Volkswagen: Eco Friendly or Fraud?

Written by Alexa Hanson and Sadie Hammarhead

One might see Volkswagen as a well-meaning car company, with their cars advertised as “attractive and environmentally friendly.” But recently, Volkswagen mislead people who thought they were buying a fuel efficient car, because they were actually buying a car that did not actually meet the EPA standards for emission. Volkswagen had advertised their cars as eco-friendly, but really were emitting levels of nitrogen oxide around 35 times more than the legal standard. The 2009-15 Jetta, 2009-15 Beetle, 2009-15 Golf, and the 2014-15 Passat were all affected.  Volkswagen can now be fined up to $37,000 for each vehicle because of the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act is a law designed to control air pollution on a national level.That would mean that Volkswagen, the second largest automaker in the world, may have to pay a total of $18 billion.

Two years ago, the International Council on Clean Transportation was testing the performance of “clean” diesel cars in Europe, and they were not happy with the results of the emissions. They went to the United States to test the cars, expecting them to run smoothly and much better than the European ones, almost as a way of telling the automakers in Europe to step up their game. On the West Virginia University campus, some emissions researchers, who had dealt with large trucks, saw the posting by the transportation council and agreed to be their partner to test the light-duty diesel cars in real-world conditions. They tested the cars inside the lab and found their test results flawless, just as they had hoped for. They continued their study outdoors, in a real life situation. They found that the cars were spewing out levels of nitrogen oxide that were 30 to 40 times higher than the regulatory standards. The researchers were confused. Had they messed up their tests?

Then, the California Air Resources Board heard about the research and signed on to help. They tested the cars in a special lab used to judge if cars were environmentally friendly enough to be out on the road. They got the same test readings as the researchers had before, and this time they knew it was correct. In the test, the car was amazing. But out on the road, it started acting strangely. Even the big trucks that the researchers had worked on before hadn’t ever done so poorly by comparison.

Now, it’s Volkswagen and Audi’s responsibility to fix these cars. We interviewed Nancy Burrows, a VW owner. She said that Volkswagen sent her a letter apologizing for their actions, and they also replaced her car with a similar car to the one that she bought originally, but eco-friendly and with a much worse gas mileage. She also said that she was looking forward to having a diesel VW and felt disappointed because “It’s still not the car I bargained for.”.

Shortly after the news came out about this scandal, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned. He had been CEO since 2007. When he admitted to cheating on the emissions test, he also said that he was “not aware of any wrongdoing on my (Winterkorn’s) part”. The new CEO Matthias Mueller said that he will personally do everything he can to ensure the trust with VW customers, colleagues, partners, investors, and the general public. He also said that he plans to fix all of the affected cars in Germany (2.8 million) by the end of 2016. He has not yet decided on how long it will take to fix all of the cars in the US (482,000). VW released that about 11 million cars were affected overall. With all of these issues, VW is now the cheapest autostock in the world at $29.25.

In a recent statement, Volkswagen said that they will adopt a new system for controlling diesel emissions in future cars. They said that they were “pushing ahead with the development of electric and plug-in hybrid cars.” Along with that change, they released plans for the next generation of the company’s luxury Phaeton limousine into an all-electric model, expected to reach showrooms in 2019 or 2020. Matthias Mueller has a lot of plans for Volkswagen in the upcoming years, but only time will tell if he is successful in fixing Volkswagen’s reputation.