The news that Volkswagen had fitted so-called ‘defeat devices’ to certain model-year 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 3.0-litre V-6 diesel-engined cars in order to cheat in official European and U.S. emissions tests was quite a surprise to many in the mainstream media when it broke last September. But for those working in the automotive world, the fact that some manufacturers were deliberately trying to bend or break emissions regulations in order to get their cars approved for sale was no big secret. Some insiders even claim it was the rule rather than the exception to it.
Since the dieselgate scandal broke, automakers have been quick to distance themselves from such practices however, eager to reiterate that their diesel vehicles are fully-compliant with all emissions regulations. Yet with regulators in Europe and North America examining the emissions of vehicles from many different automakers for the same kind of intentional malpractice, no automaker is above suspicion. For those automakers who have diesel-powered cars, there’s a rush to make sure that their own vehicles do indeed meet the required Nitrogen Oxides and CO² emissions requirements laid out in law.
Today, we’re bringing you news of two automakers rolling out updates to certain diesel-powered cars in Europe: General Motors and Renault, both of whom have been at the forefront of the push towards electrified and zero-emission vehicles.
As VRT News in Belgian reported yesterday (via BoingBoing) Opel dealerships (a GM-owned European brand) have been quietly modifying the emissions control systems in 2014 Opel Zafira Tourer seven-seat MPV fitted with GM’s 1.6-liter diesel four-cylinder engine.
VRT reporter Luc Pauwels became aware of the issue when visiting his local dealership for a software upgrade for his own car — an Opel Astra hatchback. Having received a letter from his dealership back in September advising him of the upgrade, which Opel said would improve fuel efficiency, Pauwels reports he was “suspicious” as to the reason for the update, so ensured he arrived at the dealership with camera in tow.
While Pauwels reports the reason for the update to his own car was indeed to improve efficiency not emissions, the dealer mechanic he spoke with discussed the concurrent update being undertaken on all Zafira Tourers with 1.6-litre diesel engine made between 2014 and 2016. The issue, he was told, was the levels of Nitrogen Oxides being emitted by the model in question.
Explaining that all new Zafira Tourer come off the production line with new software that produces less nitrogen oxides, the mechanic then told Pauwels that the dealership has been upgrading the on-board emissions software on older 2014 Zafira Tourer as they come in for servicing.
The reasons for the updates are being kept quiet. While VRT was able to find the one mechanic willing to talk about the update and admitting to having carried it out to specifically to change pollution characteristics, other mechanics denied the update’s purpose. GM meanwhile, has denied any wrongdoing.
To find out for itself, VRT says it arranged for a non-updated 2014 Zafira Tourer to be tested independently on a dynamometer with experts from both Belgium and the UK present. What they witnessed was a car producing five times the permitted NOx levels for Europe.
The engine in question, GM’s latest-generation Medium Diesel Engine and marketed as the 1.6-litre CDTI Ecotec, was designed by Opel in Europe and currently is found in various guises in a range of popular Opel-brand vehicles, including the Zafira Tourer, Opel Astra, Opel Meriva, and Opel Meriva. Those same vehicles are also sold in the UK wearing the Vauxhall badge, but we should note the engine in question is not sold in any U.S.-market cars from GM.
It is not clear if GM’s vehicular software is believed to have included a specific ‘cheat mode’ similar to the software switch found in affected diesel-powered Volkswagen cars, or if the
The second automaker to offer an update is French firm Renault, which said this morning that it is recalling 15,800 diesel-powered Captur crossover SUVs to fix the the pollution control systems on cars fitted with the 110-horsepower variant of Renault’s 1.5-litre, four-cylinder K9K engine.
As Bloomberg reports, Renault came under suspicion of producing a non-compliant diesel vehicle earlier this month, when French government fraud investigators searched the company’s headquarters on January 7th. The probe, which has been ongoing across Europe since the Dieselgate scandal, involved the checking of 100 randomly-chosen diesel-powered cars, twenty-five of which were Renault-brand vehicles.
It’s not just Renault either, says French Environment Minister Segolene Royal. Talking with RTL Radio today, she confirmed that other automakers have also been summoned by the government for producing and selling cars which produce higher-than permitted levels of NOX and CO², but declined to identify them by name.
Unlike GM’s recall, which is purely software-based, Renault says it has identified a faulty filter system within the exhaust of affected models. The faulty filter — which is designed to help capture harmful Nitrogen Oxides as they pass through the exhaust system — only operates between 17 degrees Celsius and 35 degrees Celsius (63 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit). While emissions test cycles are carried out within that temperature range, cities like Paris and London only experience temperatures warmer than 17 degrees Celsius for a few months each summer.
The rest of the year, the average temperature is much lower, causing the cars to be far more polluting than emissions tests would suggest.
“We’re not cheating,” Renault Chief Competition Officer Thierry Bollore said in an official press conference this morning in Paris. “We are meeting the norms, and we are not trying to trick the consumer.” Ms. Bollore, second-in command to joint Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, said that the repair will take about half a day per vehicle to execute, and of course be free of charge to owners.
Later this summer, Renault will also extend a similar recall and repair program for other Renault diesel owners and should improve performance and reduce emissions on of emissions control systems on cars that already meet European guidelines on NOx and CO².
At the moment Renault’s recall is limited to just the 100-horsepower version of the K-series diesel engine and it is not known yet if other cars will be affected. We can tell you however, that the K9 diesel engine is also found in the diesel-powered Renault Clio. Previous version of the same engine can be found in cars from Nissan, Dacia, Renault and Mercedes-Benz.
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