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The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal: What You Should Know and What It Means To The Philippines

We here at Go Flat Out loves the diesel engines from the Volkswagen Group. These engines are torquey and compared to most diesel engines in the market, Volkswagen’s TDI engines offer the smoothest power delivery and the most refined driving experience. An experience which is almost no different from a petrol car. So in a huge turn of unfortunate events, what exactly happened to a supposedly reputable and huge company such as Volkswagen?

First and foremost, what exactly happened?

A Volkswagen Golf on display at the brand’s launch on September, 2013. (Go Flat Out)

In the United States, there is only a maximum amount of NOx emission levels allowed for a vehicle, and unlike in the European Union (EU), the maximum level is the same to both petrol and diesel cars, so in the USA, the NOx emission laws for diesels are stricter. Under laboratory tests conducted the EPA, the Volkswagen 2.0 TDI engines pass the EPA’s emission standards. However, a team of West Virginia University students drove a Volkswagen Jetta and Volkswagen Passat, both equipped with a device they developed in order to test the emissions of vehicles in a real world driving scenario. They found out that the Volkswagen Jetta and Volkswagen Passat with a 2.0 TDI diesel engine emitted 15 to 35 times the limit and 5 to 20 times the limit, respectively.

A year ago, when the students are presenting their findings at a conference in San Diego, there were officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that were present. They eventually started an investigation, and made Volkswagen admit that it was using a software “defeat device” equipped in their 2.0 TDI engines that lets the engine know if it was being lab tested for emissions, letting the engine produce far less NOx than in normal driving situations.

In order to lower the NOx emissions of diesel engines, most of these cars usually come standard with a tank of Urea, marketed as AdBlue. Volkswagen uses AdBlue only in their diesel engines with a size of 3.0 liters and above, while BMW and Mercedes-Benz uses it on all their diesel cars. The second generation 2.0 TDI engines sold from the beginning of 2015, now comes fitted with a tank of AdBlue as standard.

What is NOx and what makes this different from CO2?

Houses and buildings are covered with haze in Shanghai, China, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. China, one of the most visited countries in the world, has seen sharply fewer tourists this year - with worsening air pollution partly to blame. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Houses and buildings are covered with haze in Shanghai, China, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. China, one of the most visited countries in the world, has seen sharply fewer tourists this year – with worsening air pollution partly to blame. (The Huffington Post)

NOx are oxides of nitrogen. The empirical formula of NOx uses an x in the end instead of a number, as in CO2. This is because the oxygen atoms of the nitrogen oxides bind with other chemicals in the air, creating more harmful pollutants and fine particulates, which is a health hazard, especially to the asthmatics such as myself. NOx is also a huge contributor to smog.

Because of the emissions cheat that Volkswagen has done, this has caused nearly a whopping 1 Million tonnes of extra pollution to the environment.

Are only Volkswagens sold in America affected by this? 

Apparently, not. 450,000 diesel cars sold from 2009 up to 2015 in the US were first suspected to have this “defeat device”, but Volkswagen has now admitted that a total of 11 million cars worldwide are equipped by this cheating device.

What does this mean to the Philippines? 

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An Audi A4 driving down the road. (Go Flat Out)

As of now, nothing. Unless Volkswagen (including Audi) releases a an official recall, you have nothing to worry about. You may continue using your cars as you wish. Do take note that the 2.0 TDI from the Philippine market Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Touran, Volkswagen Tiguan, Audi A4, and Audi A3, and potentially even the Q3 and Q5, could be part of the recall once an announcement has been made. The concerned engine is the first generation EA 189 2.0 TDI diesel engine produced from 2009 until 2015, fitted in 11 million Volkswagen Group cars worldwide. The second generation EA 288 2.0 TDI diesel engines produced from the beginning of 2015, is not only more powerful, but also, it is fitted with a tank of AdBlue as standard.

Does it pass our own emission standards?

Smoke belching in the Philippines. (Top Gear Philippines)

We have an emission standard? You’re kidding, right? Even if the DENR’s Clean Air Act of 1998 is truly enforced, Volkswagen’s diesel engines will pass the tests with flying colors. The DENR’s NOx emission standard for light vehicles is at 0.97 g/km, which, by comparison, the European Union’s requirement is at 0.25 g/km for diesel engines, and 0.08 g/km for petrol engines. The US is the same on both petrol and diesel engines, at one tenths the standard of the EU.

What penalties can Volkswagen face? 

So far, the EPA has fined Volkswagen a total value of US$18 Billion. Around 480,000 cars are affected by this scandal in the USA, which amounts to US$37,500 per car.

Will there be any criminal charges against Volkswagen?

Yes. This is because the device is basically used as a way to cheat the United States’ stringent emission tests. Now that the United States Department Of Justice is now refocusing its prosecution of white-collar crimes on individual employees rather than the actual corporations that employ them, Volkswagen is really on a heated spot right now.

It also must be considered that, while most car enthusiasts bought Volkswagen’s diesels because of the engine’s punchy torque, the vast majority of buyers bought a Volkswagen diesel because of how fuel efficient, clean, and environmentally-friendly these engines are compared to petrol engines and even hybrids.

The situation now is so bad, Volkswagen’s present CEO, Martin Winterkorn, has now resigned.

What does a US$18 Billion fine mean to Volkswagen?

US$18 Billion is about 30% of Volkswagen’s profit last year. It wouldn’t kill the company, but combined with the US$7.2 Billion they set aside to fix the cars and their crashing stocks, this is certainly very painful to them.

I thought Volkswagen’s diesels were good? 

Yes, they actually are. Many driving enthusiasts chose this car not because of its advertised cleanliness, but rather, the 2.0 TDI engine’s punchy torque and smooth power delivery is so addictive, it makes the cars very fun to drive. The problem is that, they weren’t as clean as they were initially thought.

Are other diesel powered cars from other manufacturers affected?

A Peugeot 5008 1.6 eHDI Active. (Go Flat Out)

Yes, indirectly. While the BMW X5 that was tested passed with flying colours, a US and European investigation has been launched in order to verify if the cheat is also practiced by other manufacturers.

What does this mean to the car industry?

The impression of the public towards diesel cars will certainly change, maybe even for the worse. Even if all the car manufacturers have been cheating the emissions test, people would still need to drive, right?

Diesel cars in the USA aren’t fully welcomed because of the diesel cars General Motors produced in the ’70s. The mission of removing the American’s stigma towards diesels were left to Volkswagen, but now that Volkswagen themselves were the ones who tarnished the supposed cleanliness of their own diesel engines, I wouldn’t be surprised if diesels won’t be successful to the American market.

2 comments on “The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal: What You Should Know and What It Means To The Philippines

  1. I own a 2013 Passat TDI and it has ad blue tank, so why don’t you mention that?

    • Isaac Atienza

      Thanks for the information. Is your Passat affected by the recall? And if so, is it also powered by the EA 189 2.0 TDI engine?

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