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US EPA, California notify Volkswagen of Clean Air Act violations

18 September 2015

Today, the US EPA issued a notice of violation (NOV) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, and Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.. The NOV alleges that four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars from model years 2009-2015 include software that circumvents EPA NOx emission standards. California Air Resources Board (ARB) separately issued an In-Use Compliance letter to Volkswagen. The EPA and the California ARB have both initiated investigations based on Volkswagen’s alleged actions.

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As described in the NOV, a sophisticated software algorithm on certain Volkswagen vehicles detects when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and turns full emissions controls on only during the test. The effectiveness of these vehicles’ pollution emissions control devices is greatly reduced during all normal driving situations. This results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory or testing station, but during normal operation, emit NOx at up to 40 times the standard. The EPA and the ARB consider the software produced by Volkswagen a “defeat device”—as defined by the Clean Air Act and illegal under the regulation.

The EPA and ARB uncovered the defeat device software after independent analysis conducted in 2014 by researchers at West Virginia University, working with the International Council on Clean Transportation, raised questions about in-use NOx emissions from VW diesel cars. Increased NOx emissions were measured in both older model year vehicles that used NOx adsorber technology, as well as in newer vehicles equipped with urea-SCR aftertreatment.

In September 2015, after the EPA and ARB demanded an explanation for the identified emission problems, Volkswagen admitted that the cars contained defeat devices. VW disclosed to the agencies that Gen 1, Gen 2 as well as Gen 3 (MY 2015, improved SCR) vehicles had a second calibration intended to run only during certification testing.

VW may be liable for civil penalties and injunctive relief for the violations alleged in the NOV. The allegations cover roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the United States since 2008. Affected diesel models include:

It is incumbent upon Volkswagen to initiate the process that will fix the cars’ emissions systems—said the ARB. Car owners should know that although these vehicles have emissions exceeding standards, these violations do not present a safety hazard and the cars remain legal to drive and resell.

Source: California ARB