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T&E first drew attention to the potential scandal in an article published in April 2016. The German trade body Camion Pro – which represents road transport operators, many of them small businesses – had uncovered a practice whereby truck engines could be manipulated so it looked as if a truck was using the NOx-reducing fluid ‘AdBlue’, even though it was not. Users of AdBlue qualify for certain tax and toll reductions.
At the time, Camion Pro’s evidence was based largely on its own work, in which under-cover researchers pretended to be sales staff for the soft- and hardware that manipulates lorry engines. But now it has been backed up by research commissioned by the German television station ZDF and conducted at the University of Heidelberg. Its findings were broadcast on ZDF’s magazine programme Frontal 21 on 17 January.
The technology that masks the absence of the NOx reduction system is made up of small electronics components, which have become known in the haulage industry as ‘AdBlue killers’. Although installation techniques are openly demonstrated on YouTube and other internet video sites, it appears few enforcers are aware of the scandal. The ZDF programme showed a team carrying out a manipulation in Romania, with one member saying: ‘You don’t need to worry about Germany – the police there don’t know about this.’
The Heidelberg research confirmed Camion Pro’s initial estimate that 20% of lorries operating in eastern Europe have effectively circumvented NOx reduction technology, causing around 14,000 tonnes more NOx to be emitted per year than would be the case if all trucks that say they use AdBlue were doing so. In financial terms, ZDF quoted a toll expert as saying the scandal was costing Germany €110 million a year in lost revenue.
By turning off the system, users are claiming tax and toll reductions even though emissions are vastly higher than the levels that qualify for the financial incentives. The German car buyers’ website autoankauf.de said: ‘A number of German motorists haven’t engaged with the VW scandal and may not engage with this one. Sadly, it’s only the environment that suffers, and motorists seem largely unaffected by it all.’