We might have just passed Halloween, but the nightmare that is Volkswagen’s wanton disregard for emissions targets and purposeful cheating on the same has taken a new twist.
Despite Volkswagen’s protestations, the German automaker — and its luxury Audi and Porsche brands — has been caught cheating on emissions the second time this year. And this time, it revolves around 2014 through 2016 Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche SUVs and sedans fitted with Volkswagen’s latest-generation 3.0-litre diesel engine.
This includes V6-Diesel variants of the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg, 2015 Porsche Cayenne, and 2016 models of the Audi A6 Quattro, A7 Quattro, A8, A8L and Q5.
It’s been more than six weeks since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first announced it was issuing Volkswagen AG a formal Notice of Violation under Part A of Title II of the Clean Air Act for “purposefully manufacturing and installing defeat devices in certain model year 2009 through 2015 diesel light-duty vehicles equipped with 2.0-litre engines.”
Today, it issued a second formal notice of violation for a similar type of behavior in SUVs manufactured by the automaker and its associated brands. Like the first violation, the EPA has detected a noticeable difference between emissions when in ‘testing’ mode and when in normal drive mode.
For those unfamiliar with the cheat device, it is essentially a software algorithm which allows Volkswagen vehicles to detect when they are being driven on a dynamometer — the type of rolling road used in all official fuel economy and emission test routines.
When the car’s engine control unit detects it is being driven in a laboratory on a test bed, code within the unit ensures that fuel mix and engine parameters are tweaked to ensure emissions targets are met. When on the open road, the unit ignores emission targets altogether, tweaking the engine timing and fuel mix for fuel economy and power at the detriment of tailpipe emissions.
In the case of the original 2.0-litre engines tested by the EPA in the original scandal, Volkswagen’s engines were found to emit up to 40 times the U.S. EPA targets for NOx when driven in ‘normal’ mode. According to today’s citation from the EPA, the affected SUVs emit up to 9 times the safe NOx limit.
One of the reasons given by industry insiders for the original cheating was one of cost-cutting. Rather than use an expensive Selective Catalytic Reduction System to capture excess NOx in the exhaust gasses or an even more expensive AdBlue Urea injection system to convert the toxic NOx into harmless water (H2O) and nitrogen (N2), someone at the Volkswagen decided to circumvent the regulations altogether by building the cheat switch.
In the case of the vehicles now cited as being non-compliant, Volkswagen appears to have used Selective Catalytic Reduction and AdBlue yet still found the need to cheat on emissions.
Operationally, the software — while it likely uses a slightly different code base to offer the same end result — behaves in exactly the same way: it detects if the car is on a dynamometer, and adjusts its emissions accordingly.
Implementation is slightly different. Since the V6 3.0-litre TDI engine is designed to work with a Selective Catalytic reduction system, Volkswagen’s ECM code forces the engine into a so-called low NOx temperature conditioning mode when it detects that the car is on a dynamometer.
In this mode, it uses a variety of tricks, including injection timing modification and changing of the fuel pressure to ensure that low NOx emissions are achieved. It also increases the exhaust gas recirculation rate — a system which feeds hot exhaust gasses back into the inlet in order to help the engine warm up more quickly and at the same time, improve the efficiency of the selective catalytic reduction system.
As a consequence, NOx emissions stay low.
Just one second after the completion of the initial 1,370-second FTP 75 Federal emissions test procedure — at which point the test would ordinarily be completed — the engine management system switches to a ‘normal’ drive mode in which exhaust gas recirculation rate, injection timing and fuel pressure are tweaked for performance and economy rather than emissions.
At this point, NOx levels rise considerably.
Moreover, the NOx temperature conditioning mode is skipped entirely as soon as the vehicle determines it is not being driven on a test bed, emitting up to 9 times the acceptable NOx limits outlined in the Clean Air Act.
While Volkswagen has yet to offer an official statement at the time of writing, the news is likely to severely rock the automaker, which has already faced criminal investigations on multiple continents for its conduct thus far. Fines, say the EPA, will be levied in due course, along with the passing of the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice for ‘initiation of appropriate enforcement action.”
As with the previous violation, expect sales of affected vehicles to cease immediately and no new 2016 model-year cars from the Volkswagen group to be approved for sale by the EPA until the matter has been successfully resolved.
UPDATE, 3:35pm EST: Volkswagen North America has just released the following official statement, flatly denying all new allegations.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) informed Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft on Monday that vehicles with V6 TDI engines had a software function which had not been adequately described in the application process. Volkswagen AG wishes to emphasize that no software has been installed in the 3-liter V6 diesel power units to alter emissions characteristics in a forbidden manner.
Volkswagen will cooperate fully with the EPA clarify this matter in its entirety.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.