Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have seen that Volkswagen’s been in the news a lot recently. However, if you missed the start of the story, it’s pretty hard to catch up. There’s people talking about real world testing, nitrous oxides and defeat devices.
It’s a lot of jargon to take in. Thankfully, we’re here to provide a bit of explanation and make things a bit clearer.
But first a bit of background.
As legal firm dedicated to protecting motorists, this is a scandal that hits close to home. We don’t generally expect much love from the bus gate operators and traffic police officers, but we do expect support, trust and honesty from car manufacturers.
Motorists make car manufacturers what they are. Without motorists Volkswagen would cease to exist. They need us and that’s what makes the feeling of betrayal all the more bitter.
What did Volkswagen do?
The allegations against Volkswagen are a bit complicated but the simplified version goes like this. Volkswagen installed an illegal piece of software in their diesel cars which changed the way car engines operated during testing.
This bit of software allowed their engines to tweak their performance to appear far less polluting than they really are. This bit of tech is caled a defeat device.
How do defeat devices work?
To understand what a defeat device does, you have to understand a little bit about diesel engines.
Traditionally, diesel engines have been a bit of a mixed bag. They used much less fuel than petrol engines but they also emitted much more pollution.
Mercedes-Benz developed a system called Bluetec which injects urea (an organic compound present in urine) into the exhaust gas emitted by the engine. This dramatically reduces the levels of a particularly nasty pair of of chemicals called nitrous oxides or NOx.
Great, everyone thought. Now we can enjoy the fantastic fuel efficiency of a diesel engine without worrying about the gases coming out the back end.
So where does the defeat device come in?
All cars undergo emissions testing which checks how much nasty stuff comes out the back end. What Volkswagen’s defeat device does is detect when the car is being tested and puts urea injection into overdrive. Instead of being dripped into the exhaust gases, it pumps it in by the barrel load. This massively reduces the level of nitrous oxides in the exhaust gases and gets their cars top marks in the tests.
However, the amount of urea it pumps in during the test is far more than it does under normal driving conditions and is far from sustainable. In fact, if Volkswagen’s engines always used that amount of urea, its supply would run out incredibly quickly.
Are they allowed to do that?
Nope. Volkswagen are most certainly are not allowed to do this. Altering the way an engine operates during testing makes the whole testing procedure pointless. It also allows Volkswagen to sell cars which would otherwise be banned or penalised under current emission laws.
Many are now accusing Volkswagen of mis-selling vehicles to consumers and a US legal firm has already started a class action lawsuit on behalf of American cam owners.
How deep does the scandal go?
If you’re a Volkswagen owner, you’ll be happy to know that not all cars are affected. However, the number of affected diesel cars is estimated at around 11 million worldwide so there’s a lot of dodgy Volkswagens out there.
In the UK there are around 500,000 affected Volkswagen cars, 390,000 Audis, 76,000 Seats and 130,000 Skodas.
Volkswagen has released a tool which allows owners to enter their VIN number and see if their vehicle is affected. Click here to test yours.
Are heads going to roll?
Almost certainly. With one US legal firm already in full on attack mode and newspapers murmuring about criminal charges, Volkswagen are already enjoying the consequences of the scandal.
Despite initially refusing to leave his post, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has now stepped down from the company in a move that smacks damage limitation.
However, considering that Winterkorn could still walk away with a $32 million pay packet, we aren’t going to feel too bad for him.
And Winterkorn isn’t the only casualty. Board member and head of sales Christian Klingler is also splitting with the company, though the Volkswagen claim this is part of a long-term structural change. We aren’t so sure.
What’s next for Volkswagen?
The future’s not looking bright for Volkswagen. The Volkswagen Group has just reported a £1.2 billion loss in its quarterly earnings after setting £4.8 billion to settle the scandal. And even though Volkswagen is the second biggest car manufacturer and 12th biggest company in the entire world, that’s a loss that’s hard to recover from.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better too. Volkswagen are predicting a further fall in sales over the coming month. However, they say they are optimistic that sales will bounce back when the scandal blows over.
As they say, only time will tell.