Volkswagen Emission Scandal Deepens: Audi Designed A Clever ‘Cheat Device’ That Activated Only During Pollution Testing Of Vehicles

While Volkswagen’s emission scandal is still causing damage to the once-trusted car brand, another cleverly designed cheat device to trick pollution control testing systems has been discovered in vehicles made by Audi.

The discovery of yet another cleverly designed “cheat device” in certain variants of cars made by luxury car brand Audi, has further tarnished the name and damaged the brand image of Volkswagen. A U.S. regulator discovered the device, a simplistic software algorithm, that smartly curbed emissions if it detected the vehicle was undergoing an emissions control test, reported German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. Without citing any sources, the weekly newspaper claimed the California Air Resources Board (CARB) discovered the software in Audi cars that featured automatic transmission systems. CARB, as well as Audi, have refrained from issuing any statements about the report, reported Fortune.

Volkswagen is Audi’s parent company. However, Audi is the main contributor of earnings for the German car maker. The report claims Audi had already admitted last year to using illicit emissions-control devices in about 85,000 3.0 liter six-cylinder diesel engines, reported Yahoo. Realizing the scandal is expected to cost a pretty penny, the company has earmarked close to $850 million to cover related costs.

Interestingly, Volkswagen may have been using a variant of the cheat device that was designed by Audi way back in 1999. According to another German newspaper, Handelsblatt, Volkswagen engineers had been struggling to rein in Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions of certain diesel engines. They needed these emissions to fall within emissions legislation, but given the size of the engines and the size of the vehicles they were supposed to power, it was a nearly impossible task. Hence, the engineers quietly implemented the Audi-developed emissions-cheating software, alleged the newspaper.

How does the Audi cheat device work? The primary purpose of the cheat device was to lower carbon emissions only when the car was being tested. However, under normal driving conditions, the engine was supposed to operate at its peak performance, which, needless to say, would have caused the vehicles to fail the emission control tests.

Hence, the software was designed to detect if the vehicle was being tested or it was being driven on the road. The software made the decision by monitoring the steering wheel. Under testing conditions, the steering wheel is in its stationary position. If the software detected movement of the steering wheel, it would remain deactivated. In terms of numbers, the software was designed to notice if the wheel had turned by 15 degrees. However, if the steering wheel wasn’t being turned, the software determined the vehicle was being tested and turned on a gear-shifting program which produced less carbon dioxide than in normal road driving. This allowed the car to meet the emissions criteria.

Last year, Audi had admitted its 3.0-liter V6 diesel engine was fitted with emissions-control software, reported Reuters. Apparently, Audi had stopped using the software in May 2016. However, CARB had already made the discovery in an older model, claimed Bild am Sonntag.

Volkswagen had admitted in September 2015 that the “cheat device” may have been fitted in almost 11 million cars that were driven using diesel as the fuel. Apart from the cars that bore the Volkswagen brand, other brands owned by the company, notably Audi, Skoda, and Seat may also have such cheat devices.

Volkswagen has just reached a settlement with U.S. regulators and car owners. The near $15 billion settlement is gargantuan, but experts consider it to be one of the biggest hurdles that Volkswagen managed to clear during the damage control for the scandal. Needless to say, the recent discovery of an additional cheat device could severely impact Volkswagen, making recovery even more difficult.

[Featured Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]