What Ever Happened to Mercedes' Dieselgate?
After Volkswagen admitted to equipping some of its diesel-powered autos with illegal software designed to circumvent emissions testing in 2015, every automaker on the planet fell under enhanced scrutiny. By 2016, U.S. regulators were checking on Mercedes-parent Daimler to see if there were any pollutant-related shenanigans taking place behind the scenes. Germany followed suit shortly thereafter, launching its own investigation.
However, with no local updates on the matter, it was presumed Daimler was in the clear — except Germany did find evidence of corporate misdeeds and the company recalled 3 million vehicles in 2017. At the time, we figured the situation would swiftly bleed over into the United States and help wrap things up. But it hasn’t yet and The Detroit News took time this month to ponder what’s taking federal regulators so long.
Busting VW took the government about a year and a half, while the Daimler investigation has been ongoing for double that. The last major breakthrough happened over a year ago, with regulators suggesting Mercedes’ diesels may have been equipped with illegal software. An engine management function called Slipguard apparently recognized whether the car was undergoing testing procedures while another, called Bit 15, halted emissions cleaning after roughly 16 miles of driving. But we haven’t heard much since.
“Three years seems unusual,” John German, a former EPA official and a senior fellow at the International Council on Clean Transportation (the group that commissioned the study that uncovered Volkswagen cheating).
From The Detroit News:
In April, consumer advocacy and environmental groups sent a letter to Congress asking that the investigation be expedited.
“It is past time for greater urgency and action from regulators and Congress on the allegations against Mercedes,” the advocates wrote. “Owners and lessees of Mercedes diesel vehicles have been left without answers or recourse while the illegally polluting vehicles remain on U.S. roads.”
American regulators’ inquiry into Daimler began in 2016 when the Department of Justice asked the company to conduct an internal investigation into its diesel exhaust emissions. Since then, the automaker has stopped selling diesel-powered passenger cars in the U.S.
“To me, that suggests that they had a problem and they’re trying to limit their exposure to that problem,” German said.
Back in the initial stages of the investigation, Daimler claimed that the accusations against it were preposterous and that it would fight back using all legal means at its disposal. It also expressed its distaste for the frequent raids conducted by German prosecutors. While automotive manufacturers found themselves subjected to a bit of a diesel emissions witch hunt following VW’s crisis, some industry analysts assumed it would only be a matter of time before investigators would uncover another major scandal (there were plenty of lesser ones). They appeared to be correct, at least in Europe.
Daimler said it has continued cooperating with U.S. authorities/regulators — neither of which have anything to say on the matter. Mercedes-Benz is also in the midst of a class-action lawsuit over claims that it knowingly sold cars to U.S. customers that polluted more than the company let on. And there’s been added attention stemming from last months’ news that the company is being forced to recall an additional 60,000 Mercedes-Benz models built between 2012 and 2015 in Germany.
It might just be a matter of time before U.S. regulators are forced to say something, even if that something is inconclusive.
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