VW Clean Diesel Recall

Written by Welcome on September 23, 2015

VW Clean Diesel Recall

Beginning in September of 2015, a growing list of accusations by the EPA and disclosures by German automaker VW revealed that over 11 million diesel-powered vehicles from the company’s line of both Audi and Volkswagen brands contained an illegal, software-based emission defeat device. In brief, the emissions defeat device in VW cars contained concealed software, which was specifically intended to manipulate otherwise legitimate and legally required emissions tests as they related to nitrous oxide emissions (Nox emissions). Specifically, the algorithm-based software was intentionally designed to alter the emissions performance of “clean diesel” vehicles when under EPA scrutiny and emissions testing in a manner that permitted temporarily passing emissions standards while under testing, but otherwise emitting Nox emissions at nearly forty times the legally permissible limit in real-world conditions. This corporate fraud by VW brand has been ongoing since at least 2009, and the violations of numerous US laws were only uncovered in early 2015 by way of independent testing performed by International Council on Clean Transportation in conjunction with the University of West Virginia. Not until the EPA became involved, and under increasing scrutiny and pressure from both US and foreign regulatory bodies in early September of 2014, did the German automaker finally come clean about its role and the extent of the now aptly termed VW clean emissions scandal of 2015.

Broader Legal Implications of the VW Emissions Scandal in the United States

Emissions tests at a very minimum are required by state and national governments across the globe, albeit standards between countries and even US states will vary. Gaming emissions tests, as well as the sheer costs of resolving claims from government regulatory agencies presents a significant financial and legal liability issue for VW in general. To the credit of VW, the company has seen the abrupt resignation of CEO Martin Wintercorn in the fallout from the scandal, as well as preemptively reported a $7.3 billion loss in anticipation of litigation, settlements, and recall/repair expenses for existing vehicles. A number of legal commentators have opined that this figure likely underplays the total liability facing VW from an international perspective, which is only further worsened by the fact that VW auto group saw a 33% loss in total market value within the past week. However, as numerous legal experts have pointed out, the potential liability for VW for the clean diesel emission scandal for US-based vehicles only could incur fines from the EPA of up to $18 billion, significant liability to likely occur with the Federal Trade Commission regarding false marketing practices, and finally,  even the possibility of criminal prosecution being discussed publicly by the federal US Department of Justice. 

Impacts of VW Clean Diesel Vehicle Emissions Scandal on US Consumers and American Car Owners

Broader picture aside, for consumers who may have informed their buying decisions based on numerous claims from VW concerning the “clean diesel” nature of these vehicles or other marketing tools such as the now-presumably stripped award from Cars.com recognizing the eco-friendliness of the VW Passat in 2015, the possible remedies for restitution are still being explored. Thus far, at least 11 million VW clean diesel cars from the years 2009 to 2015 contain the offending and illegal software. Of these 11 million now recalled VW and Audi brand vehicles, the bulk were sold in European markets, and as such, presumed to there at this time. However, VW and Audi have a significant US-market share, ironically enough via growing one prior to the scandal via the company’s otherwise fraudulent public commitment to fuel-efficient and eco-friendly  clean diesel vehicles for American consumers. Estimates vary, however, a conservative number of US-purchased vehicles subject to the emissions defeat device may be as a high as 500,000 vehicles. These vehicles must now be meet federal emissions standards per the EPA, which without the emission software intended to fool EPA testing procedures, they will not.

For consumers, the vehicle makes and models currently known to contain the emissions defeat device in the Type EA 189 clean diesel engine found in VW brand vehicles include:

2009-2015 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0L TDI

2014-2015 Volkswagen Passat 2.0L TDI

2009-2015 Volkswagen Beetle 2.0L TDI

2009-2015 Volkswagen Golf 2.0L TDI

2009-2015 Audi A3 2.0L TDI

These vehicles are presumed to be subject to an as of yet  to be determined recall process, and given the magnitude of the scandal, as well as the serious disparities between US-based emissions standards and the actual emissions output, may be under scrutiny from US regulators as well. Furthermore, consumers may already be considering factors such as diminished resale value of these vehicles, the practical costs associated with executing a recall and repair for a vehicle, and the possible fiscal losses incurred as the result of intentionally purchasing a more-expensive, albeit ostensibly eco-friendly vehicle.

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