UPDATED: Intentionally Deceptive Emissions Software Forces Volkswagen Recall

UPDATED: Intentionally Deceptive Emissions Software Forces Volkswagen Recall
Image: Volkswagen
September 22, 2015

The Obama Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have ordered Volkswagen (VW) to recall nearly 500,000 vehicles in the U.S. , claiming that the German automaker has installed software specifically designed to deceive environment standards for reducing smog.

In a notice of violation, the agency accused the company of using a "defeat device" in Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from 2009-2015. The device is able to detect when the vehicle is undergoing an official emissions test, and only turns on the full emission control during this scenario. A weakened version of the control is in use at all other times, allowing the vehicles to emit more harmful substances than the company's information indicates.

"Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health," Cynthia Giles, the EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance told The New York Times. "Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, EPA is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules. EPA will continue to investigate these very serious violations."

The allegations are specific to diesel models. These include 2009-15 Volkswagen Jetta, 2009–15 VW Beetle, 2009–15 VW Golf, 2014-15 VW Passat and 2009-15 Audi A3 vehicles.

In November of 2014, the administration issued a record penalty under the Clean Air Act, fining Hyundai/Kia $300 million for misleading consumers in regards to its fuel-economy standards.

"They want to make it clear that they're going to crack down on cheaters," Frank O'Donnell, president of the environmental advocacy group Clean Air Watch told The New York Times. "They're cheating not only car buyers but the breathing public. They want to lay down the law, enforce the law, and show they're not going to tolerate cheaters. The laws and regulation are only as good as the enforcement."

According to Volkswagen, 11 million of its cars around the world could be impacted by this recall.

Updated: Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen CEO, issued an official apology for his company's deceptive behavior. "The Board of Management at Volkswagen AG takes these findings very seriously. I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public," the statement reads. "We will cooperate fully with the responsible agencies, with transparency and urgency, to clearly, openly, and completely establish all the facts of this case. Volkswagen has ordered an external investigation of this matter."

According to Consumer Reports, the "defeat device" concealed pollution that is 40 times the level allowed by American federal standards. Volkswagen could be facing up to $18 billion in fines and could face criminal prosecution. The company has stopped the sale of all affected new vehicles, as well as used models with the tainted technology.

Additionally, Consumer Reports has revoked its recommendation of Volkswagen Jetta and Passat diesel models until the company can prove the fuel efficiency of these products.