign that CARB is planning to go soft on Volkswagen.
They think CARB is leaning too far towards a suggestion advanced by Elon Musk and a number of business leaders. It calls for the EPA to force Volkswagen to make more electric cars. The company has said recently it has plans in place to expand the manufacture of plug-in cars at its assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It also is working diligently at expanding the charging infrastructure for plug-in hybrid and fully electric cars. The Union of Concerned Scientists takes the position that letting Volkswagen use the money that should go into fines and penalties to promote its own business is wrong headed.
The issues raised by Volkswagen’s blatant cheating are complex. When courts and lawyers get involved, things often get even murkier. Will this be resolved by April 21? A prudent person would probably bet against that scenario.
A new lawsuit brought against Mercedes-Benz states that the company’s existing diesel engines pollute up to 65x (sixty-five times) more than the legal amount when it’s cold out. The claim is that when the temperature drops below 50 degrees fahrenheit the nitrogen oxide reduction system simply turns off. If that’s true, it could be bad news for Mercedes-Benz.
Mercedes, for its parts, uses a number of technologies to control diesel emissions and markets them under the “BlueTEC” banner. One of those technologies is called “AdBlue”, and that’s what MB uses to keep nitrous oxide emissions- the ones that have gotten Volkswagen in so much recent trouble– to a minimum.
Mercedes describes the AdBlue process, in its own words, below:
BlueTEC brings together an array of advanced technologies to create the world’s cleanest diesel automobiles. Advanced and highly precise components, from high-pressure fuel injection to a variable-vane turbo, create more complete and powerful combustion. But the breakthrough is an innovative liquid solution called AdBlue. When injected into the exhaust, AdBlue converts the nitrogen oxide emissions into harmless nitrogen and oxygen. And BlueTEC vehicles can use both ultralow-sulfur fuels (now the standard nationwide) or even B5 Biodiesel.
Mercedes-Benz Genuine AdBlue is composed of urea and de-ionised water. It is injected into the exhaust gasses of selected diesel engines as a post combustion process. Mercedes-Benz vehicles using AdBlue® technology are identified with the ‘BlueTEC’ symbol. AdBlue’s® purpose is to reduce the percentage of harmful NOx (Nitrogen Oxide) found in the vehicle’s emissions. With BlueTEC technology, Mercedes-Benz has been able to heavily reduce exhaust gas emissions while at the same time maintaining the performance of diesel engines in terms of power and torque output.
How bad would it emissions get if the system does cut off? According to the lawsuit- filed by the same firm that’s currently suing GM for ignition switch failures- it’s catastrophically bad, with emissions spiking to more than 65x the EPA allows. “Real world testing,” says the suit, “has recently revealed that these vehicles emit dangerous oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at a level more than 65 times higher than the United States Environmental Protection Agency permits. The Mercedes’ ‘Clean Diesel’ turns out to be far from ‘clean’.”
As I write this, there has been no official response from Mercedes-Benz. That said, the company recently announced an all-new lineup of cleaner, more efficient diesel engines that will- no doubt- be highly scrutinized by government and independent testing agencies.
You can read the lawsuit for yourself at the source link, below, and let us know what you think of this lawsuit against Mercedes-Benz in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Despite the trouble other European manufacturers like Volkswagen and Fiat may be having with diesel emissions, Mercedes-Benz has remained adamant that its diesels are fully compliant. The company looks set to double-down on those claims with the billion dollar launch of an all-new, all-turbodiesel engine family.
Codenamed OM654, the latest Mercedes-Benz built 2.0-liter diesel offers 191 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s nearly 25 more HP than before from an engine that weighs 76 lbs. less and delivers a 13% improvement in fuel economy than the outgoing “advanced” 2.0 diesel.
All of that should help make the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E220D- the first production car to get the engine when it goes on sale in Europe later this year- a pretty fun car.
Fun or not, though, the new Mercedes diesels will doubtless be subjected to independent testing. To prepare for this inevitability, Mercedes is using a new type of “selective catalytic reduction” (SCR) converter. The company says the SCRs will help to eliminate the sort of nitrous oxide emissions that have caused VW so many recent troubles.
Time will tell if Mercedes gets caught with its TDI pants down, I guess. In the meantime, check out these pretty engine pictures and let us know what you think of MB’s “clean” diesels in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Mercedes-Benz’ New Diesel Engine Family
Source | Images: Mercedes-Benz, via MBWorld.
The Volkswagen diesel cheating scandal has spawned all sorts of weird and wonderful reactions on the Continent. According to Business Green, the European parliament has passed a bill that requires independent, real world testing of all diesel vehicles to make it impossible for any other manufacturers to try cheating the system the way Volkswagen did.
That’s a good thing, right? Actually, it’s only half of a good thing. The bill allows a “tolerance” factor. Just as the traffic cop may let you drive 40 in a 35 mph zone without giving you a ticket, the European parliament has a fudge factor built in to the legislation. It says nothing bad will happen to any manufacturer unless the actual emissions are more than double the prescribed limit. How’s that for coming to grips with a problem?
The current standard sets a limit of 80 mg of nitrous oxide emissions per kilometer. The new law effectively allows cars that produce 168 mg per kilometer to avoid penalties. That’s like the local constabulary letting you skate when you’re going 50 in a school zone.
Not surprisingly, environmental groups are outraged. “It’s disgraceful that the most powerful countries in Europe think that keeping dirty diesel is good for their car industry while citizens are poisoned,” said Transport & Environment clean vehicles director Greg Archer. “The European Commission and progressive members of the European Parliament have fought tooth and nail to prevent a bad outcome but this wasn’t sufficient to counter the pressure from EU national governments.”
The problem, of course, is money. Making diesel engine cars is a vital part of the economy in many European countries. Legislators have been bombarded with thinly veiled threats from national governments that cracking down too hard will endanger fragile local economies. For every job in the industry, another 4 to 5 more are created in industries that support the auto industry. Any layoffs have a damaging ripple effect throughout the local economy.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen has begun implementing fixes for the millions of diesel powered cars it sold in Europe. The procedures have been approved by the German Federal Motor Transport Authority, which says they will allow VW’s E189 engines to meet European Level 5 emissions standards without any decrease in fuel economy or performance.
The updates began at the end of January according to Green Fleet and involve installing new software in all engines, a process that takes about 30 minutes at local dealers. The 1.6 liter engines will also require the installation of a flow rectifier in the intake tract, a process that will take an extra 15 minutes for technicians to complete. What is a flow rectifier? I have no idea. I think it is similar to a flux capacitor.
Dr Herbert Diess, chairman of the board of management Volkswagen Passenger Cars Brand, said: “The start of the recall is taking us a great step forwards. Our customers are getting a good technical solution for their car and can also rely on quick implementation of the modification.”
15 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the American Lung Association of California, have sent a letter to the California Air Resources Board opposing the ideas put forth by Elon Musk and 44 other business leaders for responding to the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal, according to Green Car Reports.
The group headed by Elon Musk has urged CARB not to force Volkswagen to spend a lot of money on fines and measures to fix its diesel powered cars. Since 2007, Volkswagen sold almost a half million so called “clean diesel” vehicles that failed to comply with California and federal emissions standards. In particular, the cars spewed as much as 40 times the permitted about of NOx pollutants into the atmosphere. However, company engineers had programmed the cars computers to disguise that fact from regulators. Worldwide, nearly 11 million cars were sold with the cheating software installed.
Instead, the environmentalists urge CARB to be proactive rather then punitive. They recommend the regulatory board force Volkswagen to greatly accelerate its plans to build plug-in hybrid and battery electric cars. Their argument takes the position that the NOx pollution has already been released into the atmosphere and no amount of fines or penalties will take it back out. They suggest it would better serve the residents of California if there were more low or zero emissions cars on the road and as soon as possible.
But the environmental groups see it differently. While they support CARB’s efforts to “transition California’s transportation system to a zero emission vehicle future,” they believe the proposal put forward by Elon Musk and others fails to address “the real health impacts” resulting from Volkswages’s non-compliant diesel engines.
They also say the proposal “offers no remedy to the purchasers of the defective VW diesel vehicles.” Many buyers purchased their cars believing they were helping to reduce vehicle emissions. Now, they are stuck with cars that can’t be inspected because they don’t meet state regulations, can’t be sold because nobody wants them, and can’t be traded in because dealers don’t want to deal with the legal hassles caused by the scandal.
Rather than forgiving Volkswagen for its sins, the environmentalists are calling for a full investigation and prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. Vigorous prosecution is essential to “deterring this kind of intentional and egregious violation of laws that protect public health,” the letter says.
The group recommends that CARB dedicate the money from any penalties it imposes to promote electric car ownership, particularly in lower income communities. The thinking is that poor people cannot afford new cars and tend to drive older vehicles that have high emissions. Getting them to drive zero emission cars instead would benefit the state’s air quality far more than giving an incentive to some Silicon Valley fat cat to trade in his Porsche Cayenne Turbo S for a Tesla Model S.
Volkswagen should be required to pay for pollution mitigation measures that equal “several times” the total amount of excess emissions produced by its diesel vehicles. They also want Volkswagen to pay for more extensive near-road air quality monitoring, the letter’s sponsors suggest.
Volkswagen has already submitted a proposal to CARB that outlines how it wants to deal with the problems caused its diesel engine cars. It has told European regulators that many of the cars can be modified with simple software updates or minor equipment changes. CARB has taken that proposal under advisement and extended the deadline when it must decide what steps if feels are appropriate. Details of Volkswagen’s plan have not been made public.
Despite our well-documented love for Mazda and its SkyActiv diesel racers, neither the SkyActiv Mazda 6 or the much-hyped SkyActiv LMP prototype racer (shown, above and at this link) saw much success in either the 2014 or 2015 seasons. For its part, Mazda appears to have decided that the problem isn’t with the crew or with the drivers- but with their own engine.
For the 2016 season of IMSA racing, Mazda’s prototype race cars will be powered by turbocharged, 2.0 liter, four-cylinder gasoline engines.
“We couldn’t be happier that each of our Mazda Prototype drivers (Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez, Tom Long and Joel Miller) will return to the team for 2016,” said John Doonan, director of motorsports for Mazda North American operations. “In addition to being top-notch drivers, we couldn’t ask for a better group of gentlemen to represent the Mazda brand in the premier level of our Mazda Road to 24 sports car program.”
It’ll be interesting to see how this move- which is expected to foreshadow an announcement that the promised Mazda 6 diesel will now never reach US shores– impacts Mazda’s diesel program in road cars. One thing is certain, though: 2015 has been a terrible year for diesel fuel fans!
Source | Images: Mazda, via Motorsport.
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.