Investigation sheds light on causes for VW emissions cheating scandal

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Volkswagen has released the first details from the ongoing independent investigation into its emissions cheating scandal, and importantly some of the main causes have been identified. Approximately 450 people are involved in the investigation, including VW’s own staff as well as external experts such as those from law firm Jones Day.

For the diesel emissions issue, it turns out it wasn’t a one-time error that led to the “defeat device” that hides a car’s true emissions being installed. Rather, the investigators claim, it was a chain of errors that were allowed to happen. The starting point was the decision to launch a large-scale promotion of diesel vehicles in the United States in 2005. Initially, it proved impossible to have the engine in question, the EA189 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel, legally meet the stricter nitrogen oxide requirements in the U.S. within the required timeframe and budget.

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This led to the defeat device being installed. Later, when an effective technical process was available to reduce NOX emissions, it was not employed to the full extent possible. On the contrary, the software installed caused the effective technical process, in this case the exhaust gas treatment additive known as AdBlue, to only be used during testing.

According to the investigation, there were three main conduits that led to the situation:

1) Misconduct and shortcomings of individual employees
2) Weaknesses in some processes
3) A mindset in some areas of the company that tolerated breaches of rules

As a result, staff in key areas such as those that develop emissions control systems will be given more sharply defined responsibilities. Information systems will also be renewed so that project details are made more transparent, helping to improve reporting and monitoring. Importantly, VW says these measures will help reduce the dependence on individuals when problematic processes have to be identified or escalated.

There will also be a complete overhaul of VW’s testing procedures. The automaker has decided that in the future, emissions tests will be evaluated externally and independently. In addition, randomly selected real-life tests to assess emissions behavior on the road will be introduced.

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VW is still yet to announce a fix for diesel cars affected in the U.S. because of the far stricter NOX limits here—a fix for most of the European models affected has been announced and will start being installed next month. VW says it is cooperating closely with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and should be able to present the agencies with a solution soon.

From the investigation, it was also determined that the possible incorrect stating of carbon dioxide emissions on around 800,000 cars, mostly in Europe, was unfounded. It is now clear that almost all of the cars initially identified correspond to the CO2 figures originally stated during the certification process. For the few that don’t, less than 0.5 percent, the deviations found in the figures amount to a few grams of CO2 on average. The certification for these models will be updated.

Finally, VW has also confirmed it is working on a new Strategy 2025 plan that covers all of its individual brands. CEO Matthias Müller said the new strategy will be announced in mid-2016 though he has given a few hints on what some of it will entail.

“We are realigning Volkswagen strategically and technologically—our goal is to courageously and decisively participate in shaping the future of mobility,” he said. “Among other things, the group aims to achieve a significant expansion of its sales outside of its current core business. Furthermore, a digitalization and an electrification offensive are being prepared."

To view our past coverage on the VW Group's emissions cheating scandal, head to our Volkswagen news hub.

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