‘Das auto’ scandal undermines consumers’ trust

Friday, October 23, 2015

By Shawna Daly

“Since I was a kid, all I wanted was a 1993 Super Sport Camaro,” says Sean Small, a mechanical engineering major at DCCC. For now, he opted for a 2004 Volkswagen R32.

“The reason I bought the R32 was to build a hot rod,” says Small. “It came with all-wheel drive, and I love driving in the snow.”

With experience at multiple body shops and in his own garage, Small chooses to spend his spare time fixing and fine tuning his cars. Small says he won’t buy another Volkswagen, “If I were to do it again, I’d buy a Jeep.”

Small isn’t the only one with an altered outlook on the Volkswagen cars and company as a whole as a result of the recent scandal.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 11 million Volkswagen diesel vehicles contain software that turns off emission controls when driving normally and turns them on when undergoing standard test conditions in a controlled facility.

Volkswagen’s scandal erupted worldwide: the global company operates in 20 European countries and 11 countries in the Americas, Asia, and Africa.

Volkswagen CEO, Martin Winterkorn, was confronted by the EPA after receiving interesting data from The International Council on Clean Transportation. According to the ICCT, the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines, and Emissions at West Virginia University ran tests in which they implemented PEMS, a Portable Emissions Measurement System, in the Volkswagen Passat, Jetta, ad BMWx5.

The results were criminal.

The Passat exceeded Nitrous Oxide standards from 15 to 35 times and the Jetta from 5 to 20 times, while the BMWx5 was within legal range. NOx is created when gas is burned at high temperatures and is in the family of poisonous gases.

Based on the ICCT’s results, project leader Francisco Posada said, “…the technology needed to meet the U.S. motor vehicle air pollution emission standards for diesels is available.”

But Volkswagen created a mechanism to alter NOx emissions.

Annually, cars are tested on a device similar to a treadmill, which stimulates the engine and wheels. Since the car runs in a fixed position on a rolling track, the steering wheel is still. Volkswagen factored the lack of steering wheel operation during emissions test and designed their program to run in testing conditions.

The EPA dubbed this program a “defeat device” that overrides a car’s true NOx output. For the augmented emissions systems, a light diesel vehicle’s output is 40 times greater than NOx standards allow to protect public health.

Winterkorn is the chairmen of the Group Board of Management and Sustainability Board, and on Sept. 20 he publicly acknowledged the company’s corruption. Many news sources, such as Times Free Press, have run the company’s Volkswagen news releases with headlines such as “Volkswagen CEO steps down, takes responsibility for scandal.”

Winterkorn apologized on behalf of the Volkswagen Company as if it were a person, or a CEO. However, Winterkorn says he is “not aware of any wrongdoing on my part.”


But Winterkorn became CEO in 2007, and according to the ICCT, these devices have been engineered in Volkswagen vehicles since 2009.

As the CEO, Winterkorn informs the Sustainability Board about Volkswagen’s production and emissions data. These reports are then relayed to the CDP, EPA, and the United Nations Global Impact.

According to the CDP, Volkswagen annually replies to their questionnaires that monitor past emissions statistics, their present stats, and Volkswagen’s prospects for lowering waste and NOx emissions in the future, among other emission related requirements.

The CDP grades these reports and posts them to their public website.

Volkswagen’s 2014 Climate Change report was graded an “A” for their performance and disclosure documents. However, their 2015 report was submitted but neither published nor scored.

According to their 2014 sustainability report, Volkswagen made a commitment to UNGI in 2002 promising the promotion of human rights, labor standards, protection of the environment and combating corruption.

Environmental abuse in the form of unwarranted emissions, like CO2 and NOx from Volkswagen vehicles, impacts climate change so dramatically that it resonates globally and unjustly affects non-emitting and non-industrialized countries, experts say.

In a TedTalk, Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, insists industrialized and heavily populated countries need to dramatically reduce their emissions because of its effect on climate change. She highlights how these unnatural adjustments affect the agricultural calendars and occurrence of unusual natural disasters such as floods and draughts.

According to the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Injustice, emissions standards are in place because climate change affects the intensity, elongation, and extremity of winter and summer seasons all over the globe.

Her perspective is that increasing emissions is a terrible global phenomenon is a social injustice, especially to third world countries that generate trivial amounts of emissions. Robinson believes that superseding emissions standards is a threat to economic growth of other countries.

In her TedTalk, Robinson references Anote Tong, president of Kirbati, and his address to the panel of climate change at the Human Rights Council.

Tong bought land in Fiji as an “insurance policy” for his people’s impending migration. Philippine residents will eventually have to leave their homeland because it is slowly going underwater due to the ocean’s malleability to climate change.

For an “environmentally conscious” company, Volkswagen is a very diverse fleet. From the Beetle’s novel nostalgia to the untamable roar of the Lamborghini Aventador, the Volkswagen brand has lived up to its translation as the “people’s car” until their emissions scandal.

But Small said he is intrigued by the ingenuity of the “defeat device.”

And despite the infamy that now plagues Volkswagen, Small isn’t as concerned with the “big business politics,” he says.

Small believes engineers thrive on inspecting and rebuilding, “I’ve ripped my VW apart too many times, but she’s fast,” Small says. “I have to tinker with it and really make it my own.”

When buying the R32, Small didn’t invest in the supposed integrity of the Volkswagen Company and their environmental mission. Small lives an eco- friendly lifestyle, recycles, and spends time outdoors, but he admits, “I never bought the car for environmental reasons.”

Regardless, Small believes the general population purchases based on trends and ideals, and Volkswagen’s “defeat device” is a bold move, but most likely not uncommon. “I know how big auto industries are,” he says. “They use a lifestyle image to scam or control consumers.”

Small’s inclination was right. According to Tech Times website, Honda, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi have shown to significantly release more NOx pollution in real-world situations compared to regulatory tests.

Small is very technical and practical in his decision making regarding buying, selling, and fixing cars and is unimpressed with the company’s shortcomings. “I like my R32 because I’ve made it mine, but I would never buy a Volkswagen again,” he says.

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