The genesis of the whole Volkswagen Dieselgate thing actually began in 2014, when a West Virginia University study found a discrepancy between the emissions VW diesels put out in EPA tests and what they put out on the road. And in testimony he’ll deliver to Congress tomorrow, Volkswagen USA CEO Michael Horn will detail how long the company has been dealing with this problem, and how long it took them to act.
Horn is predictably cagey in his remarks to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations which he’s supposed to give tomorrow, and which have already been published on the House website. Horn apologizes once more, and lays out a plan for how the company aims to restore consumer and dealer confidence.
But the weirdest part about Horn’s testimony is what appears to be a substantial lack of details in the timeline in which Volkswagen was informed it had been caught, who caught it, the implications of its cheating, and the fix devised. Here’s the relevant section, as Horn is planning to give it:
In the spring of 2014 when the West Virginia University study was published, I was told that there was a possible emissions non-compliance that could be remedied. I was informed that EPA regulations included various penalties for non-compliance with the emissions standards and that the agencies can conduct engineering tests which could include “defeat device” testing or analysis.
I was also informed that the company engineers would work with the agencies to resolve the issue. Later in 2014, I was informed that the technical teams had a specific plan for remedies to bring the vehicles into compliance and that they were engaged with the agencies about the process.
On September 3, 2015, Volkswagen AG disclosed at a meeting with the California AirResources Board (“CARB”) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) that emissions software in four cylinder diesel vehicles from model years 2009-2015 contained a“defeat device” in the form of hidden software that could recognize whether a vehicle was being operated in a test laboratory or on the road. The software made those emit higher levels of nitrogen oxides when the vehicles were driven in actual road use than during laboratory testing.
So, let’s get this all chronologically straight.
- The operative West Virginia University study was published on May 15, 2014.
- Horn was informed that the company’s “emissions non-compliance” had been caught in “the spring of 2014,” so no later than June 21st of that year.
- Horn was informed, implicitly at the same time, that there was a penalty for non-compliance.
- Oh, and by the way, agencies probably could detect “defeat devices” if they really wanted to.
- Volkswagen engineers at that point were scrambling to get a fix.
Which apparently they had, or thought they had, by December of 2014 when they recalled hundreds of thousands of TDI cars for an emissions-related “glitch.” According to a Reuters report from late last month, this fix did not work.
Officials at the California Air Resources Board and the EPA agreed in December of 2014 to allow a voluntary recall of the company’s diesel cars to fix what Volkswagen insisted was a technical – and easily solved - glitch. The recall was rolled out nationally over a period of months.
On Wednesday, California Air Resources Board spokesman Dave Clegern confirmed that the letters were part of that recall. “This is one of the fixes they presented to us as a potential solution. It didn’t work,” he said.
So after this recall didn’t work, Volkswagen waited a further 243 days before finally admitting to CARB and the EPA its malfeasance. An extra 243 days to sell afflicted cars with their cheaty diesel engines, and Volkswagen managed to sell thousands of them.
Horn’s statement still leaves gaps through which massive questions could sail through. Who told Horn about the non-compliance? Did they simply tell him that the cars weren’t in compliance, did they tell him that the cars had a defeat device, or did he know about the device already and did they only inform him that the company had been caught? Who told him about the EPA defeat device testing capability? Did Horn not know about this previously? When Horn was informed about the possibility of penalties, why did he not issue a stop-sale order then? When the company had a fix, why didn’t it say anything at that point? Why did they wait so long? Who informed him that technical teams had a plan? Were these teams from the United States, or in Germany?
All of these questions, and many more, are likely to thrown at Horn during the question-and-answer session following his remarks to the Committee tomorrow. Maybe we’ll get some answers, but probably not.
In the meantime, read over Horn’s testimony below:
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