Volkswagen Software Cheated Emissions Test: EPA - InformationWeek

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9/19/2015
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Volkswagen Software Cheated Emissions Test: EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board claim VW deliberately programmed almost 500,000 diesel cars to emit fewer pollutants under test conditions than during actual use.

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The US Environmental Protection Agency on Friday charged Volkswagen with deliberately employing software designed to bypass emission standards in almost half a million cars and ordered the company to fix its non-compliant vehicles.

The EPA issued a notice of violation (NOV) of the Clean Air Act to Volkswagen AG and its subsidiaries, Audi AG and Volkswagen Group of America. The NOV claims that four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars from model years 2009-2015 used a "defeat device" that regulates emissions only during emissions testing.

According to tests conducted by the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB), affected vehicles emit as much as 40 times more pollution than allowed by emission standards.

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"VW is cooperating with the investigation; we are unable to comment further at this time," Volkswagen said in an emailed statement.

In a blog post, environmental advocacy group Clean Air Watch said the EPA's charges are "truly appalling."

(Image: Volkswagen)

(Image: Volkswagen)

The CARB, in a separately issued compliance violation letter, stated that Volkswagen officials acknowledged the deception was deliberate. "During a meeting on September 3, 2015, VW admitted to CARB and EPA staff that these vehicles were designed and manufactured with a defeat device to bypass, defeat, or render inoperative elements of the vehicles' emission control system," the letter said.

The EPA in its NOV alleged, "...VW manufactured and installed software in the electronic control module (ECM) of these vehicles that sensed when the vehicle was being tested for compliance with EPA emissions standards."

During tests, the software produced compliant emissions results. But on the road, the software allowed NOx emissions ranging from 10 to 40 times higher than EPA limits, depending whether the vehicle was driving in a city setting or on a highway.

The issue came to light in May 2014 when West Virginia University's Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines, and Emissions conducted a study commissioned by International Council on Clean Transportation. WVU tested a 2012 VW Jetta and a 2013 VW Passat. The emissions data found by WVU researchers differed from that reported by VW.

After a voluntary recall in December 2014 showed only minor improvement, CARB broadened its testing to understand the results it was getting. According to the EPA, it was only after CARB and the EPA refused approve VW's 2016 diesel vehicles that the carmaker admitted it had installed a bypass device.

The following VW and Audi model years are affected: Jetta (2009–2015), Beetle (2009–2015), Audi A3 (2009–2015), Golf (2009–2015), and Passat (MY 2014-2015). VW is required to cover the cost of compliance. The company has not issued a recall notice. In its statement, the company said owners of affected cars do not need to take any action at this time. 

VW faces fines of up to $37,500 per vehicle, or more than $18 billion for 482,000 affected vehicles, as well as additional fines. The EPA has not yet specified the total penalty it will seek.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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trulyurs22
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trulyurs22,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/19/2015 | 1:55:40 PM
IF Volkswagen can do it ...
This article is discerning, to say the least. If Volkswagen can invent and install a bypass devise to allow their manufactured cars to pass emissions testing, who else can do this and possibly get away with it? I hope penalties are steep and 1st offense made to be the last accepted before the company is no longer allowed to sell their cars in the U.S. America is fighting hard to be economical in its fuel usage as well as stopping the pollutants that are adding to its severe climate change conditions from coast to coast. Finding an industry would take action to violate such environmental laws and perhaps find the penalty worth the costs in some cases by the number of car sales, as many companies in the US that are slapped with violations of EPA laws do, is very frustrating. The fact too that this is a foreign car manufacturer who is taking jobs from the US car industry in being allowed to sell and repair their cars here, as well as profits which the US industries would instead be making should warrant stricter penalties against them.
fasteddie42
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fasteddie42,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/19/2015 | 7:15:50 PM
Re: IF Volkswagen can do it ...
The actual cheat is probably pretty easy. Here in California, all ICE cars go on a roller dyno to sniff the exhaust. A cheat system that recognizes that the wheels are turning, but the car is not moving (from the vehicle stability system) could set all control parameters to "clean" during the test. Simple. The emissions test does not care about performance or fuel economy, only emissions.

Obviously, this "let's cheat" strategy had legs fairly high up in the organization. The cheat spans two car divisions of VW, suggesting collusion at the executive engineering level. Let's let it play out....but this answers the question many have asked, "How is VW able to meet EPA requirements with so simple a system when others cannot?!" I strongly suspect that Mazda - I believe they gave up on their diesel for the US - and others have fed suggestions to the EPA on this matter.

All of this says horrible things about Volkswagen management. Heads must roll. One positive outcome could be a more serious leadership commitment to Zero Emission Vehicles at VW, both to meet future mileage and emissions requirements...and as an act of contrition for this very stupid management decision to cheat. Battery electric, or hydrogen-powered could become a focus for VW as it "gets back to work" in a few months.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
9/21/2015 | 11:10:14 AM
Re: IF Volkswagen can do it ...
This is what happens when industry people are hired to work in the government or after workig for the government they go work for the industry they regulated.  It's a "club" atmosphere where the assumption is those being regulated are following the rules so not much attention is being paid.  We really need consumers running industry regulations in government not industry insiders.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
9/21/2015 | 10:52:17 AM
Re: IF Volkswagen can do it ...

VW assembles most of their popular vehicles sold in the US (Passat & Jetta) in the US.  VW is actually putting more Americans to work while Detroit continues to put Canadians and Mexicans to work.  In fact in the past five years foreign car manufactures have put more Americans to work (created new jobs) than Detroit.

JarvisF811
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JarvisF811,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/19/2015 | 2:27:57 PM
Emissions testing = benchmarking for cars
...and as anyone in software knows, there are three kinds of lies:

There are

1) Lies

2) DAMN lies

3) Benchmarks

:-)
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
9/19/2015 | 10:01:44 PM
$18 Billion?????
Wow! If we really end up collecting $18 Billion, that's a whole lotta taxes I won't have to pay. Thank you VW!
KenB56701
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KenB56701,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/20/2015 | 4:28:50 PM
They've been dumping, non-epa related, defective cars on unsuspecting customers for years.
Crocodile tears.  They're upset because they got caught.

They've been dumping, non-epa related,  defective cars on unsuspecting customers for years.  Volkswagen of America cyber attacked a website with pictures of their defective cars to destroy the car pictures.  Take a look below.   All the IP evidence of their attacks to destroy the website are there.  Totally illegal,  but they've been getting away with it for years. 

They use their size and the justice system to get away with it, and then cover up their dirty work with billion dollar marketing campaigns.

The website.

www dot vwfraudclassaction dot com
Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
9/21/2015 | 6:15:04 AM
Emission testing
"The US Environmental Protection Agency on Friday charged Volkswagen with deliberately employing software designed to bypass emission standards in almost half a million cars and ordered the company to fix its non-compliant vehicles.The EPA issued a notice of violation (NOV) of the Clean Air Act to Volkswagen AG and its subsidiaries, Audi AG and Volkswagen Group of America. The NOV claims that four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars from model years  2009-2015 used a "defeat device" that regulates emissions only during emissions testing"

 Thomas, how it's possible? Emission testing is carrying out at certain authorized emission testing centers with the help of external devices. Whatever may be the emission level, it may reflect with the sensing device panels and it cannot bypass any smoke during the emission testing process.
Shouldbeu2
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Shouldbeu2,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/21/2015 | 10:46:30 AM
Re: Emission testing
Most emissions testing requires the inspector to link the exam equipment to the car obd connector (On Board Diagnostic) to verify the car being tested is the car reported. So in addition to the dyno/emissions mentioned below, it could be pretty obvious to the car the combination of data being requested for emissions testing or simply any odb connection had been made.  Eitherway, must be some pretty interesting code, as the software would likely need to change the expected values for the oxygen sensors in the exhaust, mass airflow sensors, etc.
Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
9/23/2015 | 6:31:49 AM
Re: Emission testing
"Most emissions testing requires the inspector to link the exam equipment to the car obd connector (On Board Diagnostic) to verify the car being tested is the car reported. So in addition to the dyno/emissions mentioned below, it could be pretty obvious to the car the combination of data being requested for emissions testing or simply any odb connection had been made.  Eitherway, must be some pretty interesting code, as the software would likely need to change the expected values for the oxygen sensors in the exhaust, mass airflow sensors, etc."

Should beu2, you are right. Testing equipments have to link with car and sensors for detecting the emission level. If they found a lower emission level, then it's a fault of sensing and detecting devices. how one can manipulate such readings, that too from vehicle itself. 
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
9/21/2015 | 10:44:03 AM
Comatose EPA Officials
This has been going on since 2009 and they just figured this out?  The preverbal "they" in busines will always try to find a way to get an advantage over the system.  I really don't blame VW for the past 4 years as the governement should have caught this by 2010 at the latest.  Now who else is getting away with pulling the wool over the EPA's eyes.
jmumford913
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jmumford913,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/21/2015 | 3:03:48 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
Unfortunately, the EPA staff has been gutted by constant budget cuts and a regulatory environment of "let businesses police themselves".  EPA is forced to rely on reporting by automakers and the smog check industry.  If they collect the $18B they're entitled to, maybe they could hire more enforcment personnel, but Congress will probably just use it to give rich people more tax cuts...
chrisferro
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chrisferro,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/21/2015 | 6:17:55 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
Screw the EPA.  They used to serve a useful purpose, but now they've gotten way out of control.  All they do now is make everything we buy much more expensive, regulate businesses to death, destroy jobs and give more and more power to giant corporations while killing small business.  And all to make our air .000000001% cleaner, on a good day.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
9/21/2015 | 10:41:36 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
Not sure getting into politics here is the best way to go. Surely, there's a liberal or a conversative political blog out there where such comments are more welcome. Next thing you know, we'll have a debate about whether climate change is man-made ... or if we're 50 years from the end of the world as we know it. I'd rather talk about whether if cars were run by AI, would they still cheat emissions? Or would the AI have moral objections?
chrisferro
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chrisferro,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/21/2015 | 11:40:18 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
Well, it's important to understand that, as government rules get more and more restrictive, more and more "cheating" occurs and more and more economic activity is driven underground.  It goes for both businesses and individuals.  This isn't really "politics," it's more "economics."  We'll see more of this as time goes on, and, in my opinion, it's a good thing.  Ultimately, people yearn to be free, and as parties exchange with each other, each party seeks to make their life better via the exchange.  As government intrudes on the exchange and makes the outcome less desirable for either party, the parties will seek ways to "cheat" and make the exchange more desirable again.

Government will try to use technology, but so will the parties.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2015 | 12:54:44 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
@chrisferro It was "economics" when the dude at the peanut factory knowingly shipped the tainted peanut butter. I'm not huge fan of excessive government meddling but I'm certainly not a fan of none at all. Aren't you at least glad we had some government regulation so that scumbag got some prison time to examine his moral compass? I'm sure he'll tell you, from a business point of view, he had to ship that stuff or his company and his employees would be done. Hardly the moral high ground in that argument but it is "simple economics".

I live in Green Bay now. For years the paper industry which built the economy up here had free reign to operate as they saw fit. Their response was to dump their waste byproducts into the river system and Green Bay. PCB levels got so high you still can't eat any fish, or swim safely, in the waters directly around the city. The government put the clamps down 20 years ago, now forcing them to dredge and cleanup these waters. Slowly the waters are almost usable again. You think these businesses would have acted on their own to clean things up? There is a role for government oversight, the debate is simply how much.

 
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2015 | 10:55:12 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
TerryB, excellent points. The argument against government regulation is regressive and refuses to acknowledge the lessons of the past. The Progressive Movement that got into poiwer in the early 20th century was in large part driven against the excesses of business in the late 19th century --- tainted food, child labor, unsafe workplaces, etc. --- and that's led to subsequent attempts to make businesses understand their roles in their communities. They are stewards of the community, and there are costs to that. Why must they be made to realize this? Because it's "economics" that businesses will always cheat, even when there aren't rules. You can argue, the fewer rules they have, the more they'll cheat. If you want businesses that can pollute freely, move to a big Chinese city and see how well your lungs are doing in a few months.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
9/23/2015 | 9:34:18 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
Indeed, here in the US we already have over-polluted cities.  I know people who have had to move away from Houston to New England because of Houston's exceptionally poor air quality.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
9/23/2015 | 9:46:03 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
Yes, Joe. You combine those thousands of miles of highway, the millions of cars, with the oppressive heat and humidity, and Houston's got to be a literal deathtrap for people with asthma and other breathing difficulties. I would imagine other big Southern cities are equally nicht so gut, like Atlanta, maybe Orlando.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
9/27/2015 | 11:00:06 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
Interesting.  I didn't have a recollection of Orlando being particularly smoggy, but some Googling indicates that it's become more of a problem in recent years in that area.

Apparently Pensacola and the Tampa/St. Pete's area are also rather smoggy, too.
Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
9/23/2015 | 6:35:32 AM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
"The government put the clamps down 20 years ago, now forcing them to dredge and cleanup these waters. Slowly the waters are almost usable again. You think these businesses would have acted on their own to clean things up? There is a role for government oversight, the debate is simply how much."

Terry, yes government and local bodies have their own roles in enforcing laws and rules to make things happens. Otherwise, these types of industries won't care either about nature or surroundings and finally leads to major consequences. 
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
9/25/2015 | 12:27:37 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
@TerryB  - Agree, agree, agree.  The government is supposed to be the common sense and to use a legal term, "reasonable man" of society.  

Volkswagen, however, has always been one to skirt the long arm of the law and has apparently not learned from their recent sex and bribery scandals.  Eventually, you get caught.  And eventually people won't trust you anymore.
NalliahT950
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NalliahT950,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/27/2015 | 7:20:46 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
Volkswagen means "people's car" -  The original Volkswagen Beetle needed an engine rebuilt every 80,000 km for not having a proper oil filter and poor cooling, also they had a lousy heating system causing steamed up windows, further leaky valve rod covers and valve lifters that needed adjustment continuously.- Japanese cars are superior in quality compared to Volkswagen
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
9/28/2015 | 9:46:42 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
In the 90s, I believe, VW hit another low point based exclusively on poor quality (and probably poor marketing too). They had a huge hit on their hands with those Jettas, but then word got out about how the cars didn't last. They made another comeback recently, but it seems that they cant get out of their own way...or can't turn around their inferior processes and ethics.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
9/23/2015 | 9:32:44 PM
Re: Comatose EPA Officials
This would be an issue regardless of the EPA.  The FTC (along with state AGs) would also have enforcement jurisdiction here because of VW's engagement in unfair and deceptive trade practices in lying about/manipulating data.
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