Rupert Stadler, chief executive of German carmaker Audi, was arrested by prosecutors in Munich, Germany last week, in the latest chapter in a long-running diesel emissions scandal that has come to be known as “Dieselgate.”
The scandal dates back to September 2015 and concerns the world’s largest automaker, Audi’s parent company Volkswagen (VW). It is the biggest and most costly scandal in the history of German industry.
“Dieselgate” centers around so-called “defeat devices” detected by the US Environmental Protection Agency in VW cars exported to the US.
A defeat device is actually a piece of software installed on a car’s computer management system, designed to circumvent emissions testing by regulators. The software works by reducing the power and performance of the car when it detects the vehicle is on a stationary test rig in typical laboratory conditions.
This meant that, unbeknownst to regulators, VW cars were actually emitting far more harmful nitrogen-oxide pollutants in real-world driving conditions than measured during testing — and at levels far in excess of US and EU emissions standards.
Nitrogen oxides can penetrate sensitive lung tissue and have been linked to respiratory diseases such as bronchitis. They are also a contributing factor of smog and acid rain.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The defeat devices came to the attention of the agency after the International Council on Clean Transport (ICCT) commissioned researchers at West Virginia University to conduct a study of diesel car emissions. Researchers initially conducted tests seeking to prove diesel cars were cleaner than their gasoline counterparts, but were shocked to find emissions from two VW vehicles they tested were between 8-40 times the levels measured during environmental regulators’ laboratory tests.
VW eventually admitted it had installed defeat devices on nearly 600,000 vehicles sold in the US from 2009 through 2015 and about 11 million cars worldwide. The automaker was forced to buy back hundreds of thousands of “dirty” diesel cars from US customers at an estimated cost of US$10 billion.
In January last year, VW pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the US government and obstructing a federal investigation and agreed to pay more than US$3 billion in fines. Earlier this month VW agreed to pay a fine of 1 billion euros, imposed by German prosecutors. A total of 50 countries including the UK, Italy, France, South Korea and Canada have opened separate investigations into the company, which has set aside a US$30 billon war chest to cover the fall out from the crisis.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
VW subsidiary Audi became embroiled in the scandal last month after it admitted a further 60,000 of its cars have emissions software “problems” bringing the total number of recalled Audi cars to more than 900,000. Munich prosecutors say they arrested Stadler out of concern he might seek to suppress evidence. Two and a half years after the original story broke, it appears there is still plenty of road left to run on a scandal which has shaken German industry to the core.
(Edward Jones,Taipei Times)
Volkswagen, which means “people’s car” in German, was founded in 1937 to produce the Beetle car, which was originally called the Volkswagen Type 1. The Beetle was commissioned by then-German chancellor Adolf Hitler to satisfy the need for a simple, cheap car for the masses to be used on the country’s new autobahn network of motorways. Lead engineer Ferdinand Porsche finalized the design in 1938, but the car was not manufactured in significant numbers until 1945, as civilian car production was halted after World War II broke out.
At the end of the war British army officer Major Ivan Hirst removed an unexploded bomb that had fallen through the roof of the Volkswagen factory, and in doing so prevented irreplaceable production equipment from being destroyed. Production was then re-started, initially to produce cars for the British army.
Through the following decade sales of the Beetle took off worldwide, with the one-millionth car rolling off the production line in 1955. VW went on to produce other iconic car designs including the VW camper van, officially known as the Volkswagen Type 2, which was released in 1950 and became closely associated with the 1960s “hippie” counterculture movement.
(Edward Jones, Taipei Times)
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