It’s been a question we and the rest of the automotive press have been waiting to find out the answer to for nearly two weeks: just how is German automaker Volkswagen planning on solving the dieselgate scandal in which some eleven million Volkswagen group vehicles worldwide contain software purposely designed to bypass tough emissions standards?
The answer? To commit to a global refit program on all 11 million vehicles.
In an official announcement this morning, Volkswagen said that it would ‘refit’ the diesel engines of all affected vehicles to ensure compliance with the emissions standards that the engines were programmed to purposefully circumvent. What isn’t known at the moment is what that refit program will involve.
As we explained in our recent coverage, the German automaker was recently caught by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board shipping various so-called ‘clean-diesel’ TDI engines with engine control software which ensured the engines complied with emissions regulations when driven on a dynamometer, but allowed the car to produce up to 40-times the legal NOx level when driven on the public highway.
When the EPA first announced the infringement, it also stated that Volkswagen had openly admitted to the government agency that it had knowingly programmed the emissions control systems of cars fitted with its EA 189 2.0-liter diesel engine to behave in this way, opening the door to a full-scale criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into the matter.
It and similar investigations taking place across Europe and around the world could see Volkswagen face billions of dollars of fines and perhaps even jail time for some of its current and former executives. But while fines and criminal investigations may ultimately see those responsible face justice, they won’t fix the 11 million vehicles worldwide which are in non-compliance with emissions standards.
With at least some of those 11 million vehicles now believed to be the reason for the European Union not hitting its planned emissions targets, the pressure is on Volkswagen to rectify the situation as soon as possible.
“In a first step, the customers affected will be informed that the emissions characteristics of their vehicles will be corrected in the near future. All vehicles are technically safe and roadworthy,” Volkswagen’s official statement reads. “Under the action plan, Volkswagen and the other Group brands whose vehicles are affected will present the technical solutions and measures to the responsible authorities in October.”
Volkswagen says it will keep customers informed of the progress of its refit program, but hasn’t yet said what the program will involve.
Like other commentators, we’d assumed the answer would be to either reprogram the engine management systems of affected cars — reducing overall engine power but ensuring compliance with emissions regulations — or perhaps launching a retrofit campaign to fit urea injection systems in the exhaust system of affected vehicles. Naturally, the former would leave customers feeling cheated and unhappy that their cars no-longer performed as they once did. The latter would cost Volkswagen hundreds of dollars per car to implement.
Whatever Volkswagen’s solution however, the cost of trying to trick officials to believe its cars were emissions-compliant is unlikely to be known for years — or possibly even decades.
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