Volkswagen Emissions Scandal: ‘Defeat Devices’ That Allowed Diesel Vehicles To Cheat On Emissions Tests [Update]

Volkswagen’s emissions scandal is one of the biggest to hit the automotive world. Evidently, the company rigged its diesel cars to fool machines that tested the cars for emissions compliance.

Volkswagen AG Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn admitted on Sunday that the company has, for years, been fitting its diesel cars with software that activated emissions control only when the cars were being tested for compliance. On the road, the software deactivated the stricter algorithms, allowing the cars to spew a far higher quantum of pollutants into the atmosphere than what was legally permitted.

The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA said the Volkswagen and Audi grossly violated emissions rules using “defeat devices.” These sophisticated components were meant to ensure the vehicles passed the emissions control tests every single time by turning on full pollution control protocols only when the car would be undergoing official emissions testing.

Under normal driving conditions, with the defeat device deactivated, the diesel vehicle would emit up to 40-times more pollutants than allowed under federal clean air laws, reported Fox Business. Accepting the scandal, Winterkorn shared a statement.

“I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public. Volkswagen has launched an external investigation. We do not and will not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law.”

The defeat device could be installed in as many as half a million vehicles. If proven, the company may be facing a fine of more than $18 billion, with the possibility of criminal prosecution under federal laws, reported MSN. The scandal was first uncovered by International Council on Clean Transportation. The agency, suspecting foul play, commissioned real-world emissions tests of diesel vehicles and compared them to the tests conducted in emissions control labs.

Volkswagen has always struggled to build business in the United States. It has always advertised its diesel cars as powerful yet clean. Though automakers in America have been reporting good sales, Volkswagen could only rely on its diesel cars. Diesel engines were what allowed the company to differentiate itself from the competition, which majorly sold cars that ran on gasoline.

Incidentally, Volkswagen was the top seller of diesel cars, but the fact that it manipulated emissions data for about 482,000 cars since 2008 will surely and hugely impact its credibility and reliability. With diesel cars making up 25 percent of its total car sales, the scandal will surely hit is bottom-line as well.

At a time when companies are trying to improve the efficiency of their cars, it is truly sad to see Volkswagen resorted to such trickery.

[Update] The company appears to have asked dealers to cease the sale of Audi A3 and the Volkswagen Golf, Passat, Beetle, and Jetta.

[Image Credit | Odd Andersen / Getty Images]