/ Motoring

VW scandal rocks the industry – do you still trust car makers?


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.

Phil Hide says:
23 September 2015

From you article on your homepage:-

” There is no official body in place to police the testing procedure and monitor results from lab to lab. Also, the labs are commercial enterprises that rely on the carmakers for business. ”

These are also the self same labs Which? relies on to do it’s car and other testing. Interesting that you admit they’re not reliably independent.

Emmanuelle, do you have evidence that car makers get better results by using the labs of their choice? Have you done interchange tests between your lab of choice and other labs to see how results compare?

Phil Hide says:
23 September 2015

Despite claims to the contrary Which? car tests are carried out by ADAC, the GERMAN version of the AA at their laboratory. No chance of a conflict of interest there then.

If that is true, why hasn’t your ‘independent’ lab discovered this fraud? According to the US, pollutants are 40+ times the lab tests. That a huge difference.

Which? should be strong criticising and investigating the lab you are using because it really stinks that no one has discovered this quantum difference in particulates.

If AEG states a dishwasher uses half the water of a previous model, Which? measures this in real tests. Fuel consumption and pollutants should be no different. Somewhere there has been a serious failure and the test labs would seem to be corrupt or incompetent.

VW’s actions are a disgrace. I cannot understand how a huge organisation such as them can have executives who design in means to deliberately cheat US pollution tests. Apart from the deceit, it seems a stupid thing to do in the face of almost certain discovery at some point and the obvious consequences.
The cheat worked apparently by having a store of urea that was injected into the exhaust during testing to reduce nitrous oxide. It switched off after the test otherwise the urea would be used up. I hope we will now find out whether any other manufacturers have played similar tricks – or not.
This is, however, quite different from dealing with mpg and CO2 emissions (and mpg). Which? takes this opportunity to once again condemn them:
“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.” The culprit here is not the car makers but the EU’s pretty useless NEDC test cycle. Why do Which? not place the blame directly at their door? Are commercial companies too popular a target?

[This comment has been removed for breaking our community guidelines. Please don’t make comments personal and use the ‘report this comment’ button if you’re worried about them.]

A cheat is a cheat and is always in the wrong.

S Cowie says:
23 September 2015

As a diesel driver I bought my car based on car emissions and efficiency. As consumers, will we have to make up for losses in revenue as road tax is based on emissions? With the revelations, will diesel cars drop in value and where once the car was expected to be a defined residual value, will we still get the residual value given to us when taking finance.
How will the consumer be affected in totality?

This isn’t just a question of commercial malpractice that has deceived car buyers and disadvantaged competing manufacturers, nor just a question of the integrity and methodology of different testing houses. At the root of this is a major, global public health concern. I am assuming that had the true pollution levels of the diesel models identified been registered during the tests they would have been failed causing a redesign or re-engineering, or at the very least their bad results would have become public knowledge and sensible environmental decisions would have been made by car buyers. As the world’s largest motor manufacturer, and therefore probably the largest producer of diesel cars, the unrecorded emission of vast excess pollution from VW engines, exacerbated by the suppression of sales of cleaner engines, is potentially extremely damaging. If the company is fined, will the money be spent on remediation by replacing the dirty engines? VW vehicles are designed to last; these high-pollution engines could still be in service somewhere in the world in twenty-five years time. Presumably they were still rolling off the production lines until a few days ago [has production been stopped? – I have seen no comment on this].

I am a little intrigued by the sinister side of this as well: that deep within this previously highly-respected and technocratic company there are technologists who are secretly manipulating the engineering in order to generate better test results and thereby achieve global superiority. Some disturbing historical overtones here. I wonder if we shall ever find out who knew what and when. I hope that letting the CEO fire himself doesn’t let the others off the hook.

It is the lax EU testing regulations. Are some EU civil servants hand in glove with the car makers? I have chosen diesel car for a number of years. Not on their figures alone, but on their economy over petrol and the turbo performance. Let wait and see how many other car makers have transgressed.

All this pomp and posturing, the CEO stepping down, the board being terribly upset, what a load of tosh, the police and authorities should immediately have stepped in. This is fraud plain and simple on a massive scale. The reason ALL these frauds and fraudsters keep cropping up is there is no proper deterrent. The CEO and board are willing to take their grossly inflated salaries but when caught out it was all someone else’s fault ( a big boy done it and ran away ). The CEO should immediately have been arrested and charged with corporate criminality, and any one complicit should also be charged. The CEO should also not have the opportunity to resign gracefully he should immediately be sacked. A legal investigation should take place and anyone found guilty should be jailed, and all profits from their misdeeds should be seized including any properties, Then and only then will these fraudsters realize if you do the crime you will do the time. Corporate crime and responsibility is being ignored EG banking it has to stop

I find the entire saga intriguing, amusing and fascinating in equal measure. And if anyone believes that this is restricted to a few naughty engineers in VW then I suspect they’re in for a big surprise. I can almost see the panic setting in at car makers of all colours around the world as engineers and system management specialists are called in ‘for a chat’.

Engineers talk to each other – a great deal – and friendships cross boundaries between makers, so this knowledge / technique / criminality will, I’m sure, be pretty widespread by now. But what I find particularly interesting is that it’s software development specialists / engineers who’ve made all this possible. As cars become more software dependent the opportunities for such technological skulduggery will increase exponentially, so whither the self-driving car now?

VW have enjoyed a reputation of producing durable and lasting vehicles and are purported to be the largest manufacturer according to recent media reports so they had little or no reason to cheat. The main issue as far as I can interpret this fiasco is the irrevocable damage to the environment. 40 times the required emmission fallout is inexcusable by anyone’s standards and the responsibilty must rest with all the Board of Directors who must have been aware of company procedures.

Will the outgoing CEO leave with a genourous payoff I wonder?

A reputable CEO might have stayed with the company to sort out the problem and then, unless he was totally free from blame, left with all those responsible. What’s the point in running away?

The VW Group CEO is not really sorry for his company’s fraud and mis-selling.
He is just sorry they were caught.

vw have never produced either reliable or durable cars,you have obviously never read,like i have every car reliabilty surveys since the jd power one which started over here in 1994,the myth of the 1980s if only everything was as reliable as a vw,was then and always has been,just a lying advertising slogan.last time i checked Which? only rate vw as 3 stars for reliability,which is only average,which is disgraceful given the overinflated price of their cars.bmw ate averagevfor reliability at best,and mercedes are poor,somall these overhyped and massively overpriced german marques are just a matter of fantasy over reality

Bob Tilley says:
24 September 2015

Generous payoff? No need to ask.

The outgoing CEO is indeed leaving with a generous pay-off: €60 m (£44m) and the company has set aside €28.5m (£21m) for his pension [his annual compensation was over €15m (£11m) and early termination was worth a maximum of two years’ remuneration according to company policy]. According to The Times, “Senior board members said that they believed Mr Winterkorn when he said that he had no knowledge of the fiddle that has damaged the company and destroyed his plans to stay on until 2017″.

As Malcolm says, this begs the question whether the CEO’s resignation offer should have been declined and he should have been kept on the payroll to face the music. Running a company in ignorance of a widespread illegitimate practice suggests he was not in full control. I haven’t seen any clear report of whether Mr W was pushed, given the finger and walked, or spontaneously jumped.

Nevertheless John his acceptance of full responsibilty is an admission that he was not in full control. CEO’s of companies of such magnitude carry with them a multitude of company ‘indiscretions’ and any generous remuneration received normally comes with certain T & C’s.

How many ordinary shop floor workers will be laid off as a result of this debacle? Switzerland has already taken the lead by banning all sales of VW diesels.

While the VW scandal is shocking, I do think you are mixing up 2 related but different topics here. Pollution is one, MPG is another. Yes mis-representing true MPG gives more pollution, however I personally think the VW pollution issue is more serious: it looks an exponential abuse of customer’s trust and more importantly the health of all of us!

That said, the Which report on actual MPG has left me with concerns and questions.

For example, have a look at the BMW X3 and X4 in this report. 3 and 1 stars respectively on fuel economy. These cars are basically the same car – same engines, same published weight, but different body shapes- with the X4 arguably being slightly more aerodynamic. Did the which testers here do a like-for-like comparison here? Or test the 2.0 diesel RWD on X3 and 3.5 xDrive (AWD) on X4? I struggle to believe the Which ratings here, and as such this makes me wonder what other car ratings are questionable.

Additionally, I think any fuel rating is only valid when specified with a specific model, to enable us the reader to do like-for-like comparisons. Trying to apply one rating to cover engines from say 2.0 to 3.5 diesel, or worse 1.8 front wheel drive petrol to 4.0 diesel AWD is pushing it (IMHO 🙂 ) So … Which … for your car report, can you clarify what engines your report applies to?

Pollution is closely related to fuel consumption, all other things being equal. The trouble is that all other things are not equal, and we cannot trust the statistics.

It seems all diesel and petrol cars never make the numbers when used on a real road with realistic driving. I expect manufacturers gaming of the test to be widespread affecting many more than VW.

My honda CRV, 55 plate managed 51 mpg on a trip up to Northumberland a few weeks ago. That is 6 mpg better than what Honda claims for the car at 44.8 mpg. It does depend a lot on how one drives as to how much fuel economy you are going to get.

if you got that figure from the trip computer,than it is almost inevitably false.you would need to fill the tank,reset the trip meter,do some miles ,than refill the tank,work out the gallons(by dividing the litres by 4.546) than divide the miles covered by the number of gallons

My 2006 Honda Civic 2.2 Ex diesel performed almost exactly to the manufacturers claimed mpg averages – but my latest 2014 Honda CRV 2.2 diesel is a big disappointment in respect of mpg averages. I will keep trying to prove THEM right but I would not bet on them!
As far as the dishonesty on emissions goes, everyone is cheated on environmental grounds but the owner is cheated TWICE: environmentally and residual value of an originally premium priced vehicle.

Simon Clark: Of course it depends on how you drive but I defy you to get anywhere near the 80 mpg claimed by BMW for a Mini Cooper 1.6 diesel stop start. I drove at 45-55 over 450 miles and managed just 65 mpg – I changed gear as illustrated by the economy meter, never braked or accelerated hard and always used the stop/start system. I avoided traffic jams and yet couldn’t get within 20 mpg of the claimed figures. There is far more to this than how you drive. My older (2007) Volvo easily achieves the claimed mpg figures; it is the more modern cars that are unable to meet the manufacturers’ grossly exaggerated claims as James Bruce has discovered. Try as you like James, your 2014 Honda simply cannot achieve the claimed figures. The current EU test is to blame.

I bought a VW Lupo diesel in 2001. The official MPG figure was 64 and I’ve averaged 65 (do not speed, avoid motorways wherever possible, no ‘racing’ acceleration and no slamming on my brakes wherever possible). It must depend on how you drive – drive sensibly and you get good fuel consumption; drive like jeremy clarkson and you don’t! As for the dodgy code, will it be set to MOT mode all of the time?

Phil Hide says:
24 September 2015

Are VW’s figures significantly better than those of equivalent vehicles from other manufacturers? If not then the others need investigating too.

there is a chance that this particular software is part of a component that is purchased or developed by a third party company – who will almost certainly have sold this to other car manufacturers. We’ll see what comes out in the wash. which other manufacturers may be affected etc.

no,its not,a division of vw engineers did this,and the management must have known and oked it

Some breaking news for you: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34352548

The UK government is to launch its own investigation into vehicle emissions.

It has also called on the EU to conduct a Europe wide investigation into whether car makers have been misleading regulators.

It follows revelations that Volkswagen used fake emissions test to falsify results in the US and Europe.

The UK regulator, the Vehicle Certification Agency, will work with car makers to re-run lab tests where necessary.

Hoo-hah and humbug. Nothing our government is better at than huffing and puffing, and then sliding under the carpet when the media eye moves on. I’ll believe it when I see it !

More stringent testing of manufacturers!! Why hit driver with more stringent tests?

Hi tony, sorry we mean testing for the cars, not driver tests. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

PS. Love your profile photo! 🐱

John Light says:
24 September 2015

The government doesn’t need to test our cars more stringently; it needs to spot test the manufacturers’ products as they are being sold and prosecute hard where there is fraud or negligence in quality standards.

Peter Hewitt says:
24 September 2015

What about buses and lorries they are even worse.

Your votes asks if more stringent checks should be on cars, but surely its the manufactures who should be more stringently checked that they meet the required standard whatever it is.

Hi Terry, sorry about that. I just tweaked the poll to make it a bit clearer.

My car was bought for economy but is anything but corsa 1.2

I bought a Nissan quashqai 1.6 petrol cvt and was under the impression or was told it would do 58 mpg. Sucker I was lucky to get 30mpg on a good day driving very carefully. The only way I could get 58was to do the impossible go every downhill. That was my bit for the British motor industry. Never buy another.

M Russell says:
24 September 2015

These types of corporate deceptions will continue until the heads of companies go to prison for the actions of their companies, after which I suspect CEOs would work tirelessly to ensure letter of the law compliance. Being asked to ‘choose to Resign’ is not even a deterrent.

Mickthebrit says:
24 September 2015

Those companies being exposed to this disgraceful emissions fraud should be stripped of all their BSI/ISO quality accreditations and made to re-apply. The new application MUST include details of how the errant company intends to check that the production cars produced contain ONLY the specified (correct) software that supports their published emission figures.

Am i missing the key point here. never mind calling for stricter testing. How about doing the existing tests properly. this is another example of ‘White collar crime’. Millions of people have been in effect de frauded by the car companies who have saved billions over the years and yet no one will go to jail and all those wonderful bonuses paid out to thousands and thousands of car dealers, sales staff and car makers, employees etc will still be in their now grubby hands. Let us close down VW and ban it from selling any cars in UK? Oops the EU and Germany will not allow VW to be too severely punished. Until middle class, middle managers go to jail for crimes then in all walks of life banking, legal, Politicians and now Car makers the crimes will continue.

Manufacturers should be made to purchase back vehicles at original recommended retail price as goods shown not to be what advertised and not fit for the purpose sold. Then they could sort out compensation for the extra fuel costs that people expended. Also there should be no lab tests, and the inspectors take a car off the production line and it should have Ten thousand miles of road use before testing starts, taking place over two thousand miles of road use. That would be giving a fair and realistic result, and a good indication of the true miles per gallon over 12k miles under different conditions an different seasons.

Sian Thomas says:
24 September 2015

It is very apparent when driving and walking around that there is a particular problem with diesel vehicles. Even relatively new diesel vehicles happily emit big black puffs of smoke from their exhausts. I have problems with asthma and diesel emissions and now have to drive with my air vents closed . The biggest problem here is pollution but dishonesty in general is not acceptable. Big corporations cannot be trusted with anything as their only motive is profit and as their only purpose and duty is to make profits for the shareholders. I would guess that VW are not the only car manufacturers to be cooking the books in this way. Why do our governments persist in lax regulation of corporations? The banking crisis has become a problem for everyone but the banks. There is no sign of proper regulation of banking coming any time soon. Once this VW scandal gets swept under the carpet the car manufacturers will go on to find other ways of wringing out extra profit wherever they can. This is symptomatic of a wider problem. All corporations need close regulation and supervision to stay honest and responsible. Governments need to face up to that, lobbyists need to be removed from politics and politicians need to get their hands out of the till.

The.main reason diesels emit black spoke is poor maintenance. It’s also one of the reasons why diesel particulate filters get blocked. If you have a blocked air filter, the engine cannot burn fuel completely and you get increased emissions.