Volkswagen Called on the Carpet for U.S. Emissions Violations


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a notice of violation (NOV) of the Clean Air Act to Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, and Volkswagen Group of America Inc. (collectively referred to as Volkswagen) regarding a diesel vehicle emissions scandal. For its part, Volkswagen has issued a public apology and vowed to work with the authorities, as well as order an external investigation. According to an AP report, Volkswagen could get hit with up to $18 billion in fines and has already suspended the sale of some cars in the U.S.

According to the EPA, the NOV alleges that four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel passenger cars from model years 2009-2015 include software that circumvents agency emissions standards for certain air pollutants. California is separately issuing an in-use compliance letter to Volkswagen, and the EPA says it and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have both initiated investigations based on Volkswagen's alleged actions. The vehicle manufacturer may be liable for civil penalties and injunctive relief for the violations alleged in the NOV.

As described in the NOV, a sophisticated software algorithm on certain Volkswagen vehicles detects when the car is undergoing official emissions testing and turns full emissions controls on only during the test. The EPA says the effectiveness of these vehicles' pollution emissions control devices is greatly reduced during all normal driving situations. This results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory or testing station, but during normal operation, emit nitrogen oxides, or NOx, at up to 40 times the standard, according to the agency.

The EPA says the software produced by Volkswagen is considered a “defeat device,” as defined by the Clean Air Act.

As the agency explains, the Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to certify to EPA that their products will meet applicable federal emission standards to control air pollution, and every vehicle sold in the U.S. must be covered by an EPA-issued certificate of conformity. Motor vehicles equipped with defeat devices, which reduce the effectiveness of the emission control system during normal driving conditions, cannot be certified. By making and selling vehicles with defeat devices that allowed for higher levels of air emissions than were certified to the EPA, Volkswagen violated two important provisions of the Clean Air Act, claims the agency.

The EPA says it and CARB uncovered the defeat device software after independent analysis by researchers at West Virginia University, working with the International Council on Clean Transportation, a non-governmental organization, raised questions about emissions levels, and the agencies began further investigations into the issue. The EPA says that after the agencies demanded an explanation for the identified emission problems, Volkswagen admitted that the cars contained defeat devices.

The allegations cover roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the U.S. since 2008. According to the EPA, affected diesel models include the following:

– Jetta (model years 2009-2015)
– Beetle (model years 2009-2015)
– Audi A3 (model years 2009-2015)
– Golf (model years 2009-2015)
– Passat (model years 2014-2015)

The EPA says owners of cars of these models and years do not need to take any action at this time.

“Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” says Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, in an EPA press release. “Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, EPA is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules. EPA will continue to investigate these very serious matters.”

Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen AG, issued a statement on Sunday, saying, “The board of management at Volkswagen AG takes these findings very seriously. I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our 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.”

Furthermore, Winterkorn says the car manufacturer has ordered an external investigation.

“We do not and will not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law,” he comments. “The trust of our customers and the public is and continues to be our most important asset. We at Volkswagen will do everything that must be done in order to re-establish the trust that so many people have placed in us, and we will do everything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused. This matter has first priority for me, personally, and for our entire board of management.”

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