The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is investigating Volkswagen for violating the Clean Air Act by using defeat devices for manipulating its cars pollution levels, and this could be the push the auto industry needs to adopt new uniform standards.
The EPA accuses the US arm of VW of using devices on its diesel engines to "bypass, defeat or render inoperative elements of vehicles' emission control system." The company is alleged to have used technology that makes its cars ‘ace' a test but under normal driving conditions emit between 10 and 40 times more nitrogen oxide than the US Clean Air Act allows.
On Monday, Volkswagen's CEO Martin Winterkorn, issued an official statement on the matter. "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," he said.
The accusations are serious and potentially costly. Each of the 500,000+ cars affected will have to be recalled. There will be fines and possibly criminal charges. But VW is by no means the only company to have resorted to extraordinary measures, and the saga could help push through legislation for unifying and overhauling the current systems used for reporting a car's performance figures. Something that would benefit all drivers, all around the world.
It's no secret that car makers do anything they can to improve fuel efficiency or cut emissions in testing. A Transport & Environment (T&E) study published in 2013 exposed how firms have sealed door joints with tape, disconnected the alternator, or used special lubricants to boost fuel economy in the lab. None of which is illegal, but is simply a result of there being too many loopholes in the current approach.
Earlier this month, T&E also published data that shows despite the introduction of new Euro 6 emissions legislation only one in 10 new diesel cars built to meet the new ruling actually does in real world tests. Greg Archer, T&E's clean vehicles manager, said: "Every new diesel car should now be clean but just one in 10 actually is. This is the main cause of the air pollution crisis affecting cities."
From 2018, this will change as car companies in Europe will have to perform on-road rather than laboratory tests for their cars' emissions, and the UN would like to see all car companies around the world adopt the unified World Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) that would make it clearer and easier for consumers to compare any two new cars' CO2 emissions and fuel economy no matter where in the world they were built.
Car companies agree to the WLTP in principle but have been stalling on an adoption date. However, if the Volkswagen saga continues to gain headlines the new system could be a global standard before the end of the decade.