- Published: Monday, 12 October 2015 22:47
Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal is now believed to affect 11 million vehicles around the world. With ex VW Group CEO Martin Winterkorn apologising in his official statement, the company has also released another official statement saying that it is ‘working with full speed to clarify irregularities’.
New head man, Mattias Muller, has gone on the record to say it was a result of the “unlawful behaviour of engineers and technicians involved in engine development”.
The entire matter has been covered extensively both by the mainstream media and specialist automotive titles, so we thought we’d focus on the issue and its relevance to Singapore.
Are any Volkswagen vehicles in Singapore affected?
Contrary to previous reports (see below), 662 vehicles here have been affected by the diesel emissions software. The National Environment Agency released a statement earlier today stating: "Volkswagen Singapore has declared to NEA that about 650 Volkswagen diesel vehicles registered in Singapore have been fitted with the Type EA 189 EU5 diesel engine and the defeat device."
It also states that "Approval for all affected Volkswagen diesel vehicle models has been suspended. No new registrations will be allowed. The suspension will be in place until Volkswagen has completed rectification of all affected vehicles."
Volkswagen Singapore later released its own statement with a breakdown of the units affected, saying 221 commercial vehicles and 441 passenger cars are affected. It says: "Depending on the model, both software and hardware measures may be necessary. This is currently being established for each model series and each model year affected. All necessary measures will be carried out at no cost to customers. In the meantime, all these vehicles are technically safe and roadworthy."
660 units, as far as normal recalls go, isn't a particularly high number, but it remains to be seen exactly how and what VW will do to fix the issue - in foreign markets such as the USA, Europe and UK where the number of affected vehicles is much higher, a number of fixes have been discussed but each with its own consequences and problems. It also remains to be seen if VW will address issues regarding roadworthiness, compensation and resale value as a result of the scandal.
Previous Reports (23 September 2015)
According to a report in the Straits Times, quoting the National Environment Agency, no VW cars sold here are affected by the duplicitous software system.
VW’s own statement says that its Type 189 engines are the ones affected and, as far as we can gather, chiefly the 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel inline four-cylinder units which powered ‘previous generation’ machines. It says the new Euro VI compliant diesel units aren’t affected.
VW dodged a bullet here, since the offending vehicles are from the 2009 model year onwards. According to VW Singapore’s pricelist only one 2.0 TDI model is currently on sale, the Tiguan. CarBuyer has tested the Sharan 2.0 TDI, although it, like the Tiguan, has a Euro VI compliant engine.
Back in 2012 VW was first manufacturer to offer a full range of diesels here, which was hailed as a prescient move.
Is that by luck, or by design?
It’s mostly a result of the legislation here in Singapore. Diesel passenger cars have never been a huge proposition here in Singapore, unlike in Western Europe, where incentives and CO2 targets helped create an environment which promoted diesel ownership.
As the 2012 move states, the CEVS ruling was a key driver to promote diesels, since the crux of the matter is that they have low CO2 outputs, though higher levels of NOx than petrols. The introduction of the COE Category A power cap was another incentive that, in recent times, helped small-capacity, low-power diesels like the BMW 116d and Renault Fluence gain traction.
Does that mean that all diesels are bad?
Not necessarily. The US researchers tested a BMW alongside the VW and found no irregularities, although right now, Audi and Porsche (also VW brands) have their large diesel engines under scrutiny.
The vast majority of other car manufacturers with big stakes in diesel, including Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, BMW, Jaguar-Land Rover, Lamborghini, Ford, Bentley, Peugeot and Citroen have officially denied using similar systems to manipulate test results, either in official statements or recorded statements to the media.
Generally speaking, diesels emit more of the bad stuff (NO2) than petrols. Technology has helped that somewhat, which is why diesels are catching on in a bigger way in the past five years: Low-sulphur fuel, diesel particulate filters and urea injection reduce the smoke and smog that diesels have always been associated with, at least theoretically. Other tech that helps diesel cars achieve legal emissions standards (i.e. Euro 6) include NOx storage catalyst and EGR (engine gas recirculation).
VW’s huge scandal calls into question just how clean diesels are once again, although it was already an issue, especially in European cities.
Recently there was a backlash against diesel concentrating on air quality over CO2 numbers alone, with some countries and legislators back-pedalling on the situation that made Western Europe’s market for passenger cars a predominantly diesel one.
A peek at Euro V and VI standards shows that new Euro VI diesels aren’t far off from petrol cars in terms of NOx emissions, although campaigners say that testing benefits diesels have argued against this - and it’s over-optimising/cheating on testing that got VW into this pickle after all.
New research in the meantime, though, has shown that diesel emit another harmful substance - hydrocarbons - many times what current research or legislation expects.
So what does that mean for us?
As of 2014, there were 605,511 petrol passenger cars in Singapore, as compared to 3,206 diesel passenger cars, or 0.53 percent. So in the bigger picture, it doesn’t mean much for us, although as mentioned, Singapore (like Thailand and Malaysia) is seeing an increasing take-up of diesel passenger cars.
However amidst all the chaos about diesel passenger cars, we should keep in mind that 24,493 taxis, 136,862 commercial vehicles and 144,507 buses are diesel powered and a large number of them aren’t Euro V certified nor do they have tech like diesel particulate filters to help cut pollution. So for now, the health threat is already right in front of us.
Ironically it’s a slow push towards lowering CO2 emissions that has helped Singapore avoid diesels thus far, even if the NEA has mandated Euro 6 for all diesel vehicles here, it only comes into force in 2018.
Does this mean the end for diesels?
In the USA, where VW sells more diesels than anyone, perhaps. But the debate behind CO2 versus NOx versus air quality in general is not exactly a new one and at this time the VW issue raises far more questions than answers.
For us the more pertinent question is: How could a brand like VW with such a huge reputation engage in such fradulent behaviour and expect to get away with it?
It could be the work of a 'rogue engineers' as the company seems to imply, but the disturbing part is that unlike say, Toyota's unintended acceleration issue or GM's ignition switch faults, which could be traced to negligence and faults in the supply chain, this was a deliberate attempt to circumvent laws. A more disturbing implication is the 'Lance Armstrong' theory: When everyone else is cheating, it's no longer cheating.
Whatever the case, the diesel debacle will have very far-reaching consequences for the global car industry.