As Volkswagen began to shore up its image with a new North American command structure and new faces in the executive boardroom, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday that it is toughening things up on the emissions front. Automotive News said yesterday that the agency may re-implement on-road emissions testing, a tool it had used in the past to uncover emissions cheating.
Chris Grundler, head of the agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, told reporters in a conference call that the agency is “upping our game [emissions testing].” In addition to on-the-road testing, part of the agency’s toolkit of powers that has not been used in some years, EPA plans a series of enhancements to its procedures. EPA was to send letters announcing the changes to carmakers. Asked what the changes were, Grundler said, “They [the manufacturers] don’t need to know … They need to know that we will be keeping their cars a little longer.”
This development follows a week on which a small recall announcement mushroomed into a major scandal that has rocked the world’s largest automaker. VW, which had its sights set on the number one mark, achieved the goal a couple of months ago when it surpassed Toyota’s deliveries for the year by 20,000 cars (5.04 to 5.02 million). The news surrounding the emissions scandal included:
· The resignation of Martin Winterkorn, VW’s former chief executive.
· The ascension of Matthias Mueller, Porsche Division chief, to the top spot.
· The first of a series of expected departures of VW executives.
· A new command structure for North America.
· A major reshuffle and replacement of key executives.
· A major drubbing for the automaker’s stock.
· Major probes by the Department of Justice, Germany and German state.
· Planned sanctions by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
· Plans for class-action suits by auto dealers.
· Plans for a major class-action suit by 27 U.S. state attorneys general.
Referring to the on-the-road testing plans, Grundler indicated that it had been used in the past in both cars and lights trucks. The on-the-road spot checks were used to determine the validity of mileage claims. In using the checks, the agency uncovered emissions cheating, as well. The fact is that emissions cheating goes back to the early days of the agency in the 1970s.
In 1973, for example, Volkswagen was fined for installing emissions cheating devices that turned off temperature-sensing circuits in the systems used then when the tests were over. When emissions tests were run, the temperature-sensing devices worked normally.
1997, EPA fined General Motors $45 million, one of the biggest fines to that date, after the agency found the pollution control systems on 470,000 were turned off when the air conditioning was running. The engine involved was Cadillac’s 4.9-liter V-8.
In 1998, there was a scandal that was similar to the one involving VW. Rather than automotive diesel engines, tractor-trailer diesel engines were the focus. Seven manufacturers forfeited a total of $1 billion and $83.4 million fines and penalties, the largest penalty paid to that time.