Volkswagen has come under fire for cheating official car pollution tests in the US and Europe. Isn’t it about time we could trust the claims car makers make?
Today’s headlines extensively cover the Volkswagen scandal, where the car manufacturer has admitted rigging environmental tests. Since then, the story has escalated quickly, with many European Ministers calling for an EU-wide investigation into the issue.
Volkswagen emissions scandal
The scheme was discovered by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), which noticed discrepancies in results of laboratory and real-world testing of diesel Volkswagen cars in Europe. ICCT then tested the cars’ actual emissions in real-world driving in the US, where car emission limits are much lower than in Europe. Much to their surprise the pattern was repeated – while the cars passed lab tests performed by the California Air Resources Board, they failed the real-world tests.
So what was going on? Well, Volkswagen managed to artificially lower its tailpipe emissions by using a ‘defeat device’. This allowed Volkswagen to hide the fact that its diesel cars produce pollution up to 40 times the legal limit. We’ve got a bit more info about how this works in our online Q&A, but in short it can detect when the car is being run under lab conditions. Once the car returns to normal road use, the software switches itself off.
Volkswagen has said that 11 million of its diesel cars are affected around the world, with models such as the Golf, Passat and Audi A3 included. The company had already been ordered to recall 500,000 cars in the US, and has set aside €6.5bn to deal with the cost of the scandal.
Fuel economy claims
Car makers claiming figures that are unachievable in real life isn’t news to us. In spite of miles per gallon (MPG) figures being used to pass official standards and promote product characteristics in advertising, we’ve repeatedly shown that these claims very frequently miss their mark, and this is across all manufacturers.
Considering the Volkswagen story we decided to look at the MPG values of diesel cars from both VW and its competitors. You can see the full results here, but on average they missed their claimed figures by 12%.
That’s why we’re calling for a new, more stringent and more accurate fuel economy test to be put into place by 2017 so that you can once again trust the official figures you see when purchasing a car. Hopefully, some good will come out of this scandal in that it helps our cause and convinces the European Commission and national European governments that they need to put an end to the loopholes and lax tests.
Has the Volkswagen scandal changed your view of car manufacturers? Do you think the government should implement more stringent and accurate testing for cars?
[UPDATE 24/09/2015] – The government plans to launch an investigation into vehicle emissions. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said:
‘The Vehicle Certification Agency, the UK regulator, is working with vehicle manufacturers to ensure that this issue is not industry wide. As part of this work they will re-run laboratory tests where necessary and compare them against real world driving emissions.
‘We have called on the EU to conduct a Europe wide investigation into whether there is evidence that cars here have been fitted with defeat devices. My priority is to protect the public as we go through the process of investigating what went wrong and what we can do to stop it happening again in the future.’
[UPDATE 26/09/2015] – After more than 9,000 votes, 95% of you said that you wanted action on misleading fuel claims. So we have launched a campaign calling on the car industry to Come Clean on Fuel Claims. Show your support by signing our petition.
[UPDATE 30/09/2015] – Volkswagen has announced that more than one million UK vehicles are affected by its diesel emissions scandal, including Audi, Seat and Skoda cars. A VW spokesperson said: ‘Step by step, affected customers will be contacted, with details of a process to get their vehicles corrected in the near future. In the meantime, all vehicles are technically safe and roadworthy.’
Details of affected cars will be released to retailers in the ‘coming days’ and there will be a self-service process for customers to check if their car needs to be corrected.