Volkswagen’s Dirty Diesel

by Breanna Racher

Protecting the environment is a high priority for most consumers in the worldwide market today, especially when it comes to purchasing vehicles that they will use daily. For auto companies, there is a constant race to produce the cleanest, most efficient, and most affordable cars in order to succeed. The German car company, Volkswagen, supposedly had succeeded in all of these requirements. However, in 2008, the company released a line of “Clean Diesel” cars; these cars claimed to run on diesel fuel (which has higher fuel efficiency), but release fewer emissions than the standard car at that time. These cars were first introduced into the US market in 2009 and the company received environmental awards for their accomplishments. All appeared to be smooth sailing for the company, until a group of five scientists from West Virginia University conducted a test on three diesel cars, two of which were Volkswagens.

When cars are officially tested for emissions, they go through “laboratory dynamometer testing,” which consists of placing the car onto a treadmill-like machine and measuring the emissions released over a period of time at varying speeds. When the Volkswagen clean diesel cars went through these testings, their emission levels were well above the safe levels. The scientists at West Virginia University also tested the two Volkswagen cars on live road tests. The results they received, however, far exceeded legal limits set by both European and US standards. The scientists tested the cars repeatedly and got the same results each time. After presenting their results to the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental organizations, and after a year long investigation, an answer to the discrepancies in test results was finally revealed.

It was revealed that Volkswagen used a software commonly called a “defeat device” in order to pass regulation tests without actually meeting the standards. The device allowed the car to hold the emissions in until the steering wheel was turned. Since the vehicles are on a treadmill-style device during lab testing, the cars do not make any turns and Volkswagen was able to cheat their emission amounts. After the company admitted to their crime, they revealed that 11 million cars containing the “defeat devices” were produced and distributed internationally. Volkswagen claimed they would spend $18.2 billion in order to compensate for the emissions and to recall and refit the vehicles involved. In 2017, Volkswagen plead guilty to criminal charges and a US Federal judge ordered the company to also pay a $2.8 billion criminal fine.

This scandal raised awareness about other automobile companies that are thought to be guilty of the same the same fraudulent crime. Because of this scandal, the EPA and other regulators have made efforts to further investigate their tactics and the ways that the testing system was prone to different types of cheating.

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