Will DieselGate Lead To Deeper Consequences For All Auto Makers?

Volkswagen TDI vehicles are currently being tested after allegations of using a “defeat device” to pass emission test

The allegations that VW has knowingly circumvented U.S. EPA requirements by falsifying emission tests results of its Volkswagen TDI models could have major consequences for all automakers.  This alleged scam is being referred to as “DieselGate”, because VW was using a “defeat device” that cheated U.S. emission protocols.  Sales of VW TDI models has halted, pending further notice from the allegations placed a few weeks ago. This scandal has reached worldwide status, and it’s not only affecting the U.S. market for Volkswagen.  It has many of us wondering what does this mean for the future of U.S. emissions?

The TDI engine from Volkswagen – Currently under scrutiny by the EPA, investigating falsification of emission test results.

According to the EPA investigation, VW has found a way to bypass emission requirements during testing by using a “defeat device”.   What they are referring to as a device, is really software that uses complex algorithms in the software code to detects when the vehicle (i.e. TDI vehicles) is being tested and detects when in normal use. When the software is active, the VW TDI cars emit 40 times fewer the amount of emissions, than if in normal driving mode on the streets or around town.  There is a reported 11 million vehicles affected by this investigation including the TDI models under the Audi wing of Volkswagen.

Stationary emission test procedures may become a thing of the past – EPA announced that new emission test will be performed on-road. (image via Yahoo)

If Volkswagen is found guilty, this momentous allegation made by EPA could transform emission requirements negatively nationwide. The size of this scandal is comparable to the ignition switch crisis General Motors faced not too long ago.  Even in this era of recalls some are calling VW’s intentions audacious and even criminal. The outcome of the GM defective ignition switch litigation led to more stringent safety protocols. What will the legal ramifications of this lawsuit do to the level of enforcement for emissions for the domestic auto manufacturers?

The VW scandal has pushed the EPA into a reactionary posture. Reportedly, the EPA has already taken strides to implement on-road testing requirements, versus the typical stationary emission tests performed on a dynometer.  The EPA has sent out letters to all the major auto makers stating that all new vehicles will be subjected to the new on-road test procedures. The upcoming GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado diesel engines are going to be first subjected to these new test protocols, using the new on-road testing procedures outlined by the EPA.  GM has announced that these new protocols will not affect the launch date of its new mid-size diesel truck line-up.

2016 Chevrolet Colorado 2.8L Diesel – on schedule for release this Fall. (image via GM Authority)

What does that mean for the automotive emissions requirements for conventional unleaded gasoline vehicles?  Well for one, the new on-road testing procedures should have limited impact on unleaded gasoline vehicles.  Nitrogen oxide (NOx) output levels are the culprit emissions that VW is accused of violation. While these are equally important for gasoline type vehicles, meeting EPA restrictions are much easier for gasoline engines than their diesel counterparts. This will have an impact on the software used to program vehicle emission’s equipment, meaning no loopholes for the ECU to engage in certain conditions.

Loopholes such as the defeat device that VW used in the TDI models, are likely going to be the main focus of EPA regulators after this event.  Events over the next few months will set precedence for emission tests not only in the U.S., but on an international level.  Europe is already taking strides to counteract the stipulations of VW’s lawsuit, because they are considered to have loose diesel emission regulations. The Volkswagen Automotive Group will face steep fines if convicted of these allegations. The after effect will surely alter current legislation regarding emission requirements for other auto manufacturers.  Any device that falsifies emission output is going to be punishable by domestic law, and in the U.S. market the EPA will be pressing suit.

Looking deeper into this we have to wonder, will the discovery of VW’s alleged breaking of the rules result in deeper penalties in the automotive aftermarket? How will these regulations impact not only the performance vehicles that we love, but also the parts we use to modify them either now or in the future? OEM electronics are becoming increasingly difficult to access for tuning purposes. In recent years we saw major government crackdowns on tuning companies, resulting in millions of dollars in fines. Will OEM’s further lock the aftermarket out of their software, leaving us with little to no ways to modify new performance cars, or making those modifications increasingly costly? What will be the fall out to the performance world following Dieselgate?

About the author

Bryce Kirk

Bryce has many years of experience on and off the track circuit, working on both domestic and Import performance vehicles. With numerous years of experience in the automotive performance industry, he has worked behind the scenes as an enthusiast and professional. He is passionate for all makes, models, and styles in the automotive culture.
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