It’s been more than a month since Volkswagen came clean and admitted that it had been knowingly installed emissions control software designed to cheat emissions tests and emit as much as 40 times the legal NOx limit when being driven on the public highway in certain model-year diesel vehicles sold in both Europe and the U.S.
That defeat device — a software algorithm which some call the ‘cheat switch’ — was initially believed to affect just cars fitted with Volkswagen’s 2.0-litre EA189 diesel engine in an attempt to avoid the costs associated with fitting the expensive Selective Catalytic Reduction NOx traps and AdBlue urea injection system found in many larger-capacity diesel engined vehicles.
The deception itself, claims Volkswagen’s board in defence of the company, involved just a handful of rogue engineers and managers rather than a systematic, company-wide attempt to cheat emissions regulations, and was limited to just that one engine.
But, claimed Reuters in an article on Saturday, the German automaker not only installed the illegal emissions control software in its EA189 engines but then modified it for use in a total of four different engine types, indicating that the dieselgate scandal could go far deeper than many had claimed.
Citing an anonymous Volkswagen manager “with knowledge of the matter” and a U.S. official close to the investigations into the malpractice, Reuters says the claimed manipulation of the software for different engines suggested “a complex deception” by the automaker.
At the moment, spokespersons for Volkswagen in both the EU and U.S. have declined to offer any official statement in response to the allegations, but a spokesperson at VW’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany said that “we are working intensely to investigate who knew what and when, but it’s far too early to tell.”
Despite Volkswagen’s official statement on the deception, not to mention the board’s insistence that the full details of the illegal activity are not known, it’s clear from previous statements made by various Volkswagen officials that the problems are far more widespread than initially claimed.
As Reuters points out, it is known that the cheat switch was fitted to both the EA189 engine and then to the newer EA288 engine. As any software engineer will tell you, the switch between the two different engines would have required someone within Volkswagen — most likely a team of engineers — to have rewritten the switch to work in the new engine.
Since the regulations are different between the U.S and Europe, the exact operating parameters for the cheat switch for each market would have required tweaking to ensure that the engines passed tests on both sides of the Atlantic, a fact that Volkswagen North America chief Michael Horn admitted to a U.S. congressional subcommittee earlier this month.
How many people were involved in the deception? That’s tough to say, but given modern coding practices and the likely management structure involved, we’d guess that entire teams knew of the deception, ranging from the software engineers themselves through to the testing teams, system architects and their line managers.
A conservative estimate would put that figure well above the ‘handful’ of engineers originally claimed and could reach as high as 50 or more.
Regardless of who is ultimately held responsible however, one thing is clear: those with Volkswagen on their resumé could find it hard to find new employment — regardless of their connection to the dieselgate scandal.
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