September 25, 2015
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Last Friday, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that computer programming in the Volkswagen 2L diesel engine deactivates part of the emissions system in general driving, turning it on only in the lab when the car senses its emissions are being tested. Roughly 75,000 VW and Audis with the 2L TDI engine were sold in Canada from 2009 until sales were suspended on September 21. On Wednesday September 23, Dr. Martin Winterkorn, the Volkswagen Group CEO, resigned over the scandal, and more resignations and dismissals followed.
When it appeared in North America for the 2009 model year, VW`s 2L diesel set new standards for performance and fuel economy. Other carmakers struggled to meet the tough new diesel emissions standards for particulates, and some quietly shelved their plans, while VW dominated the market for affordable diesel-engine cars in North America. How did VW manage to get top marks for cleanliness AND performance and economy? It turns out parts of the emissions control system were switched on only during testing in the lab. The vehicle`s computer programming was designed to recognize when the car was being tested and only then did it apply full emissions control; the computer also appears to have provided fake data to technicians about vehicle performance on the road when they plugged in their engine scanners!
The deception escaped government regulators here and in Europe, likely because compliance is spotchecked only in laboratories. It took an on-road investigation by University of Virginia researchers to realise that VW`s diesel was polluting at much higher than the permissible rate. Late in 2014, VW told the EPA that the high emissions were caused by unusual driving situations, and they issued a recall to reprogram the engine computer on the affected vehicles. It took another six months for tests by the California Air Resources Board to confirm the recall was a fake -- VW`s diesel was still polluting excessively.
We`ve had new revelations over this story almost daily in the last week. It is now clear that lab tests need to be validated with real-world monitoring by the regulatory authorities responsible for air quality. That should not come as a big surprise, since the same test equipment and personnel at the car companies have been churning out unrealistic fuel consumption figures for decades -- a fact which many buyers discover soon after they take delivery of a new vehicle. It`s likely that diesel engines from other manufacturers are also likely to "game" the system by being much cleaner in the lab than on the road; so far, nobody is alleging that the deception would go as far as Volkswagen’s.
What consumers can do
If you`re about to buy a VW, be it gas or diesel, the APA suggests you postpone your purchase. Big rebates from VW to spur sagging sales are likely in the next month or two.
If you leased a VW, potential depreciation resulting from the emissions debacle is not your concern, as the end value is guaranteed by the manufacturer in almost all cases.
If you own a VW diesel, don`t lose sleep over the loss of market value. The longer the new 2015 and 2016 models stay off the road, the scarcer good used diesels will become. After a brief "freeze up" in the market, the APA believes resale values will likely return nearly to their traditional levels.
The APA foresees VW offering some sort of monetary contribution toward a new vehicle to current VW owners to entice them to stay with the brand. This may take a couple of years, as VW will be tied up in the many class actions already filed in the U.S. and Canada, and likely in other jurisdictions worldwide that permit class actions.
Based on recent experience with other automakers, VW may offer to buy back vehicles for their current market value, plus a small premium. Few consumers are likely to take them up on it, as VW diesel owners love their vehicles and don`t have an obvious alternative to migrate to.
The eventual recall to activate the emissions systems into continuous operation may reduce engine power or increase fuel consumption. Volkswagen will likely have to provide compensation for any reduction in performance. Owners of the new 2015 2L diesel with the AdBlue exhaust cleaning injection system can likely meet current air quality standards with little or no loss of performance and economy.
If you`re the second owner of a VW diesel (or any other used vehicle for that matter) or have moved recently, contact the automaker or a dealer to ensure you are listed as the owner of record in the event of future recall notices.
If you currently own or lease a VW diesel that is covered in the list of models on the right, the APA asks that you fill out our complaint form. The APA may compile this report with others and present it to the automakers or to be included in a group of claimants. In the event action is taken, we will contact you with information or assistance when it becomes available.