For years, Volkswagen was hailed as the last great champion of diesel technology for passenger cars. While the percentage of diesel cars on the road here in North America is relatively low, in Europe they represent almost half of the vehicles on the road.
VW coined the phrase “Clean Diesel”, and had that small part of the market here in North America cornered. Relatively few but fervent, millions of customers went to dealerships to see what the fuss was about. Volkswagen’s TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) power plants in passenger cars like the Jetta, Passat, and even the retro-styled New Beetle, as well as the Audi A3, were making impressive mileage numbers while complying with North America’s toughest emission laws, even in notoriously strict jurisdictions like California.
Combining the excellent performance, mileage, and longevity of diesel engines, Volkswagen was becoming the brand of choice for very discerning customers on this side of the Atlantic.
The problem was that they were cheating. They could not achieve the mileage and performance demanded of them and still maintain acceptable emissions, particularly in the two gases that comprise the oxides of nitrogen (Nox), nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide. In order to maintain the performance that customers wanted, Volkswagen included some devious software in their vehicles that could detect when they were being tested, and adjust the engine’s performance to ensure that the vehicle emissions are lowered so that the car passed the test.
When finally detected by the California Air Resources Board, Volkswagen at first denied that there was any shenanigans committed on their part, but when the Board threatened not to approve any cars for 2016, the company came clean (at least about the software).
In the end, the company is facing countless lawsuits in over 12 countries, and is on the hook to fix millions of cars. Consumers have lost faith in the automaker, and what’s worse, they’re calling the effectiveness and efficiency of the diesel engine into question.