Volkswagen Scandal: Das (N)Auto-kay

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

German auto maker giant Volkswagen is under a great amount of fire. The company has admitted to fitting several of their vehicles that are equipped with diesel engines with a device that, when in an emissions testing situation, can alter the engine’s performance in order to comply with U.S. emissions standards. Full details of how the defeat device work are hard to come by. However, we know that the software can detect test situations and monitor speed, engine operation, air pressure, and even the steering wheel position. When in a testing scenario, the software would put the car into a “safety mode” of sorts that makes the engine perform with below-normal power and performance.  Because of this, the engines affected can produce nitrogen oxide pollutants that are up to 40 times above U.S. regulation for emissions.

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Former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn. Photo Credit: Getty Images

In the first few days of the scandal’s development, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn stepped down. “As CEO I accept responsibility for the irregularities that have been found in diesel engines and have therefore requested the Supervisory Board to agree on terminating my function as CEO of the Volkswagen Group,” Winterkorn said in an interview. “I am doing this in the interests of the company even though I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part.” A criminal investigation of Martin Winterkorn is in progress.

Seven different models are affected in the U.S. market: The 2009-2015 Jetta TDI, 2009-2014 Jetta Sportwagen TDI, 2010-2015 Audi A3 TDI, Golf TDI, the new for 2015 Golf Sportwagen TDI, and the 2012-2015 Passat TDI.

It is unclear as to why VW decided to do this, apart from an effort to save money. In 2008, the EPA set forth tougher emissions regulations and, therefore, several manufacturers added separate tanks that were filled with a urea-based solution that cut down on nitrogen oxide emissions.  VW, however, did not add these to their 2.0 liter diesel engines.

Now Volkswagen may face several large penalties.  More specifically, VW may face a $37,500 fine per vehicle involved, which would add up to $18 billion.  Although VW may be able to manage these fines, criminal charges are expected to arise as well. The EPA is now working with the U.S. Department of Justice on criminal investigations.   

This is not just an issue in the U.S., however. After the discovery by the EPA in the U.S., many countries in Europe opened their own investigations as well and found similar results. They also found it stretches to more of VW’s European brands, such as Skoda and Seat, that are not available to the U.S. market.

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Collegiate parent Colette Diggs, owner of a 2014 Passat TDI, said that she was originally drawn to the Passat TDI “because of its supposedly clean diesel technology and it’s amazing fuel economy.” That is another problem for Volkswagen. Their TDI diesel engines are known for their exceptional fuel economy. In July of 2013, Wayne Gerdes received a Guinness World Record for fuel economy. He achieved 78 miles per gallon in his 2013 Passat TDI.

With repercussions for Volkswagen still looming, it is uncertain how the automaker will mend it’s wrongdoings. Colette Diggs said, “In my opinion, VW should come clean with communication, issue a recall where they repair the software and all mechanicals as needed, as well as recompense buyers with 10% of the purchase price as a waiver.” VW also has a great amount of trust to make up, as Colette Diggs says, “I have lost a great amount of trust in Volkwagen because this was a deliberate act of fraud; however, I do believe it could happen to any company.  I love VW and my Passat but, after this, I don’t see myself purchasing another one of their products.”

About the author

Rick is a senior at Collegiate