Diesel Gate: How VW’s troubles marked the decline of the popular fuel

(Photo: Handout from Volkswagen)
Volkswagen, the German car giant, suffered a major shock when it admitted in 2015 that it had cheated tests on the exhaust emissions of its diesel cars.اضافة اعلان

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some cars were sold in the United States after they were equipped with devices that enable engines to know emissions testing times, which makes them improve their performance at the time of testing.

Volkswagen was rushing to increase sales of diesel cars in the United States as part of its “lower emissions” marketing campaign.

The Environmental Protection Agency revealed that 482,000 cars were fitted with this tool that deceives emissions meters in the United States alone, including the Audi A3 cars made by Volkswagen, Jetta, Beetle, Golf, and Passat models.

But the company has admitted that around 11 million cars around the world contain the defeat device, known as an emissions cheat device.
Let’s explain how the emissions test cheat device works. The Environmental Protection Agency states that cars equipped with this device are powered by a software that helps the engine sense an emissions test scenario by monitoring speed, engine operating position, air pressure, and steering wheel position.

When the vehicle is operating in controlled lab conditions, which includes placing the vehicle on an emissions test stand in stationary mode, the cheat devices put the vehicle into a computer-like “safety” mode so that the engine starts operating at a lower-than-normal power level and exhibits lower-than-normal performance.

Here, the natural result is that the engine emits less nitrogen, but once the car is off the road, the emissions rise again.

The company’s situation became more critical after the scandal surfaced and the company’s president in the United States, Michael Horn, said: “We made a huge mistake.”

“The company has lost the trust of its customers and the trust of the public, and we have already launched an internal investigation,” said the company’s chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, who resigned from his position after the scandal.

Volkswagen’s losses did not stop at the cost of withdrawing 500,000 cars from the United States — a cost estimated at 6.5 billion euros. The financial impact on the company extended to a fine imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The German auto giant has suffered more losses because customers and company shareholders have turned to the courts to sue VW for compensation, with the German Ministry of Justice opening criminal investigation.

These problems initially appeared in the United States, but they spread to other countries, including Britain, Italy, France, South Korea, Canada, and Germany. Politicians, officials, and environmental groups from around the world are questioning the legality of emissions tests on Volkswagen cars.
“There is a need for an investigation across Europe to reassure clients,” said Michael Sabine, France’s finance minister at the time.

After the VW crisis broke cover, several investigations were led by regulators and government agencies to determine whether other companies were under suspicion. Some companies, including Ford, BMW, and Renault-Nissan, announced that they do not use the “defeat device”, while others stayed silent.

The Association of British Automobile Manufacturers and Traders stated that the “European Union uses a completely different system to test cars to be sold in the United States, with European emissions testing conducted under strict conditions that meet the requirements of European law and under the supervision of an independent government agency tasked with certifying the results.”

They added that “the emissions tests currently in place are outdated, and there are efforts aimed at reaching an agreement by the European Commission to develop a new method for those tests that includes new technology for these tests and tests the car in a road condition.”

Does this mean that the EU needed stricter rules on emissions tests?
Several European environmental activists stated that emissions rules are being breached in Europe, arguing that diesel cars in Europe are powered by far worse technology than in the United States.

Previous environmental reports showed that, when they are launched on the roads, 90 percent of diesel cars do not meet the required specifications in terms of the level of emissions.

The scandal was a big blow to the diesel car market. Over the past 10 years or so, car companies have invested in this class of cars, believing that diesel is better for the environment.

But scientific evidence recently suggested that this is not true, which led to the emergence of a trend towards reducing diesel cars in several cities. In fact, diesel car sales had already begun to decline even before the Volkswagen crisis.

In retrospect, the revelation of the Volkswagen scandal led to a sharp drop in demand for diesel cars. In the United States, diesel cars represent only 1 percent of new car sales, and the numbers are expected to drop even further on “the other side of the pond”. 

Diesel is still a prime choice, but the emergences of Hybrid and Electric car choices might turn the tide on Diesel.

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