Volkswagen has emissions-cheating fix ready

Volkswagen's plan to fix most of its 2-liter diesel engines that cheat on emissions tests includes a computer software update and a larger catalytic converter to trap harmful nitrogen oxide, and it may not hurt mileage or performance, according to dealers who were briefed by executives on the matter.

Limited details of the plan were made public last week at a regional dealer meeting in Newark, New Jersey, by Volkswagen of America Chief Operating Officer Mark McNabb, said two dealers who asked not to be identified because the plan hasn't been made public.

One dealer said the group was told that early testing of a small sample of repaired cars showed that the fix made "no discernable difference" in the cars' mileage, horsepower or torque. Both dealers said they were told that more testing was needed and that the plans still had to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board.

If the fixes don't hurt performance and mileage, that could be a big boost for Volkswagen, which last month agreed to spend up to $15.3 billion to settle consumer lawsuits and government allegations that its diesels cheated on U.S. emissions tests. The settlement included up to $10 billion that would go to over 475,000 owners of 2-liter VW or Audi diesels, giving them the choice of selling the cars back at the pre-scandal value or getting them fixed. A fix that is satisfactory to owners would entice more of them to go for repairs, saving VW money. The $10 billion figure is the worst-case scenario for the company and includes all owners taking the buybacks. Car owners also would get payments of $5,100 to $10,000.

Volkswagen has acknowledged that the cars were programmed to turn on emissions controls during government lab tests and turn them off while on the road. Investigators determined that the cars emitted more than 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide, which can cause respiratory problems in humans. The company got away with the scheme for seven years until independent researchers reported it to the EPA.

Even with the fixes, the VWs won't fully comply with clean air laws because the cars were built to defeat the tests. The fixes must cut emissions by at least 80 percent, and VW must pay to mitigate any excess pollution.

At the time the settlement was announced, no fix was available, but the dealers said that VW appeared close to submitting one.

Neither the EPA nor Volkswagen would comment on details repair proposals. "Any remedies that are being discussed still need to be approved," VW spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said.

Both dealers said the fix was revealed by McNabb reluctantly under questioning from Northeast region dealers toward the end of a four-hour meeting on July 15. The meeting was held to discuss how VW would implement the buyback and repair plan and included plans to have company representatives handle paperwork.

The news gave hope to the dealers, who have had to make do with a lack of new vehicles and have seen U.S. sales decline since VW admitted cheating on the tests in September of last year. So far this year, VW brand sales are down nearly 15 percent even though the overall market has grown 1.5 percent.

One of the dealers said the so-called "Generation 1" diesels—about 325,000 VW Jettas, Golfs, Passats and Beetles from the 2009 to 2014 model years—would get new software and bigger catalytic converters in January or February of next year. About 90,000 "Generation 2" Passats already have sufficient emissions systems and would get only a software update early next year. Another 67,000 "Generation 3" 2015 models would get software in October and would get additional hardware a year later, the dealer said.

Getting the fixes through the EPA and California regulators could still be a problem. The agencies in January rejected a fix for the 2-liter engines, and last week they turned down a plan to fix about 85,000 vehicles with 3-liter diesels that also cheat on emissions tests.

Alan Brown, general manager of a VW dealer in Lewisville, Texas, and chairman of the company's National Dealer Advisory Council, said regional meetings with dealers around the country have caused most to be optimistic that better times are ahead. Details of how the cars would be fixed weren't discussed at the meeting he attended this week, he said. But if they don't affect mileage or performance "We'd celebrate," he said.

Dealers also were told that they'd be reimbursed by VW for sales losses due to the scandal, and that new vehicles are coming. A small SUV built in Tennessee is due early next year, and later in the year VW plans an all-wheel-drive wagon to compete with the hot-selling Subaru Outback.

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Jul 22, 2016
The irony is that the emissions scandal and the overall lousy emissions figures from cars is due to the fuel economy standards and regulations set by the governments that force the automakers - not just VW - to compromize on their pollution in order to achieve high mileage. Even modern direct injection high compression gasoline engines produce NOx and particulates much like the diesels do.

Yet the fuel economy standards don't appreciably affect the overall CO2 emissions and energy use because transportation overall represents just 20% of the energy expenditure of the society, and private cars even less. Small improvements in car fuel economy don't show up in meaningful decreases of energy or CO2, instead showing up as massive increases in pollution such as formaldehyde from ethanol fuels, particulate matter from diesel, and NOx from high compression combustion - not to mention higher cost for the consumers.

It's just feelgood regulation and mismanagement of resources.

Jul 22, 2016
Of course there's the argument that things like CAFE standards force manufacturers to come up with better technologies than the internal combustion engine, but the flipside of that coin is that the alternative technologies aren't going to mature soon enough - otherwise they'd be already adopted for being simply better - and the only way to fill the standards is to fill the roads with diesel cars and other gimmick engine techologies that push out pollution or compromize cost, quality and safety, to achieve the required fuel economy.

The government can't regulate the techonology and science to become better, faster. It goes as it goes.

Jul 23, 2016
The irony is that the emissions scandal and the overall lousy emissions figures from cars is due to the fuel economy standards and regulations...
I don't think so. With gasoline engines the combustion temperature rises if the air/gasoline ratio is lower than the optimal 17/1, and with higher temperatures NOX increases. In diesel engines air intake is fixed, so air/fuel ratio is always lower than the optimal, if you decrease the fuel injected you'll just have less power

Jul 23, 2016
Ah good, Volkswagen came up with a "fix" that will do a better job of hiding their true emissions and performance from government idiocrats while continuing to foist public with even higher polluting and worse performing cars.

Jul 24, 2016
With gasoline engines the combustion temperature rises if the air/gasoline ratio is lower than the optimal 17/1, and with higher temperatures NOX increases

Lean burning does create NOX, but that's a different effect, and lean burning is also one of the tricks used in modern high efficiency gasoline engines to save fuel. The "optimal" ratio is only optimal for complete combustion, not necessarily optimal for power or efficiency, and in practice the fuel isn't perfectly mixed anyhow.

You also need high pressure to burn nitrogen, but that's also provided by the high compression ratios in high performance engines.

To get higher efficiency out of a heat engine such as an internal combustion engine, you ultimately must increase the combustion temperature to generate a bigger differential for the thermodynamic cycle to work over.

Of course the pressure need not necessarily be great, but you get lower power density and lower perfomance out of the engine.

Jul 24, 2016
That's the advantage of something like a microturbine over a piston engine - the pressure is never very great, so the temperature and efficiency can be high without creating NOX pollution.

However, because the pressure of the working fluid (gas) is low, you need a whole lot more of it to perform the same work, which means the engine breathes in and exhausts a lot more air and a lot of the heat is lost in the exhaust. Hence why combined cycle which captures the lost heat with a steam engine.

There was some project to scale down a CCGT powerplant to the size of a car engine some years ago, but I haven't heard of it since. The promise of it would be 50-60% efficiency with virtually no pollution, no NOX or particulate matter.

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