What Ever Happened to Mercedes' Dieselgate?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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.

[Image: Pixfly/Shutterstock]

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  • ThomasSchiffer ThomasSchiffer on Jul 09, 2019

    In Europe, after news of the Volkswagen Diesel Scandal broke, all European, Japanese, Korean etc. manufacturers were investigated, and to nobody’s surprise, most of their gasoline and Diesel cars emitted more pollutants in the real world than under controlled laboratory settings. The dirtiest diesels came from Fiat and Renault, if memory serves me right.

    • Lockstops Lockstops on Jul 10, 2019

      That was already part of VW's cover-up campaign. It's perfectly legal for cars to have higher emissions in the real world than in the lab. Lots of media outlets also had completely false narratives about overall fuel economy figures (and therefore CO2 emissions) not matching lab figures, which is even dumber. VW had cheat devices. They organised and planned within their organisation a large-scale criminal act. Plain and simple. If you can't prove that others had cheat devices then there's nothing to prosecute.

  • MBella MBella on Jul 09, 2019

    All cars will excede allowable emissions levels during some parts of their drive cycle. This is allowable in the regulations. When you floor it, do you think the emissions are in the normally allowable limit? It can't happen during the whole drive cycle though. When I was a Mercedes tech, those diesels were using AdBlue (DEF) like crazy. We were putting in more than 20liters of the stuff every service. NOx sensors, AdBlue pumps and injectors were constantly failing. I can guarantee you those systems were not being defeated.

  • MaintenanceCosts We hear endlessly from the usual suspects about the scenarios where EVs don't work as well as gas cars. We never hear the opposite side of the coin. From an EV owner (since 2019) who has a second EV reserved, here are a few points the "I road trip 1000 miles every day" crowd won't tell you about:[list][*]When you have a convenient charging situation, EV fueling is more convenient than a gas car. There is no stopping at gas stations and you start every day with a full tank.[/*][*]Where there are no-idling rules (school pickup/dropoff, lines for ferries or services, city loading, whatever else) you can keep warm or cool to your heart's content in your EV.[/*][*]In the cold, EVs will give you heat from the second you turn them on.[/*][*]EVs don't care one bit if you use them for tons of very short trips. Their mechanicals don't need to boil off condensation. (Just tonight, I used my EV to drive six blocks, because it was 31 degrees and raining, and walking would have been unpleasant.)[/*][*]EVs don't stink and don't make you breathe carcinogens on cold start.[/*][*]EV maintenance is much less frequent and much cheaper, eliminating almost all items having to do with engine, transmission, or brakes in a gas car. In most EVs the maintenance schedule consists of battery coolant changes and tire maintenance.[/*][*]You can accelerate fast in EVs without noisily attracting the attention of the cops and every passerby on the street.[/*][/list]
  • MaintenanceCosts Still can't get a RAV4 Prime for love or money. Availability of normal hybrid RAV4s and Highlanders is only slightly better. At least around here I think Toyota could sell twice the number of vehicles that they are actually bringing in at the moment.
  • Tree Trunk Been in the market for a new Highlander Hybrid, it is sold out with order time of 6 months plus. Probably would have bit the bullet if it was not for the dealers the refuse to take an order but instead want to sell from allotment whether it fits or not and at thousands over MRSP.
  • AKHusky The expense argument is nonsense. My mach e was $42k after tax credit. Basically the same as similarly equipped edge. And it completely ignores that the best selling vehicles are Rams, F150s, and Silverados, all more expensive that a bolt, MAch e or ID4. As an owner, I'd say they are still in second car territory for most places in the country.
  • Johnster I live in a red state and I see quite a few EVs being purchased by conservative, upper-class Republicans (many of them Trump-supporters). I suspect that it is a way for them to flaunt their wealth and that, over time, the preference for EVs will trickle down to less well-off Republicans.
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