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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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.

 
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.
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 | 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.
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...
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.

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.
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.
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.
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