IAIN ROBERTSONBM240 - Exhaust pipe

 

A maelstrom of media-muddied frenzy hit the headlines in late-September, reports Iain Robertson, when the immense VW Group was branded as both cheat and liar, yet the true picture is as lacking in clarity as some emissions are.

 

Just taking into account the figures mentioned in those innumerable worldwide reports about VW fudging its exhaust emissions’ data might well support the screaming notion that ‘VW will be forced into penury’, perhaps even to sell off its assets just to survive. However, before listing some of them, it is worth mentioning that it is the VW brand that is under the spotlight, which might be damage enough, even though the ‘crisis’ also involves Seat, Skoda, Audi and one, or two, including Porsche, of the other brands of the ‘People’s Car’ company.

 

The number of cars affected was said to be 11 million, although it is a figure that rose and dipped according to the relative credibility of the title reporting on the ‘scandal’. A massive 20 per cent was wiped off the value of VW Group shares overnight, worth around Euros 13bn. Thousands of law suits are said to be ‘in the pipeline’. US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) fines are said to total in excess of $18bn. Thousands of incidental pedestrian deaths are being linked to the apparent abuse of the laws related to vehicle exhaust legislation, which VW Group is reported to have contravened, by devising ingenious engine management software programmes that satisfied legislators but were emitting unwarranted levels of exhaust pollution the rest of the time.

 

Well, here’s the rub…To allow a vehicle to be sold in a particular market, it must pass certain exhaust emissions regulations to gain conformity, or Type Approval. The technical details depend on local regulations. VW Group has admitted developing software, within certain diesel engine ECUs, of cars sold in North America and Europe, to recognise when an official emissions’ test is being carried out. The engine then runs in a way that reduces the measured pollutants to give the best results under examination. This will not happen under normal driving situations. This examination is a Type Approval test carried out on a sample; not every car is inspected.

 

One reason why the Volkswagen Group is facing a particular backlash is that the company’s US advertising has focussed on Clean Diesel technology but the recent situation has called both the claims and the company’s integrity into question. Yet, the authorities that have allowed the manipulation to be undetected appear to be raucously silent.

 

Even in ‘real-world’ tests, modern diesel engines tend to be less polluting, overall, than older ones, although this is not always the case. It is fair to state that carmakers (including VW) have made considerable gains in reducing tailpipe emissions and optimising efficiency. However, it is also worth highlighting a few vital facts:

 

  1. The issues might affect every carmaker, not just VW Group
  2. The tests have been outdated from the outset
  3. Consumer complaints about cars not meeting their stated MPG figures are rife but also irrelevant
  4. The issues are worldwide and not just US-related
  5. Governments have been blind to the real issues related to CO2 emissions.

 

In many respects the media frenzy was ‘old news’, as many critics have already highlighted that the supporting cast of problems was manifold. The real issue has been the lackadaisical attitude shown by governments and it is they, whom should be targeted for any displays of ire, or discontent, by media, consumers and legislators.

 

The vast amount of sensationalist and damaging media reportage is wholly unjustified. I have always believed that one of a journalist’s greatest allies is factual research and plenty of it. Yet, very little has been displayed recently. Most of the piffle has centred on snippets of rushed, misjudged and unqualified pronouncements that can be, all too readily, misconstrued by a litigious readership, listening audience and television viewers.

 

Naturally, there are some concerns being aired about a drop in the residual values of VW Group products. Personally, if it does happen, it will only be a minor blip, just as only a very few consumers will feel so disgusted by VW’s ‘cover-up’ that they will elect not to buy the products again. On the question of VW’s very survival, I do not believe that an organisation the size of its Group will be placed into disarray.

 

However, there is another niggling issue. A few years ago, when Toyota was being declared as ‘The World’s Best-selling Brand’, irate members of the US Congress commenced a ‘hate programme’ against Toyota, which had displaced US-based General Motors at the Number One position in the tables. A series of immensely expensive recalls and apologies commenced, with a few of the high-ups falling onto their swords. Yet, Toyota survived the cut and its products remain as consumer acceptable as ever.

 

VW Group was stated as being the world’s Number One brand not so long ago, which begs the question, is this more a political argument, which removes the spotlight on legislators and places it directly onto the carmaker/s? The fact remains that politics is a wondrous ‘smoke and mirrors’ operation, which delights in taking the focus off its inactivities and ineffectualness. It is an aspect that past experience shows is worth contemplating.

 

The truth is that VW is not alone in attempting to meet legislation enforced upon it. The only solution lies in a proper, joined-up methodology, which involves both carmakers and politicians, while also listening to what critics have to say. Illegal after-market tuning firms should become outlawed. Reducing NOx and other poisonous emissions, not CO2, should be the real target, to which taxation levels should be attached. While VW might admit guilt and that it was wrong, it is not the sinner being painted by some.

 

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).