CHEAT! Volkswagen chief 'deeply sorry' over diesel emission test dodge

Car maker's stock price plummets after confession

Volkswagen's CEO has admitted that the German car manufacturer used software to cheat emissions testing for certain air pollutants on nearly half a million of its cars.

Martin Winterkorn's confession led to the company suffering a bloody trading day – with shares nosediving more than 21 per cent to €128.15 this morning.

"I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public," VW's chief said in a statement on Sunday. Winterkorn added:

We will cooperate fully with the responsible agencies, with transparency and urgency, to clearly, openly, and completely establish all of the facts of this case. Volkswagen has ordered an external investigation of this matter.

As The Register reported at the weekend, nearly 500,000 cars made by VW between 2008 and this year – including Audi A3, Beetle and Golf models – are now being recalled by the firm, following a notice of violation from the US government's Environmental Protection Agency on Friday.

The watchdog accused VW of using a "sophisticated software algorithm" on some of its vehicles, which the agency said "detects when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and turns full emissions controls on only during the test."

It added that the cars under investigation by the EPA "emit up to 40x the national standard for nitrogen oxide (NOx), which is linked to asthma and lung illnesses."

The findings were backed up by the California Air Resources Board, which also revealed that VW had manipulated its emissions testing software, thereby violating US environmental standards.

Nasty nitrogen oxide emissions – an industry-wide problem?

Here in the UK, a vehicle excise duty introduced in 2001 by then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in an attempt to reduce CO2 emissions has been blamed for the large number of diesel cars on our roads today.

While diesel engines are greener in many ways compared to petrol-chugging ones, they do emit large amounts of nitrogen oxide and – with tough new air quality standards being brought in Stateside and in Europe – some manufacturers, such as Mercedes, developed urea tech to try to tackle the NOx problem.

But green transport lobbyists have claimed recently that evidence shows that carmakers skirt air pollutant rules by circumventing emissions testing on their vehicles.

The Transport & Environment campaign group had this to say in 2014:

Urea, which is injected into the car exhaust to dispel harmful NOx emissions, is stored in a small bottle. For drivers’ convenience, carmakers manipulate the injection system so that urea is only used during certain periods of acceleration (which also, coincidently, correspond to moments of test-cycle acceleration). At all other times no urea is injected – so more harmful NOx emissions are released.

An improved emissions testing system was floated in 2012, T&E said, but was apparently stalled by lobbyists who were pushing for weaker measures to be introduced.

The UK government said last year that it was working with the European Commission and other member states to reduce NOx emissions.

In May, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:

Air pollution, for example from road transport, harms our health and wellbeing. It is estimated to have an effect equivalent to 29,000 deaths each year and is expected to reduce the life expectancy of everyone in the UK by six months on average, at a cost of around £16bn per year.

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