First, we need to start by talking about urea.
In order to meet tougher emissions regulations that went into effect in 2008, most automakers started supplying their diesel cars with tanks of a urea-based solution (often referred to as “AdBlue”) that cuts down on nitrous-oxide emissions.
Many larger diesel engines on big sedans and SUV, including some from Audi as well as competitors at BMW and Mercedes, use such a system. But VW and Audi said their 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine was able to meet the requirements without a urea injection system — although many people have wondered exactly how. (Update: Just to clarify, newer TDI models like the MK7 Golf, made from 2015 on, do include urea injection.)
On Friday, the EPA announced they found the TDI cars contained “a sophisticated software algorithm” which detected when the car was being tested for emissions. When that happens, the software drastically reduces the emissions as compared to normal driving, indicating to testers that the car had passed.
Basically, it’s like taking a test when you already know what the answers are. It appears the cheat device was present on all TDI cars, not just ones sent for emissions testing.
And the fines alone are going to pretty much cripple the company.
We’re talking about a maximum possible fine of $37,500 per vehicle, which could add up to as much as $18 billion for Volkswagen and Audi. That’s astronomical even for what is now the world’s biggest automaker, but then again, this appears to be a staggering violation of the law.
In addition, the EPA is working with the U.S. Department of Justice on the case, so criminal charges could arise from the situation too. And with a self-professed renewed focus on white-collar crime, VW could be the target the Justice Department is looking for right now.
The best part? Volkswagen was busted because an NGO wanted to prove that Volkswagen's amazing urea-free "cleaner diesel cars" sold in America would work in Europe.
The Volkswagens were spewing harmful exhaust when testers drove them on the road. In the lab, they were fine.
Discrepancies in the European tests on the diesel models of the VW Passat, the VW Jetta and the BMW X5 last year gave Peter Mock an idea.
Mock, European managing director of a little-known clean-air group, suggested replicating the tests in the U.S. The U.S. has higher emissions standards than the rest of the world and a history of enforcing them, so Mock and his American counterpart, John German, were sure the U.S. versions of the vehicles would pass the emissions tests, German said. That way, they reasoned, they could show Europeans it was possible for diesel cars to run clean.
“We had no cause for suspicion,” German, U.S. co-lead of the International Council on Clean Transportation, said in an interview. “We thought the vehicles would be clean.”
Precision engineered....to cheat on emissions tests. Nice work, Volkswagen.