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5 September 2017

The Great Emissions Fraud: How the Auto Industry is Avoiding Tackling Global Warming

It’s 2017 and at this point, most people agree – tackling global warming is of paramount importance. From the Tej Kohli Foundation’s founder, Tej Kohli himself, who’s invested a significant portion of his wealth in renewable energy, to global leaders, who signed the Paris Agreement just last year, the vast majority of global influencers are working together to minimise harm to the planet.

However, not everyone believes in putting the cause first – as evidenced by Audi’s recent emissions scandal, the second in which Volkswagen (who own Audi) have been entangled in the last two years.

The Great Volkswagen Emissions Fraud

Audi has been forced to recall 24,000 vehicles after being accused of ‘emissions rigging’ – deceptively installing software on their cars which makes them appear to emit half the amount of pollution that they actually do during testing.

The allegation is as follows: that Audi deliberately installed software which turns on during test conditions, switching the engine to ‘low emissions’ mode, allowing them to falsely satisfy regulators. It’s believed that, when the steering wheel is turned, the cars actually emit twice the amount of nitrogen oxides than is legal.

This is the second time the German car manufacturer has been caught deliberately defrauding inspectors. In 2015, Volkswagen was forced to recall millions of cars worldwide at a cost of up to 6.7 billion euros. The affected engines emitted 40 times the nitrogen oxide pollutants allowed in the US at the time, resulting in a combined volume of yearly pollutants which is equivalent to the UK’s entire NOx emissions from all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture combined.

An Industry-Wide Problem

All this is worrying enough – after all, it’s hard to fathom that Volkswagen would have pulled the same trick again after its humbling 2015 apology where the Group Executive was forced to admit the company has ‘totally screwed up’, vowing to ‘win back trust for the Volkswagen group’. But even more concerning is that Volkswagen isn’t the only automobile manufacturer to deliberately deceive regulators. Opel, Chevrolet, Daimlet, Fiat Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Renault are just a few of the other automobile giants to have been caught red-handed running similar scams. In fact, research from the Guardian has found that almost every diesel vehicle emits ‘significantly more NOx emissions on the road than in regulatory tests’.

Is Inadequate Testing to Blame?

Undoubtedly, regulators are going to need to work harder to crack down on emissions fraud – after all, if their testing conditions weren’t so widely known, manufacturers wouldn’t have been able to design software capable of turning on emissions control in these precise test conditions. But it isn’t enough to lay the blame at the feet of lax regulators. Car manufacturers are deliberately channelling resources into cheating the system, rather than complying with it.

None of this has done much to add to the poor reputation of the diesel vehicles industry, and Volkswagen has some serious trust regaining to do if they’re to avoid taking a sustained financial hit. We can only hope that, this time, they’ll turn their attentions to developing cars which actually do what they say on the tin – rather than simply throwing their money at dubious marketing campaigns to regain the trust of the public.