Volkswagen Investigating if Diesel Emissions Deception Was More Extensive

Source: By JACK EWING, New York Times • Posted: Friday, October 23, 2015

Matthias Müller, chief executive of Volkswagen, gestures while addressing journalists after visiting an assembly line of the VW plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. Credit Odd Andersen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images 

FRANKFURT — Volkswagen said on Thursday that more engines than previously disclosed might be in violation of European pollution rules, but that the number was relatively small.

The engines — installed in models like the Golf, Passat and Jetta early in 2012 — may have software designed to provide an artificially low emissions reading when a car is undergoing official testing. The company declined to say how many vehicles might be affected, but said they were sold only for a few months in 2012. Later versions of the engine are in compliance with European rules, Volkswagen said.

Even if the cars are found to violate European rules, it would not expand the number of cars considered to be in violation in the United States. Europe’s pollution regulations are less stringent than those in the United States, and the vehicles are already considered in violation by the Environmental Protection Agency, that organization said on Thursday.

Volkswagen is in the throes of crisis after the E.P.A. said on Sept. 18 that Volkswagen cars sold since 2009 contained software designed to trick pollution-testing devices by detecting when a vehicle was undergoing emission checks and turning on pollution controls. When not undergoing testing, the cars’ emission controls would be switched off. As a result, vehicles could emit up to 40 times the allowed amount of nitrogen oxides, a component of smog that is linked to numerous lung ailments.

A few days after the E.P.A. announcement, Volkswagen admitted that 11 million cars and light commercial vehicles worldwide equipped with a diesel engine line known as the EA 189 had the illegal software.

The engines affected by the Volkswagen investigation described on Thursday are known as EA 288 diesel engines. A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington said on Thursday that the EA 288 engines were already included among the 482,000 cars sold in the United States that have the illegal software.

Volkswagen detailed the investigation in response to a report on a German-language news service. The company did not respond to inquiries late Thursday about how long it has known that additional engines might be affected, or if other designs are under scrutiny. Volkswagen said it was “systematically reviewing this issue worldwide.” German regulators did not react publicly to the Volkswagen statement on Thursday.

The Volkswagen developments capped a day of confusing statements on Thursday from the automaker. Early Thursday, Volkswagen said it was investigating whether an additional group of engines, in addition to the 11 million, might have been equipped with illegal software. That announcement set off concern that considerably more vehicles might be affected than previously thought.

Several hours later, Volkswagen issued a clarifying statement saying that most cars with EA 288 engines, which went on sale in 2012 in models like the Golf, do not contain software that violates European laws.

Adding to the confusion, a Volkswagen spokesman confirmed that the EA 288 engines are in violation of United States regulations, which set stricter standards for emissions of nitrogen oxide, a harmful pollutant. But American officials said they were already aware of the second group of engines and that the total number of cars affected was unchanged.

Volkswagen said it was still investigating whether a relatively small number of engines from the EA 288 line might have the illegal software. The engines in question were sold early in 2012, shortly before tougher European Union emission standards went into force.

New cars offered by Volkswagen in the European Union “fulfill legal requirements and environmental standards,” the company said in a statement.

The E.P.A., in its statement on Sept. 18 that revealed the cheating, did not use Volkswagen’s engine designations to describe the vehicles involved, which included Jetta, Golf, Passat and Beetle models, as well Audi A3 cars equipped with diesel engines.

A 2-liter, four-cylinder version of the EA 288 was installed in Golf, Jetta and Passat cars sold in the United States beginning in 2015, according to Car and Driver magazine. The engine was more powerful than the EA 189, the magazine said, and treated emissions partly by recycling some exhaust gases into the motor. In addition, the EA 288 had a system to inject the chemical urea into the exhaust, which if designed properly could neutralize most of the nitrogen oxide emissions.

In treating some emissions by recycling them, the engine would have placed less of a burden on the chemical system, and owners would not have had to refill a urea supply tank as often. But the recycling system can also hurt acceleration and fuel economy. Volkswagen could have been motivated to dial back the pollution controls, except during testing, to give drivers better fuel consumption and performance, engineers outside the company have said.

In Internet forums, Volkswagen drivers often reported better fuel performance than in official government ratings.

EA stands for “entwicklungsauftrag,” or “development order,” and signified a major new engine line. Volkswagen deploys its engines and other components not only in Volkswagen cars but also in other brands belonging to the company, like Audi and Skoda. The strategy saves money because costs of development and production are spread across a large number of vehicles. But it means that any problems potentially affect a large number of vehicles.

A Volkswagen spokesman was unable to say how many EA 288 vehicles over all are on the road, except that it was a significant number. Last week, German regulators ordered Volkswagen to recall 8.5 million vehicles in Europe with the illegal software. The engines in question were configured in different ways depending on the vehicle, further complicating the task of bringing them into compliance.

Volkswagen has said that in some cases, the cars can be fixed by reprogramming the software. But in other cases, Volkswagen may need to install new hardware. Matthias Müller, the Volkswagen chief executive, has not ruled out giving some customers new vehicles if repairs are not possible.

Volkswagen has suspended five high-ranking executives in connection with the scandal. Mr. Müller has said that a small number of employees were responsible for the illegal software.

Determining how many people were in the know is one of the main goals of an internal investigation being conducted by Jones Day, an American law firm with offices in Germany. The investigation is in its early phases and it is not clear how many managers, engineers and others may eventually be implicated, but the number is expected to rise.

At the least, employees with knowledge of software coding would have to have been involved.