By on May 17, 2016

Opel Zafira Tourer, Image: General Motors

Rumors have swirled for months that Opel would be implicated in the dieselgate scandal. Over the weekend, serious allegations took flight that Opel does in fact use defeat devices in two diesel models.

Opel has been summoned to appear in front of the German Transport Ministry investigative committee this week to answer claims that its cars are capable of skirting emissions laws.

Der Spiegel reported last week the Opel Astra was found to contain software that will deactivate emissions control systems when the outside temperature is either below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) or above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). Additionally, it discovered the emissions systems do not work when engine speed exceed 2,400 rpm, the car is moving faster than 145 km/h, or ambient air pressure is less than 915 millibar, which would indicate an elevation of more than 850 meters.

Spiegel claims it detected the software by investigating the specific motor controls, as well as observed discrepancies, between the lab tests at TUV Nord in Essen and on-road testing.

The 1.6-liter diesel in question was by GM, used throughout the European lineup, and is slated for North American launch later this year in the new Cruze.

Opel is playing a game of semantics here; its official response being we do not use software “which determines whether a car is subjected to an emissions test.” However, the effect is ultimately the same, with exhaust treatment only operating within a small window of variables.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, RDW, the Dutch authority that issued EU type approval for the Opel Zafira Diesel, is considering a recall and a possible — but unlikely — withdrawal of approval.

Where the situation gets muddy is when you look at EU type approvals.

The rules state “the use of defeat devices that reduce the effectiveness of emission control systems shall be prohibited.” At the same time, those rules also state the prohibition shall not apply “when the need for the device is justified in terms of protecting the engine against damage or accident and for safe operation of the vehicle.”

Effectively, automakers can drive a bus through a loophole as large as that simply by stating an engine could be damaged while operating in certain ambient temperatures with the emissions controls operating.

Unfortunately, until regulations are tightened up, the manufacturers will continue to exploit those loopholes.

The industry is operating under the old adage “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t trying.” If one automaker refuses, another won’t, handing them a competitive advantage.

Call it the Lance Armstrong defense.

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16 Comments on “Is GM Europe about to Be Swallowed by the Dieselgate Maelstrom?...”


  • avatar
    threeer

    One has to wonder how long the halo of diesel-powered cars will remain in Europe. For years, the take rate for diesels has been high (thanks in large part to generous tax rates for diesel when compared to gasoline), but with the advent of more and more small displacement turbos coming online, and now all of these issues with diesel range/emissions concerns, one wonders if the shine has been taken off diesel?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I’d wager so. GTDI engines are delivering similar driveability characteristics as diesels (though at a fuel economy penalty) and in a region where a car the size of a Mondeo Estate can be had with a 1.0 three cylinder turbo, I’d expect diesel take rates to diminish.

      how quickly is another story. That would depend on if EU countries reduce or eliminate the incentives towards diesels. and I’m not certain if they will; the M.O. over there in cases of failed policies seems to be to try to alter reality to fit the bad policy, rather than admit the policy failed and get rid of it.

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      People drive diesels in Europe for the simple reason that they get about the double the mileage of a gasoline version of the same car. It’s simple economics, since the fuels have similar cost; with diesel being only a few pennies per litre more expensive than gasoline.

      For most people, the low end torque of a diesel is an advantage in everyday driving too.

      Last time I was in the UK I rented a Jaguar XE with the 2.0 diesel. Great performance and I averaged 56mpg without trying to be economical. Couldn’t have done that in a gas car.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      ” small displacement turbos” cannot tow RV’s. European use diesel cars too tow their Caravans.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Omg it’s a Buick C-Max!

  • avatar
    aidanf

    I have this car (brown,manual, diesel not a wagon, 2 out 3 ain’t bad) I can’t imagine how this thing would drive with the full emissions control, it’s slow, noisy, heavy on fuel, and absolutely gutless.
    I love diesels, I have driven everything from Volvo diesels to every variation of the golf platform but this one is the absolute pits, at least it’s a company car.
    If the entire ecotec family of diesels is implicated in this then Opel is dead in Europe – the only reason that that the brand was not killed during the financial crisis was government intervention and the sheer cost and complication of laying off all of those workers.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    well I guess the VW haters can also become the opel, if the test can not be passed it is time to find something else , but my guess is with Europe so oil burning dependent it will be a while before these go out of style, what everyone should be more concerned is about diesels trucks and heavy trucks, I am sure they do a lot more miles than cars esp in Europe.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    The Germans are looking for something here. I think they are desperately looking to protect VW from US lawyers. So if they can pin something on a US car maker they would presumably look to apply equally damaging penalties, which would be relatively easy in one respect because GM will sell more diesels in Europe than VW will in the USA. However the issue is that EU law doesn’t really help them to impose mega fines. All they could do is demand that the EU takes retaliatory action against US owned companies.

    The EU / EU governments may look to help Germany given that they are so dependant on their car industry. But I can’t see governments such as the UK backing them at the possible expense of their own domestics…

    I suppose Germany ultimately just wants to provoke an argument to force reduced penalties in the US. Whether that’s right or wrong is a different question…

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      I think GM Opel will be slugged by the Germans, as I said earlier, they will have their revenge for the VW debacle. Ford would be next target for investigation. Mitsubishi has been caught for fudging fuel economy figures.
      Old saying that people in glass houses should not throw stones

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Well, it seems the good name of General Motors isn’t so perfect either.

    I wonder who else will be caught out.

    I really do think emissions standards should be the same globally.

    From some of the comments I read it appears some don’t realise that most or all industries and businesses have skeletons in the closet.

    I wonder if the initial Colorado diesel release was held up because of this software??

    • 0 avatar
      ttiguy

      I wouldn’t be so quick to condemn GM. The head of Opel is on record saying they do not employ cheat devices. Not that I really know, but I’d guess after witnessing the mess VW is in they did their homework. Just a hunch.

  • avatar
    stuki

    As I’ve said before, the real idiocy is tests that are so gameable, gaming them is the only game in town.

    It’s like trying to asses how much each student learned in an advanced calculus class, by providing them with the one single question that will be on the final, in the first lecture. Then be amazed at how good they all must be at calculus. While patting yourself on the back, for being such an obviously great professor.

    Back in the real world, the tests, and protocols, were/are designed in consultation with “industry experts.” Meaning, they are a marketing tool. Intended to make people feel better about buying the products European manufacturers have the biggest competitive advantage over foreign rivals at building.

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