Could Volkswagen Skate On A Technicality in Europe?

Aaron Cole
by Aaron Cole

The New York Times is reporting that a loophole in emissions regulations for European cars could keep Volkswagen from paying billions to governments for illegally polluting cars. Regulators considered closing the loophole in 2011, but ultimately failed to do so, which could leave the escape hatch ever-so cracked for Volkswagen to run through.

According to the report, which cites internal meeting notes of European regulators in Geneva, automakers can send through testing cars programmed for special circumstances that daily drivers can’t access.

“A manufacturer could specify a special setting that is not normally used for everyday driving,” British regulators warned in 2011, according to the New York Times.

Last week, Volkswagen chief Paul Willis sent a letter to British Parliament saying that Volkswagen would investigate whether the special mode that the EPA alleged Nov. 2 could allow bigger, V-6 engines to cheat emissions constituted a “defeat device” in Europe.

“I would now like to share with you that we have just received confirmation that the KBA does not regard the use of this technology in the EU as problematic and thus being in line with current regulation,” Willis wrote.

The Gray Lady says it better than I could:

Regulations that apply in Europe say “the settings of the engine and of the vehicle’s controls shall be those prescribed by the manufacturer.”

If manufacturers have the discretion to determine their own engine settings during emissions tests in Europe, it remains unclear if using software to alter engine settings would violate European rules.

The story correctly notes that all sorts of fun can happen in Europe when it comes to emissions tests: seats are taken out, body panels can be taped up, batteries are disconnected, and tires are usually over-inflated.

There is some doubt that Volkswagen could skate, however. In Britain, regulators said that cars must be tested in default modes or worst emission setting, and that those regulations were agreed upon with other European countries.

But Volkswagen could challenge that interpretation and who knows, avoid a few billion bucks in penalties?

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  • Voyager Voyager on Nov 13, 2015

    German Wirtschaftswoche reports that whistle blowers in Europe, frustrated that the EU did not undertake any action after it was brought to their attention in 2011 already, that the tests were being rigged, decided to notify ICCT, the International Council on Clean Transportation. From there on it landed on the EPA's desk.

  • Samuelmorse Samuelmorse on Nov 13, 2015

    Nothing new here. It was already said from the beginning that while US regulations are explicit in prohibiting test cheating devices, that's not the case in Europe. In fact, not only VW but all car manufacturers contemplate the so called "optimizing fuel consumption and emissions parameters under homologation test procedures" protocol. That simply means that engine electronics are mapping to minimize consumption and emissions in test mode, and that is well known by regulators and of course legal. Given the scandal created by VW in USA, it is clear that EU will change into more stringent test regulations, and this has already been confirmed, but so far VW will save a lot of pain in Europe thanks to this.

  • Ollicat I have a Spyder. The belt will last for many years or 60,000-80,000 miles. Not really a worry.
  • Redapple2 Cadillac and racing. Boy those 2 go together dont they? What a joke. Up there with opening a coffee shop in NYC. EvilGM be clowning. Again.
  • Jbltg Rear bench seat does not match the front buckets. What's up?
  • Theflyersfan The two Louisville truck plants are still operating, but not sure for how much longer. I have a couple of friends who work at a manufacturing company in town that makes cooling systems for the trucks built here. And they are on pins and needles wondering if or when they get the call to not go back to work because there are no trucks being made. That's what drives me up the wall with these strikes. The auto workers still get a minimum amount of pay even while striking, but the massive support staff that builds components, staffs temp workers, runs the logistics, etc, ends up with nothing except the bare hope that the state's crippled unemployment system can help them keep afloat. In a city where shipping (UPS central hub and they almost went on strike on August 1) and heavy manufacturing (GE Appliance Park and the Ford plants) keeps tens of thousands of people employed, plus the support companies, any prolonged shutdown is a total disaster for the city as well. UAW members - you're not getting a 38% raise right away. That just doesn't happen. Start a little lower and end this. And then you can fight the good fight against the corner office staff who make millions for being in meetings all day.
  • Dusterdude The "fire them all" is looking a little less unreasonable the longer the union sticks to the totally ridiculous demands ( or maybe the members should fire theit leadership ! )