Quickly becoming the automotive industry’s biggest scandal of 2015, Dieselgate has already claimed numerous high-level executives at Volkswagen AG, as well as its associated brands Audi and Porsche.
It’s been just ten days since the news first broke that Volkswagen had purposely circumvented tough U.S. EPA emissions standards for Diesel cars by programming its 2.0-liter TDI ‘clean-diesel’ engines to bypass mandated emissions control systems when being driven on the road. Already the scandal has caused shares in the German automaker to plummet more than 36 percent, spawned dozens of threats of legal action from both customers and environmental groups and even prompted criminal investigations against Volkswagen and its board in both the U.S. and Europe.
To date, Volkswagen’s board and PR team have been working hard to distance themselves from the scandal, claiming ignorance to the criminal activity and seeking to paint those responsible for the software as being metaphorical bad eggs in a company trying to be kinder to the planet.
But yesterday, German language paper Bild am Sonntag claimed that the illegal software had been at Volkswagen since 2007 — and bosses high-up in the company knew about it all along.
Last week, tier-one automotive parts supplier Bosch — which supplies electronic control modules, exhaust metering equipment and many other types of engine and ancillary electronics to some of the world’s biggest automakers — made a public statement acknowledging that it had supplied the Volkswagen group with some of the raw components which lay at the heart of the scandal.
Along with those parts, it supplied VW with versions of test software to enable the automaker to correctly test and integrate the components into its engines and cars. But, claimed the Sunday paper, Bosch’s software — which included the ability to disengage various components to aid bench-testing and engineering development — made it into production vehicles.
For a tier one parts supplier, giving an automaker this type of software — essentially the equivalent of an example or development firmware for the device — is commonplace. In the electronics and computer industry, chip suppliers do a similar thing in order for companies to fully tweak and test hardware as part of the usual development process.
But like electronics firms, that development (or example) firmware would end up in a consumer product. Instead, it would be used to produce the code which ultimately ships with the product. Locked down, fully-compliant code.
In the case of Volkswagen, Bild am Sonntag says that Bosch became aware that Volkswagen was using some of the development code in its final software for the diesel engines back in 2007, and wrote to Volkswagen warning it that practice was illegal. Bosch would not detail however if it received any acknowledgement from the automaker confirming that it understood the warning.
Digging further, the newspaper also claims via anonymous sources within VW that the entire Dieselgate episode can trace its routes back to 2005, when Volkswagen was looking to build a new engine for the U.S. market.
As the story goes, Volkswagen brand chief Wolfgang Bernhard recruited Audi engineer Rudolf Krebs to build a prototype diesel engine for use in mid-sized VW vehicles. Having performed well in early testing, the pair noted that the emissions from the engine were still too high at the kind of power levels it needed, so concluded that to pass new U.S. emissions tests, a supplemental AdBlue Urea injection system would be required.
Designed to convert harmful nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and water inside the catalytic converter of a diesel vehicle by spraying a urea mist into the hot exhaust gasses, AdBlue can dramatically reduce NOx emissions from a diesel engine, but adds additional cost at time of manufacturer due to the extra tank required for the solution and the additional electronics required to control the spray system.
At the time, Bild am Sonntag claims, Krebs and Bernhard told Volkswagen’s board of their recommendation, but at a time when the brand was dramatically trying to cut overheads, the recommendation was ignored.
Bernhard left the company shortly afterwards — and the arrival of Martin Winterkorn as VW CEO saw Krebs moved to a different role within the company. With Winterkorn at the helm, the paper continues, development of the diesel engine was handed off to two of his Audi colleagues, Ulrich Hackenberg and Wolfgang Hatz.
By the time the engine hit production, it came with the deliberate emissions hack — and no urea injection system.
Here at Transport Evolved, we’ve been unable to confirm or deny this particular story. Given the details of the story thus far however, we’ve got to say that from our perspective it sounds at least plausible.
If it’s true, however, we suspect finding a new job will be the last of the worries of the board members implicated.
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