Volkswagen is facing disastrous fines and an impending recall for selling its TDI diesel-powered cars with software meant to cheat emissions rules. If you have a VW TDI, here’s what you should do.
Beginning in 2008, Volkswagen and Audi — and many other manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, Jeep and BMW — needed to comply with much more strict emissions requirements for their diesel-powered cars and trucks, as the United States adopted Clean Diesel technology and ultra-low diesel fuel.
Most of Volkswagen’s competitors opted for urea-injection, using an additive called AdBlue contained in a separate reservoir that helps to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.
However, Volkswagen claimed that its 2.0-liter TDI engines built up to 2015 — on the Jetta TDI, Golf TDI, Beetle TDI and Passat TDI — could pass emissions requirements without the use of a urea-injection system.
Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Volkswagen products with 2.0-liter TDI engines were supplemented with “a sophisticated software algorithm” that could detect the precise moment when your car was being tested for emissions. When emissions tests were underway, the software would force the engine into a mode that produced the requisite amount of emissions, but under normal driving conditions, the speculation is that that fantastic torque that TDI-equipped Volkswagens are able to produce might be seriously limited. “The effectiveness of these vehicles’ pollution emissions control devices is greatly reduced during all normal driving situations,” the EPA noted.
According to Bloomberg, Volkswagen’s system-rigging was uncovered by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) which studied European diesel cars and realized that their real-world emissions performance on the road was much worse than the levels the cars could generate during lab testing.
At the time, the United States had stricter Tier 2, Bin 5 emissions limits than the Euro 5 standards in the European Union. (That was true until 2015 when the EU made its limits more strict.)
The cars churned out emissions that the ICCT’s co-lead David German called “shocking.”
Outside the laboratory, the ICCT tested a Volkswagen Jetta TDI that spewed 15 to 35 times the EPA’s nitrogen oxygen (NOx) emission limit. Passat models that were equipped with urea aftertreatment still broke the limits by 5 to 20 times the maximum allowed by law.
What Volkswagen Is Saying
Volkswagen has only released two statements regarding the issue:
The first is a two-paragraph press releases acknowledging the receipt of the notice from the EPA.
“VOLKSWAGEN STATEMENT REGARDING EPA INVESTIGATION
Sep 18, 2015
Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., Volkswagen AG and Audi AG received today notice from the US Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of Justice and the California Air Resources Board of an investigation related to certain emissions compliance matters. As environmental protection and sustainability are among Volkswagen’s strategic corporate objectives, the company takes this matter very seriously and is cooperating with the investigation.
Volkswagen is committed to fixing this issue as soon as possible. We want to assure customers and owners of these models that their automobiles are safe to drive, and we are working to develop a remedy that meets emissions standards and satisfies our loyal and valued customers. Owners of these vehicles do not need to take any action at this time.”
The second is a statement from Volkswagen AG’s CEO:
“STATEMENT OF PROF. DR. MARTIN WINTERKORN, CEO OF VOLKSWAGEN AG
Sep 20, 2015
Wolfsburg, September 20, 2015 – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board (EPA and CARB) revealed their findings that while testing diesel cars of the Volkswagen Group they have detected manipulations that violate American environmental standards.
The Board of Management at Volkswagen AG takes these findings very seriously. I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public. We will cooperate fully with the responsible agencies, with transparency and urgency, to clearly, openly, and completely establish all of the facts of this case. Volkswagen has ordered an external investigation of this matter.
We do not and will not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law.
The trust of our customers and the public is and continues to be our most important asset. We at Volkswagen will do everything that must be done in order to re-establish the trust that so many people have placed in us, and we will do everything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused. This matter has first priority for me, personally, and for our entire Board of Management.”
What It Means for Volkswagen
At the moment, the EPA has not issued an official recall, but Volkswagen has received an order to stop selling any remaining 2015 Volkswagen models equipped with TDI engines. Those models are detailed below.
Fines can be up to $37,500 for each vehicle — well beyond the MSRP for any of the cars in question. The most expensive of the cars in question was the Passat TDI, which has an MSRP of $27,095. Multiply that by 485,000-some-odd cars in question, and Volkswagen is looking at $18 billion in fines, and that’s before the carmaker spends any money on making those nearly half-million cars right.
The EPA and Volkswagen are currently working on a solution, but the work required is hard to fathom. Chances are about 100 percent that a recall is forthcoming, and that it will require heavy modification to get those TDI equipped vehicles into compliance.
What those modifications are is anyone’s guess, as of today. As we learn more, we’ll update.
Financially, the scandal has been apocalyptic for Volkswagen. Almost 25 percent of its cars sold are equipped with TDI engines and the restitution will be tremendous. In the first day of trading after the announcement on Friday, Volkswagen stock lost 30 percent of its value.
What It Means For Volkswagen TDI Owners
Today, nothing. The EPA hasn’t issued an official recall, but as a solution presents itself, a recall is certainly coming.
The bigger question is what it means for TDI Owners is what those cars are worth now. For quite some time, Volkswagens equipped with TDI engines sold at a premium of anywhere between $1,000 for a Golf to almost $7,000 for a Passat. There’s no guarantee that when VW does issue a fix for those cars that the models will offer the same performance, emissions numbers or fuel economy ratings as they left the showroom with.
There’s also the question of compliance in the states that adopted California’s emissions standards: Arizona (after 2012), Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico (2011 model year), New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.
In its suspension of its coveted “Recommended” rating for TDI-equipped Volkswagens, Consumer Reports noted:
While it is legal to sell the car, CARB and the California Department of Motor Vehicles may not allow the buyer to register the vehicle, and current owners may not be allowed to renew their registrations, until all the emission recall work has been completed.
Some states that follow California emission standards (so-called Partial Zero Emission states) also have rules in place that require all emissions-related recalls to be completed before periodical emission testing. If the recall is not completed, the vehicle cannot pass the inspection, and the state will decline renewal of the vehicle registration.
It’s a difficult situation for Volkwagen, and the owners of the cars listed below. For now, drive the car as you normally would, and stay tuned to BestRide.com for further updates.
It’s a significant blow for Volkswagen and Audi, because both companies wagered heavily on diesel technology as a means of increasing its average fuel economy. It placed that bet after the start of the National Clean Diesel Campaign. In June 1 of 2006, major refiners launched new initiatives to produce ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel with sulfur levels at or below 15 parts per million.
These cleaner fuels enabled the use of after treatment technologies, such as particulate traps that were supposed to be capabled of reducing emissions by 90 percent or more.
The recall covers the following makes, models and years: