Volkswagen, EPA Disagree on 'Defeat Device' in 3-liter Models

Aaron Cole
by Aaron Cole

Responding to the Environmental Protection Agency’s notification that it had uncovered an illegal “defeat device” in some 3-liter, diesel Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche models, Volkswagen AG said in a statement Monday that it “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.”

The statement flies in the face of the EPA’s allegation that a “temperature conditioning” mode in the vehicles’ computers timed exactly to the length of the agency’s 75 initials emissions tests allowed the cars to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by up to 9 times.

In its letter to the automaker, the EPA alleged that deliberate software was installed on the car’s engine control computer, designed to cheat emissions. From the EPA’s letter Monday to Volkswagen (emphasis mine):

VW manufactured and installed software in the electronic control module (ECM) of each vehicle that causes the vehicle to perform differently when the vehicle is being tested for compliance with EPA emission standards than in normal operation and use.

In other words, either Volkswagen doesn’t agree with the EPA, believes its “temperature conditioning” setting — which the EPA said was timed to the second of its tests — coincidentally helped the car achieve lower emissions, or some sleepy lawyers in Lower Saxony haven’t gotten their coffee yet.

Either way, the Volkswagen diesel saga may have gotten a lot more interesting.

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  • Jthorner Jthorner on Nov 02, 2015

    VW said in another piece: "no software has been installed in the 3-liter V6 diesel power units to alter emissions characteristics in a forbidden manner." Ah, there is that calculated use of the weasel words "in a forbidden manner". So VW isn't just denying that their software alters emission characteristics, but is trying to say that it does so in a way which is not explicitly forbidden. I said from the get-go that this way of doing things was likely to end up being found to be business-as-usual at VW and not limited to a few rogue engineers on one engine family. The $99B question is: Are there other auto makers at which this is considered standard industry practice as well ????

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    • Pragmatist Pragmatist on Nov 03, 2015

      There is the grey area of 'designing to the test' (like 'teaching to the test'). At some level eeveryone does this. There is no point in making something poorly optimized for testing. (Do you not act your best when applying for a job?) The problem is: at what point does this become cheating instead of putting your best foot forward? [Uncle Sam is not altogether clean in this either, just look at some of the military equipment debacles]

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Nov 03, 2015

    "I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy." "I shot the sheriff, but I swear it was in self defense."

    • Sirwired Sirwired on Nov 03, 2015

      VW in a letter to the EPA: "I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy." EPA finds the deputy in the hospital with a VW-branded bullet in his chest: "VW, you are under arrest for shooting the deputy, you filthy liars. Murder 1, and we are revoking your bail for use of a firearm by a confessed felon." VW: "Well, yeah, the deputy's in the hospital (but he's not dead!), and yeah, there's a bullet in his heart with a VW logo on it, but we actually jammed it in there using a ramrod and a mallet, so that doesn't technically count as "shooting" him, and it's not a firearms violation." EPA: "And you actually think that helps your situation?" EPA proceeds to dust off old laws to charge VW with things. In addition to a 30-year sentence for shooting the sheriff, EPA charges them with Jaywalking, Spitting on the sidewalk, Cursing in public, Honking a motor vehicle after 8PM, etc. to extend punishment by approx. 1,000 years.

  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Nov 03, 2015

    I have been known to disagree with traffic cops over the speed at which I was traveling. This typically results in an additional ticket for not enough rubber on the tires or something. This is not necessarily right, but it is the world I live in. You can argue about the EPA using bully tactics all you want (IMHO it is a loosing argument...they cheated and got caught), but the EPA is part of the world in which VW operates and to not be doing all they can to appease them at this point is simply bad business.

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    • Pragmatist Pragmatist on Nov 03, 2015

      @Art Vandelay This is a false dichotomy. 70s smog is a problem licked long ago. If all VWs stayed just the way they are, it will not be back (think back to 2002, not 1970). The potential issue for debate is whether the EPAs recent moving of the goal post was realistic (this does not justify cheating, however). Regulators don't have to carry the practical and financial costs of their decisions, they just appeal to the 'altruism' of their jobs. The manufacturers and their customers wind up paying the cost of technologically unreasonable standards in terms of initial cost, reliability and durability.

  • Thegamper Thegamper on Nov 03, 2015

    I think I understand VW's position although I think the obvious intent of the software was to deceive. So I guess the question is, do VW's V6 diesels begin the "cheat mode" when the car is turned on? Or when the car is plugged into test equipment? If it begins when the car is turned on, VW will simply argue this a design element for engine longevity (or some other BS) and that the 1371 seconds is simply coincidence. They have no way of knowing when the test cycle will begin with any particular car after it is actually started. However, if the 1371 seconds is triggered by the car being plugged into emissions equipment, weeeeellll, get out your checkbook VW. At least I think this is the distinction VW is trying to make. Ill conceived given the circumstances.

    • George B George B on Nov 03, 2015

      I this case, the "cheat mode" stays on for almost 23 minutes. That covers a large percentage of actual operation. If Volkswagen hadn't just been caught both cheating and covering up what they did with the 4 cylinder models, Volkswagen and the EPA could probably come up with some "voluntary" recall to resolve the issue.