Buying a car is the second largest purchase most of us will ever make. We choose our cars based on safety ratings, fuel economy, and estimated rates of depreciation—all of which are based on data provided by the manufacturers. We entrust our cars with our lives and the lives of our loved ones every time we pull onto the road.
Last week, that trust was broken by the biggest auto manufacturer in the world.
Over a year ago, a West Virginia research lab found that Volkswagen was installing devices on its diesel-engine models that falsified pollution emissions test results. VW executives denied claims of wrongdoing up until last Tuesday, when, under pressure from the EPA, the company admitted to cheating on US emissions tests.
11 million vehicles may be affected worldwide, producing as much as 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide. While VW CEO Martin Winterkorn has since resigned from his position and is now the subject of a criminal investigation, he has still not admitted to knowingly breaking any laws.
The ‘defeat device’ installed on VW vehicles, which include the Jetta, Beetle, Golf, and Audi A3, is cleverly designed to recognize when the car is being tested, and temporarily decrease its emissions in order to pass the test. While VW is currently working to find a quick fix for the affected vehicles, any solution will most likely decrease fuel economy and impair driving dynamics.
VW shocked the world with its admission last week, but this is only the most recent instance of an auto manufacturer falsifying emissions results. VW first ran into trouble with the EPA in 1974 when it was caught installing heat-sensing ‘defeat devices’ in its vehicles, resulting in an out-of-court settlement. GM, Honda, and Ford all faced similar charges in the 1990s, and paid out millions of dollars worth of fines to the EPA.
VW will pay stiff penalties for its behavior, and some of the company’s executives may even face criminal sentences. But the auto industry has not learned its lesson. Not by a long shot. History shows us that car manufacturers will continue to lie, cheat and cut corners so long as it saves money and they believe they will not be caught.
While nitrogen oxide emissions may not have an immediate impact on our lives and safety, VW’s dishonesty calls into question the other information that we take for granted from them, like safety ratings, and the results of auto crash Event Data Recorders.
Sources: Beene, Ryan, “VW is a Repeat Offender on ‘Defeat Devices,'” Automotive News, 30 September 2015.
CNNMoney Staff, “Volkswagen Scandal… In Two Minutes,” CNN Money, 30 September 2015.
Hirsch, Jerry, “What You Need to Know About the Volkswagen Emissions-Rigging Scandal,” Los Angeles Times, 25 September 2015.
Ranasinghe, Dhara, “Volkswagen Under Fire: CEO Under Investigation,” CNBC, 28 September 2015.