The company didn’t explain that it was taking the action in hopes of satisfying government regulators, who were growing increasingly sceptical about the reason for discrepancies between laboratory emissions test results and real world pollution from Volkswagen’s diesel cars.
But he and his small research team at West Virginia University may have done exactly that, with a $50,000 study which produced early evidence that Volkswagen AG was cheating on US vehicle emissions tests, setting off a scandal that threatens the German automaker’s leadership, reputation and finances.
“A software fix in the US seems very unlikely because the emissions are so much higher than is allowed that any adjustment would probably so radically change the performance of the cars that consumers would no longer want to own them”, said Paolo Martino, a senior consultant in Frost & Sullivan’s automotive practice.
The results of that study, which was paid for by the nonprofit worldwide Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) in late 2012 and completed in May 2013, were later corroborated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board (CARB).
Now, the story of how investigators unraveled systemic cheating in the face of consistent denials from the company may have implications for the sanctions VW will face and for an auto industry certain to face more scrutiny about its environmental claims. Johnson, who still works for VW in Auburn Hills, Michigan, did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
While the sheer number of VWs involved isn’t unheard of in the era of megarecalls-nearly twice as many vehicles are affected by the Takata air-bag recall-it is more cars than VW sold all of last year and at the very least will be an expensive logistical headache that may take years to overcome. “There is somebody in VW who made that program”.
“I don’t know anything about the modification of the software”, Krause said when reached by telephone in Germany.
Fuel efficiency trumps environment concern? They presented their findings at a March 31, 2014, conference in San Diego partly sponsored by California regulators and the EPA. “That part of the emissions program was interesting”, he says.
The regulatory evasion “could seriously undermine the group’s brand image, particularly in the US, where Volkswagen is already struggling to increase its market share”, said Emmanuel Bulle, an analyst at Fitch Ratings, the corporate credit rating firm.
Volkswagen was recently brought to its knees when scientists discovered the company had installed a device in its diesel-powered cars to fool emissions tests. Under a worst-case scenario VW could be forced to buy back and then scrap the cars, Mr. Martino said. “I think they will”.