Volkswagen – Sinister Scam and Disastrous Effects
Volkswagen and analogy to ‘People’s Car’. The German carmaker once holding three places in the list of top ten bestselling car of all times compiled by 24 * 7 Wall Street. And this must not be a surprise for an entity having German legacy of world class technology, manufacturing, professionalism and the care of mankind embedded in its ethics. But seems they couldn’t maintain the legacy and gave it up to surge their balance sheet. In context to the recent likely step to recalling about 1 Lakh diesel cars in India on the instruction of ministry of heavy industries to automotive research association of India (ARAI). The country’s testing agency to probe if Volkswagen manipulated emission tests in India as it did in Europe and US, ARAI is likely to submit report in a month. Let me take you a couple of months back when the scam that added 2,60,000 to 1 million tons of more NOx in the atmosphere that created smog, causing severe respiratory and skin diseases.
What is the scam and why they did this?
First understand this was for diesel engines, not gasoline (petrol). Diesel contains more energy than petrol per gallon. Reason why, diesel engines are more fuel efficient and travel 30-33% farther per gallon of fuel than its counterpart gasoline. But the catch is while diesel cars get better mileage they emit more CO2 and much more Nitrogen Oxide(NOx) which combines with dust and fog to form smog which causes severe respiratory infection. Now to actual answer to ‘why’ is that world strived for a balanced technology that can give efficient cars with least emission. So, in the process VW came with a technology to reduce emission without compromising on efficiency and entered US market that had a cold response for diesel cars for many years. But growing concern for efficiency and lucrative emission claim forced them to start importing VW Diesel cars in 2009. VW sold 4,82000 so called clean cars in US till date.
Actually, VW couldn’t balance performance with low pollution so it cheated. Now the question rises what they did and how they did???
“I can feel engineer’s ears have become more sensitive and eyes bulging out, but guys and girls from non-tech background, it’s easy to understand.”
VW claimed to have developed a NOx trap that can trap the NOx emission before it could enter in open atmosphere. Before the cars are rolled out on road they have to undergo various emission tests whose limit varies from country to country norms. Since 2009, VW has been inserting intricate code into the vehicle software that tracked steering and peddles movements. When cars are being tested on large rolling rod treadmill, only wheels rotate freely not steering gear, so this software suggested that the car was being tested for emissions. This automatically turned its pollution controls (NOx trap) ON. For rest of the time it remained inactive (In case of running on road). Here one thing to be noted is that letting the NOx trap active all the time leads to quick wear and tear and heating of engine and subsequently decreasing the mileage which VW did not want.
So, when the VW diesel cars were running on road they were freely blowing smoke it was calculated that the cars were supposed to emit 0.07 grams of NOx per mile but was emitting 15-35% higher. And this sold 11 million such cars, which added 10 lakh more tons of NOx in the atmosphere.
How was it busted
Regulators did not notice this rise for years. The problem was only uncovered by an independent group, the international council on clean transportation which wanted to investigate why there was such a discrepancy between laboratory test and real road performance for several VW diesel cars in Europe. They worked with researchers at West Virginia University, who stuck a probe up the exhaust pipe of VW clean diesel cars and drove them from San Diego to Seattle which gave the earlier mentioned data of high emission. In May 2014, both California air pollution regulator and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) ordered VW to investigate and fix the problem. Later VW dig out the sin where their own hands.
Solution and Hope
VW had to set aside around 8 billion USD for dealing with this issue. They had to recall all the cars and fix the software. European regulators have asked automotive manufacturers to do On-Road emission testing in addition to laboratory testing on vehicles starting with year 2017.
The first stage of mass emission norms came into forms for petrol vehicles in 1991 and in 1992 for diesel vehicles. In the year 2000, passengers’ cars met Euro 1 equivalent, India 200 norms. Euro 2 equivalent bharat stage 2 norms were in force from 2001 in 4 metros. Later in 2002, base of BS-3 was led upto 2010. BS-IV was implemented in 2010 in thirteen metros. BS-4 will be envisaged by 2017 in a phase manner all over the country. BS-V by 2021 and BS-VI from 2024. In a sense India lags behind the EU and china norms by at least 5 years. To cope that, India is planning to skip BS-5 and has wide support of Indian automobile industry, although it wil put immense pressure on it.
However practically comparing Indian norms with that of European, Chinese or American standard will not be justifiable at this stage and also the need for an integrated holistic approach for controlling vehicular emission cannot be over emphasised. There are a number of factors in India that determines setting such norms such as road texture, fuel quality and acceptability of technological advancements with good price.