Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has resigned in the wake of a scandal in which the company lied to regulators around the globe about the emissions of its TDI diesel engines. In a statement issued on September 23, he state that, “Volkswagen needs a fresh start – also in terms of personnel. I am clearing the way for this fresh start with my resignation.”
This is the latest in a scandal that will probably end VW’s bid to become the world’s best-selling automaker by 2018; halfway through this year, they had outsold next-biggest Toyota by about 20,000 vehicles and was on track to finish the year on top.
Volkswagen is under fire from U.S. emissions regulators, who say the automaker installed software in nearly half a million diesel engines to make them run cleaner during emissions testing, while emitting up to 40 times the legal limit of pollution in normal driving. That number is said to be greater than the initial close to half-million Golf, Jetta, Beetle, Passat and Audi A3 models thought to be affected.
Automotive News reports the allegations came after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) would not certify the company’s 2016 diesels until it could explain why West Virginia University “found significantly higher emissions” from a 2012 Jetta and 2013 Passat (both fitted with VW’s TDI diesel motors) it had tested as part of a third party study.
VW’s response was that it developed a workaround in the engine control software that detected when the car was undergoing emissions testing and would only then activate the cars’ full set of emissions controls. In regular driving, the EPA said the engines emit nitrogen oxides (NOx) at 40 times (!) the U.S. national standard; NOx contributes to nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter, which have been linked with respiratory ailments, like asthma.
The cars affected are diesel versions of the Jetta, Golf, Beetle and Audi A3 models sold between 2009 and 2015, and the 2014-2015 Passat. U.S. federal law states the EPA can fine VW up to $37,500 per vehicle, which would add up to a fine of $18 billion!!! The EPA says the cars are safe to drive, are legal for resale, and owners need take no action until Volkswagen “initiates the process that will fix the cars,” which it must do, according to the environmental agency’s notice of violation to the carmaker. That fix will involve making the cars run cleaner; the two most straightforward solutions are to program the cars to run in ‘clean mode’ all the time – possibly affecting performance and/or reducing fuel economy, while the other, more expensive answer would be to add a urea-injection system – like that used in most other modern diesels). It’s been suggested that the latter solution could cost VW as much as buying back every car with one of the ‘fake’ clean diesel motors.