Dieselgate: The full story and what actually happened?
The scandal that might've led to the rise of EVs
It was a day in September, 2015. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation to Volkswagen, due to it's inability to abide by the clean air act in The USA. Over the next few years, Volkswagen's stock value plummeted. Many senior members were sacked by the board. The top emissions compliance manager for Volkswagen in the US, Oliver Schmidt, was arrested for his involvement in the scandal.
However, the entire emissions scandal can be difficult to understand. So, in this article, I'll go over most aspects of the emissions scandal. I'll go over what happened, why it was done, how it was done and in the end, I'll also discuss what happened to everyone involved, the aftermath of these events and my opinion on what happened, having now (5 years later) done a lot of research on this topic.
So, what actually happened?
First, a bit of background. It is not publicly clear when VW started manipulating emissions tests with their diesel cars. However, it was 1998 when attention was first brought to the issue of discrepancies between lab tests and real life. A Swedish researcher wrote that the NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) had too large discrepancies between the lab tests and real life emissions.
VW advertised their 'clean diesel' cars at many motor shows between 2009 and 2014
In scientific conditions, a discrepancy of more than 5% means that the results should be null and void and the test must be done again with a more accurate process. However, a research group from the EPA decided to do some road tests in a project called ROVER. While doing this, they noticed discrepancies of nearly 20%, meaning that the NEDC tests were extremely inaccurate.
In 2014, the European Commission's Joint Research Centre published a report, stating that in real life use, diesel cars were extremely polluting, more so than shown in the NEDC tests. In said report, they stated that car manufacturers were beginning to put sensors in their cars, which put the car in 'testing' mode, leading to the engine operating differently, giving much lower emission figures. It is believed that VW cars were used in testing because they were, in 2015, the biggest seller of Diesel cars. This is the case today as well.
However, Volkswagen didn't heed warnings. So, in the end, the ROVER projects' scientists were given the go ahead to test the emissions on the road. The results were, frankly, horrifying. They found that the cars they tested released 4 times more NOx than the tests were showing. This put their emissions in the 'toxic' category. This led the US EPA to take the actions defined at the start of this article
Immediate Aftermath (2015-2020)
As soon as these pollution test results were announced, governments around the world began investigating Volkswagen and other car companies in the VW group. It turned out that VW vehicles were using these defeat devices in many countries, with a whopping 11 million cars produced between 2009 and 2015 were found to have these devices installed.
The VW Jetta TDI was the green car of the year in 2009, an award that was revoked in 2015
As soon as the information about the emissions was revealed in public, Volkswagen's stock price fell by a third in the days after. The CEO of the VW group resigned, and many engineers at VW, Audi and Porsche, who had knowingly allowed these devices to be put into their cars, were suspended and later fired. After VW pleaded guilty to 'dieselgate' as it was being called, executives at VW USA resigned, stating that they were being seen in a bad light and that it was affecting business in the US.
Rupert Stadler, former Audi chief executive, was the first top executive to stand trial for this scandal. He was charged with fraud, false certification and criminal advertising practices. The last one was because the VW group had been advertising their 'clean diesel' cars.
The Passat was the car that was used in the ROVER tests by the EPA
VW group boss Martin Winterkorn is still due to stand trial for fraud and stock market manipulation. Proceedings were also pursued against the group's current boss, Herbert Diess, but they were dropped after VW paid a $8.5 Million settlement.
This scandal has now cost the VW group over $35 billion. The majority of this is fines to many governments around the world, the biggest one being a $4 billion fine to the US government for fraud, false advertising and breaking the clean air act, which is an environmental protection law. However, these are just costs that VW had to compensate. The VW group's stock price has still not returned to its pre- dieselgate value. VW, Audi and the other brands will also have lost out many sales of diesel engines. In the UK, since 2016, the sales of diesel cars has dropped from around 49% (nearly half of all cars sold were diesel) to just 25% (A quarter of all new cars sold). This means that in the last 5 years, the sales of diesel cars have halved.
Something else that happened was a rise in the sales of EVs and PHEVs. After dieselgate, people became more aware of the environment, leading to a sharp increase in electric car sales. In the UK, since 2016, sales of electric cars has risen from 3% to 11%. This year, 54% of all new vehicles sold in Norway were electric, with 85% of all cars sold used some form of electric propulsion. Audi, Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen all released electric cars in 2018 and 2019, with the Audi e-tron being an extremely popular SUV.
The e-tron is one of the bestselling EVs in the world
Long-Term Aftermath (2021- )
VW group is still paying off fines for dieselgate, but they have decided to take action to rectify their mistakes. They have now successfully offset all emissions caused by their diesel cars. The VW group has also created a new EV platform, called MEB, for its EVs. VW is planning to spend £27 billion by 2022 to optimise this new platform. This includes new factories (powered by renewables) for all of its major brands, with projected production of over a million cars a year. VW recently also released the ID.3, which they are calling the new 'people's car'. Reviews are mostly positive, with many journalists saying that the car was good value for what it is.
The ID.3: A new 'people's car'
Verdict: Is VW forgiven?
Well, the public certainly thinks so. Most of the diesel cars sold worldwide are mostly Audi SUVs and the VW Golf. And of course, VW has pledged a lot of money for EVs. So they understand what must be done to wipe the slate clean. I think they've been punished enough, but what do you think? Write in the comments below your opinion on this whole fiasco.
Thanks for reading!