VW clouded by attempts to hide pollution levels

VW clouded by attempts to hide pollution levels

Image: The Car Spy

Volkswagen has been making the headlines recently after it was revealed that it has been bypassing emission standards by using ‘defeat devices’. Alan Andrews, air quality lawyer at ClientEarth, takes a look at some of the legal issues pertaining to the current scandal enveloping the prolific German carmaker.

What is a defeat device?

A defeat device is a mechanism that recognises when the vehicle is being tested and modifies the emission control system accordingly—the Emissions Regulation (EC) 715/2007, art 3(10) defines ‘defeat device’ as:

‘[…] any element of design which senses temperature, vehicle speed, engine speed (RPM), transmission gear, manifold vacuum or any other parameter for the purpose of activating, modulating, delaying or deactivating the operation of any part of the emission control system, that reduces the effectiveness of the emission control system under conditions which may reasonably be expected to be encountered in normal vehicle operation and use.’

This allows vehicles to achieve lower emissions levels during the laboratory test than in real driving conditions.

What is the extent of this dishonesty on the part of Volkswagen?

The use of defeat devices is explicitly prohibited by both European law and US federal laws.

The full extent of Volkswagen’s misconduct is not yet clear. What is clear so far is that:

  • Volkswagen is recalling around 482,000 diesel vehicles sold in the US
  • Volkswagen has admitted that 11 million cars worldwide are fitted with the software
  • the German transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt, has confirmed that vehicles in Europe were also fitted with defeat software

We do not know how many of the 11 million cars equipped with defeat devices are in Europe, but the figure could be high. Since 2009 (when Volkswagen admitted it started using defeat devices) over 40 million diesel cars have been sold in

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