Das Liars: The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

Article by Nicole Benedetto | esPResso Committee Member

Despite Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” claims, the company is facing potential criminal charges for cheating engine emissions tests. Volkswagen vehicles sold over the past six years emitted nitrogen oxide to a dangerous, and illegal, degree.

Engine emissions tests are issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to evaluate pollutants released by vehicles. Volkswagen engines were designed to have the capacity to recognize when tests were being conducted and modify the engine performance in order to pass these tests.

An engineering class at The University of West Virginia were experimenting with the Volkswagen engines when they uncovered a stunning miscalculation: the Volkswagen engines were emitting nitrogen oxide pollutants nearly 40 times the amount allowed by the EPA under the Clean Air Act. The EPA refers to this type of device that can cheat tests as a “defeat device.” NPR found that 11 million Volkswagen vehicles contained software able to cheat emissions tests.

According to USA Today, on Sept. 20th, just two days after the EPA raised allegations against Volkswagen, former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn said he was deeply sorry for breaking the trust of the company’s customers and the public. “We will cooperate fully with the responsible agencies, with transparency and urgency, to clearly, openly and completely establish all of the facts of this case.”

Winterkorn has since resigned from his position and been replaced by Michael Horn. Prior to his resignation, Winterkorn issued a statement regarding the EPA’s accusations. “I am shocked by the events of the past few days,” he said. “Above all, I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group.”

Despite the apologies issued on behalf of the company, the legality and public health concerns still remain an issue. Current CEO, Horn, appeared before congress on Oct. 8th to address the crime. In a breaking news report from NPR, panel chairman, Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., asked Horn if the software was installed “for the express purpose of beating tests.” Horn acknowledged that this was its sole intent.

This scandal has resulted in environmental, health and economic issues, leaving Volkswagen with a large problem to fix. In Winterkorn’s resignation statement he insisted, “we will do everything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused.”

According to The New York Times, Volkswagen is working to fix the emission systems, however many consumers are hesitant to comply as emission repairs may hinder the performance of the car. “The E.P.A. cannot force owners to repair their vehicles […] Automakers also cannot require owners to carry out the emissions recall” the New York Times report specified. Now, not only must Volkswagen produce the funds necessary to fix the engines, they must devise a way to make the repairs seem worth it to their consumers.

Photo credited by Wikimedia.

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