Volkswagen: TDI or TD Lie?

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What if it was revealed that your gas/electric hybrid wasn’t really a hybrid? Or what if Ford fans discovered their prized 5.0 V8 was actually only 4.3 liters? What if a Chevrolet claimed a 0-60 time of 4.3 seconds but was only capable of 5.2?

Automakers sell their cars with the promise that they will achieve a certain performance benchmark. Sometimes that benchmark is speed, sometimes it’s fuel economy, and sometimes it’s something a little less noticeable: emissions numbers.

As you’ve probably heard by now, Volkswagen is being accused of deliberately deceiving its customers, and the U.S. government, with cars that emit much more pollution than claimed. This is bad for a number of reasons, but the worst might be the loss of trust in its vaunted TDI brand.

In case you’re not familiar, here’s a quick rundown of what happened, according to Auto Week:

Volkswagen and Audi sold about 482,000 diesel vehicles with illegal emissions-control software designed to make their cars appear cleaner in testing than they are in the real world, the EPA said today.

The software, included on VW and Audi vehicles from the 2009-15 model years with 2.0-liter turbodiesel engines, detects when a car is undergoing EPA emissions testing and turns on the vehicle’s full emissions controls. The software then switched off the full emissions controls during real-world driving, the EPA said in a statement.

In other words, they built software to purposefully fake out the EPA and skirt its tests. With that “defeat device” in place, the cars emit about 40 times the allowable levels of emissions. With those real-world emissions, the 2.0-liter TDI wouldn’t have been approved for sale in this county.

This isn’t just bad for Volkswagen, it’s bad for Audi and bad for all diesels in the United States. Diesel engines are finally gaining popularity here, but this could derail that momentum. Not only that, but Volkswagen could face a fine of over $37,000 per car, or about $18 billion. There’s even the possibility of criminal prosecution.

The damage to Volkswagen’s carefully laid TDI plans may be irreparable. The cars drive as advertised and attain the promised fuel economy, but they spit far more pollutants into the air than anyone thought. Not only does that hurt Volkswagen, it brings into question the entire idea of “clean diesels” in general.

The fallout of this lie is just beginning, but already Volkswagen dealers have been told to stop selling new TDI cars. We don’t know how deep this scandal will go, or even if Volkswagen is the only one breaking the law, but it’s probably a good idea to put a temporary hold on shopping for a new diesel.

Will Volkswagen’s trouble with diesels change how you feel about diesel cars in general?

-tgriffith

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