In all of the back and forth over Dieselgate, there has been lots of speculation about the entire affair. Finally, a cookbook of sorts has appeared describing, in a detailed presentation, exactly how the Volkswagen could cheat its way through the strict U.S. emissions cycle. A PowerPoint presentation, the document was reportedly prepared by a senior VW executive in 2006.
A story, discussing the presentation, citing two unnamed sources, appeared in The New York Times on Tuesday and Automotive News on Wednesday. Volkswagen declined to comment on the report.
In brief, the document outlines how a piece of code, written into the engine management software, might enable and disengage pollution controls only when tests occurred. The software took its cues from certain predictable patterns within testing routines.
The code worked this way: when a test was detected, the system recognized the fact and shunted the program to a routine that tightened up pollution controls so the vehicle could meet stringent U.S. guidelines. When the test was complete, the controls disengaged, and the vehicle returned to normal operating parameters.
The presentation came to light as part of the probes looking closely at the self-inflicted scandal that has come to be known as Dieselgate. Dieselgate began seven months ago when the automaker admitted installing diesel emissions cheatware on 11 million vehicles worldwide. The presentation was reportedly created by a “top technology executive,” whose identity has been protected by German privacy laws.
According to The Times report, Dieselgate had its roots in 2005 when the automaker opted to make diesel power an important part of plans to increase U.S. market share. A new powerplant was set to shoulder the effort, the EA 189, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four. The engine was supposed to have been built to meet stringent U.S. emissions standards.
The carmaker planned to use a “lean NOx trap” to purify tailpipe fumes. The trap captures nitrogen oxide emissions in a special catalyst. Next, the dirty fumes are supposed to be burnt up by injecting the trap with diesel fuel.
On its debut in model year 2008, the system was hailed as a milestone. The system supposedly kept emissions at U.S. levels while achieving significant equipment savings. VW’s competition used an alternative control system, using selective catalytic reduction – a clean diesel after-treatment technology. Interestingly, Volkswagen now uses this technology. It has been utilized for some time by Mercedes and BMW.
Almost as soon as it employed its lean trap technology, VW engineers ran into a major issue. The engineering team found that, when calibrated for U.S. emissions testing, the pollution control gear would wear too quickly. Seeking a fix, some junior employees suggested an upgrade of the engine’s emissions control hardware. However, VW’s supervisory board rejected the plan because of the cost, two sources, who had attended meetings where the ideas were discussed, told The Times. At this point, apparently, the PowerPoint presentation, outlining how software could be used to cheat on emissions, appeared. It is known as the “defeat device.”
The “device” is the basis of the self-inflicted Dieselgate scandal. In an ever-increasing spiral, Dieselgate has become the central issue consuming Volkswagen. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) charged VW with using the “defeat device” to violate diesel emissions standards last September, senior executives of the automaker lost their positions. Those losing their jobs included Martin Winterkorn, former longtime chief executive of the automaker.
Since then, the automaker has been faced with:
- Ongoing criminal investigations
- More than 600 lawsuits
- Regulators conducting investigations, including the latest probe by the Federal Trade Commission into VW’s diesel advertising
Meanwhile, VW has lost considerable value as Dieselgate’s costs keep climbing. Last Friday, the automaker posted a 1.36 billion euro loss, the largest in its history. And, VW allocated 16.2 billion euros — $18.2 billion – to cover scandal costs, more double the $7.3 billion that had already been set aside in the third quarter.
And, a week ago, VW and the U.S. reached a broad settlement where the automaker agreed to buy back nearly 500,000 2.0-liter diesels sold in the U.S. The offer would settle many of the charges against the automaker. Final consent agreements are set for June 21.
In related news today:
- Volkswagen’s chief executive, Matthias Mueller, told a meeting that he believes 2016 will be a year of positive growth, despite the ongoing, costly Dieselgate scandal. He told the audience that “cost reductions are in full swing” at all VW subsidiaries, and the expected returns are likely to be positive.
- VW is pushing ahead with plans to pay its management board a total of $71.8 million for 2015. The generous payment plan comes as the automaker struggles to deal with a record loss and the continuing Dieselgate morass.
- Volkswagen is seeking partners through which it expects to generate a substantial proportion of its expected revenue growth. The new business model it has put in place is supposed to produce the revenues. Unlike other automakers, VW is not looking to technology leaders Apple or Google for partnership.
Automotive News provided much of the information for this article.