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Dieselgate Is Not Just Volkswagen’s Problem Anymore

Part of the problem with cheating is that when one person starts, everyone else has to do the same in order to keep up.

German Engineering

Back in September, Volkswagen publically admitted that it was using a special defeat device in order to make its diesel engines seem environmentally friendly, fuel efficient, and high-performance all at the same time. Unfortunately, they couldn’t actually do all three at the same time, at least not with the diesel engines they had back in 2009, and so they cheated instead.

When Volkswagen first started its push to be the top automaker in the world, they installed software on their diesel cars which could detect test conditions and switch on all the vehicle’s exhaust scrubbers, bringing it in line with EU and EPA regulation limits. However, these exhaust systems demanded a considerable amount of power from the engine, considerable enough to affect fuel efficiency and acceleration, and so the software switched these systems off while driving normally so that their owners would get a good performance.

In September 2015, the EPA publically issued a notice of violation which stated that Volkswagen was intentionally rigging its diesel engines with these devices, and soon afterwards Volkswagen just as publically admitted to it.

The Scandal Expands

Diesel vehicles are an incredibly large market in the European Union, accounting for around half of all recently sold personal automobiles. Part of the reason for this expanding diesel market has been the fact that they’ve been advertised as good for the environment: they produce about the same emissions as a gasoline vehicle but they get more miles to the gallon, thus producing less pollution overall.

In light of the recent scandal, however, journalists and special interest groups have been conducting their own unofficial tests which operate under more road-like conditions. When faced with these tests, virtually every diesel engine produced more nitrous oxides than regulation limits allow and two-thirds of gasoline vehicles produce excess carbon monoxide.

Sometimes the difference is relatively low, indicating that the official test is inadequate and that automakers design their engines specifically to pass the official test. This may not be what regulators intend, but it’s not illegal. In other cases, however, the difference in emissions is closer to Volkswagen’s 20-40 times the legal limit, which implies that they may be cheating using a similar method.

In mid-January, French investigators raided the offices of the automaker Renault, apparently in connection to excess nitrous oxide production in its diesel cars. Other German car companies like BMW have had to fend off accusations that they’ve been either following Volkswagen’s lead or else paving their way, and even American companies like Ford and GM have been implicated as being a part of the problem.

What’s Next?

The argument “everybody does it” rarely carries any weight in the world of sports when an athlete is caught cheating, and it’s less likely to fly in the world of car manufacturing. If everyone is cheating, then everyone will be punished.

Of course, the punishment here in the United States is still going to be nothing more than a sideshow compared to what’s going to happen in the EU if it really does turn out that most diesels produce far more pollution than regulations allow. Diesel personal vehicles occupy just a sliver of the American car fleet, and so despite our tendency to compound government actions with personal civil lawsuits, there’s an overall limit to how much compensation we can ask for when not many people have been directly affected.

On the other hand, while EU citizens generally don’t drive as much as Americans, “half of all new vehicles sold” is a very significant number. In the end, VW may wind up being lauded for its honesty and swift response depending on what its competitors do and how many of them will turn out to be cheating just as badly.

Michael J. Babboni's wide-ranging legal career is based on the strong belief that everyone should be treated fairly and have access to effective legal help. Michael began putting his beliefs in action by helping the people of St. Petersburg Florida get what they are owed in civil trials fighting to protect families by making corporations pay, and honor their obligations.

Dieselgate Is Not Just Volkswagen’s Problem Anymore

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh

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