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Under-fire Volkswagen burns Mercedes-Benz! Other European car-makers scampering for cover?

Mercedes-Benz must be cursing the under siege Volkswagen Group! Just like Nestle’s maggi ban engulfed other food products in its flames, the global spotlight on Volkswagen, for cheating emission standards, has drawn Mercedes Benz into the muddle, too. It is very likely that other European car manufacturers will also face scrutiny now.

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A European lobby group has revealed that Mercedes-Benz tops their list of carmakers who exaggerated fuel economy for the second straight year. Till the time Volkswagen happened, Mercedes believed in their con, they didn’t think they’d come under the scanner. It is very likely that Benz will receive special attention, now that the Volkswagen AG’s diesel engine test scandal has rocked the world of fancy carmakers.

It is difficult to comprehend the enormity, the sheer size of the scandal. There could be as many as 11 million rigged cars. They have also rigged tests in Europe, where it has much bigger sales numbers. Audi has said 2.1 million of its diesel-powered cars, including bestsellers – the A4 Sedan and the Q5 Sports Utility Vehicles – are equipped with software that is implicated in emission-testing scandal.

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Volkswagen’s modus operandi was so successful that they survived for seven years! It cheated the emissions-testing mechanism by installing a clever piece of software that could sense when it was being tested for damaging emissions. Once it did, it reduced the harmful exhaust, seamlessly meeting standard levels.

For seven years, German car-maker Volkswagen fooled Uncle Sam and his technologically-advanced infrastructure and machinery. In fact, they would have continued to deceive the American emission standard and, who knows, the whole world, had the accidental discovery not taken place.

How it all began

In 2008, the US introduced stringent emissions law. In order to meet the standard level, most car manufacturers started using urea-injection system – AdBlue. It uses a chemical catalyst to ensure unburnt fuel doesn’t find its way into the exhaust. VW didn’t take that road. Taking it as an opportunity to stand out, and save money on the expensive AdBlue, Volkswagen announced that it was equipped to meet the regulation level without the aid of AdBlue system.

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It was a claim based on the knowledge that the only way by which their declaration would hold true would be to manipulate and control the emissions. German engineers are a celebrated lot, it would have taken very little to develop a software that resolved their pain-point.

In 2013, Volkswagen’s joy ride crashed. The injury toll is as yet not clear, but a probe against VW’s former boss Martin Winterkorn has already begun. Three top engineers have been sacked. Further investigation will reveal more names…

The International Council on Clean Transportation teamed up with West Virginia University for a study on the Volkswagen diesel cars. It was being done to understand the mantra behind its success story. They didn’t come on suspicion of unethical and criminal practices.

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A 2012 VW Jetta, a 2013 VW Passat, and a BMW X5 SUV were tested in laboratory and on road conditions. The results showed that the Volkswagen Jetta exceeded nitrous oxide caps by 15 to 35 times, with the Passat exceeding emissions caps by five to 20 times. Meanwhile, the BMW met all the standards under normal driving conditions.

This alarming revelation was reported to the US climate and environmental authorities, who began their own investigation. Volkswagen disputed the findings, but implemented a voluntary recall of nearly 500,000 cars in December, 2014, to put in a software patch it said would resolve the problem. It didn’t.

It was only after further, deep-rooted examination that the deception unraveled. It was called the ‘Switch’. The Switch tracked the position of the steering wheel, vehicle speed, how long the engine is on, and barometric pressure. If these inputs match the ones commonly found in vehicle testing, the software cuts harmful emissions to pass the exam. If it sensed that the car was being driven on a road rather than in a lab, it switched to a separate calibration that turned off the exhaust controls.

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Using a device in cars to escape clean air standards is against the law and a threat to public health. They have broken the trust of its millions of customers.

According to an analysis by The Guardian, the 11 million cars affected globally might have emitted the same amount of pollution as all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture in the whole of the UK combined every year – 948,691 tonnes of nitrous oxide.

Calculations show that the 482,000 US cars originally found to have been non-compliant released between 10,392 and 41,571 tonnes of nitrous oxide annually at a standard US mileage.

The EPA standards would have allowed 1,039 tonnes.

About the author

Rubi

Whether it’s women issues, politics or the paranormal, Rubi has an opinion on everything. Art and entertainment interest her, too. Hindu College alumni, she has written for The Hindustan Times and The Financial Express. Every now and then, she loves picking up her camera to capture life and its various shades.

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