German car manufacturer Volkswagen has been embroiled in a scandal that's seen its share price drop 20 per cent, after a US investigation claimed its vehicles had deliberately circumvented clean air rules for diesel cars.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that VW had installed illegal “defeat device” software to rig emission test results, which would make it possible for its cars to produce up to 40 times more pollution than environmental protection legislation allows for. These emissions include high levels of nitrogen oxide, which is a key cause in many respiratory illnesses, as well as a major contributor to smog levels.
“I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public,” Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen chief executive, said in response to the findings.
“Volkswagen has ordered an external investigation of this matter.”
Volkswagen has now ceased production on a selection of cars thought to be at the heart of the scandal, so if you're driving one of these, chances are it's not meeting road-worthy emissions standards. The cars in question all feature the supposedly-"clean" four-cylinder turbo direct injection (TDI) engine, and include the VW Beetle, Golf, Jetta, Passat and the A3 luxury compact made by VW-owned Audi. Models of the cars built after 2009 are thought to be the offending vehicles.
482,000 US vehicles are thought to be affected by Volkswagen's defeat devices and are now being recalled, but the Transport & Environment group suggests that "there is strong evidence that similar illegal devices are also used in Europe by both VW and other manufacturers". A UK recall is now a real possibility according to the group, which could affect potentially millions of vehicles.
While diesel cars make up a relatively small number of the US car population, it's estimated that 7.5 million of the 10 million diesel cars sold last year made their way to Europe. However, some experts believe that Volkswagen's emissions rigging is an isolated incident.
"The EU operates a fundamentally different system to the US - with all European tests performed in strict conditions as required by EU law and witnessed by a government-appointed independent approval agency, " said Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the UK's Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
"There is no evidence that manufacturers cheat the cycle. Vehicles are removed from the production line randomly and must be standard production models, certified by the relevant authority - the UK body being the Vehicle Certification Agency, which is responsible to the Department for Transport."
Volkswagen has stated that it will work with all relevant authorities, "with urgency, to clearly, openly and completely establish all of the facts of this case."
Image Credit: Francis Storr (modified)