This is my modest attempt to add something to the almighty #autogate scandal that detonated like a bomb on 18 September, four intense weeks ago. Here we go. First, about the industry. All the evidence we have assembled has led us to say this affair is the tip of the iceberg. Predictably the industry is trying to paint it as the opposite - an isolated incident for which a few low-level rogue engineers were responsible.
Europe’s response to the failure of EU vehicle emissions testing exposed by Volkswagen’s admission of cheating must be a complete overhaul of how cars are approved for sale. That was the response of T&E as further evidence emerged of the growing gap between official test results and cars’ actual carbon emissions on the road.
Volkswagen has been left with its reputation in tatters, as well as facing huge fines and a recall of 11 million of its diesel cars worldwide, after it was caught cheating emissions tests by US regulators. The company’s CEO resigned days after the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the admission of software in its vehicles designed to cheat the tests.
The car industry lobby is second only in size to the financial industry in lobbying the EU institutions, according to the transparency register. The sector’s influence on EU legislation for car emissions limits and testing has come into sharp focus since Volkswagen’s cheating was uncovered in the US yet went undetected in tests in Europe where diesel cars account for more than one in two cars sold.
The new Volkswagen boss, Matthias Müller, who was appointed following his predecessor’s resignation over the emissions scandal, was head of Porsche when the high-performance sports car company appeared to be caught drafting EU legislation to weaken noise pollution laws.
Loans to Volkswagen from the European Investment Bank (EIB) may be recalled if it becomes clear the money was misused, the bank’s president has said. ‘We will have to ask ourselves the question whether we should reclaim loans,’ Werner Hoyer told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The Dieselgate scandal has prompted European car manufacturers to rethink their commitment to diesel and this week Volkswagen announced plans to intensify development of electric cars and plug-in hybrids. It may also have smaller vehicles use petrol instead of diesel. Yet European carmakers’ industry body ACEA has warned against jeopardising diesel, ‘one of the key pillars for fulfilling future CO2 targets’.
Just days before the Volkswagen scandal became public, environmental campaigners in Germany confronted Angela Merkel with the message ‘Diesel exhausts kill’ as the German chancellor opened the Frankfurt International Motor Show, the largest car show in Europe. The message was presented via a 13-metre-long blow-up car with its own cloud of exhaust fumes, designed to highlight the finding that most new diesel cars fail air quality standards they should have met by 1 September.
The impact of the Volkswagen emissions rigging scandal has centred on the shock that a leading and profitable car company from a country with a strong environmental record had been using specialist software to manipulate test results. But T&E has been warning about discrepancies between published fuel-consumption data (which come from official test results) and ‘real-world’ driving conditions for 17 years.
A number of European governments have ordered their own national investigations following news that Volkswagen had rigged emissions tests by using ‘defeat devices’. The European Commission issued a statement encouraging such inquiries.