Oil & Gas Summiteer

October 6, 2018

The Dieselgate and lab tests

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By Sonny Atumah

German luxury car-maker Porsche last week announced that it has stopped the manufacture of diesel models Cayenne and Macan.

Porsche is one of the automotive companies in the Volkswagen group. In September 2015, it was discovered that its luxury vehicles emitted excessive pollutants. Volkswagen has admitted to rigging diesel cars worldwide to fool emission checks.

It admitted that nearly 600,000 cars sold in the US were fitted with defeat devices designed to circumvent emissions tests. Last May, the Federal Transport Authority of Germany ordered the recall of nearly 60,000 Porsche Sports Utility Vehicles, SUVs in Europe because of emissions cheating. It was an emission cheating scandal now known as Dieselgate.

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Is there any reputation issue since the Volkswagen emission cover was blown? Ironically the company last year had a new record sale of 10.7 million cars globally. But Porsche has moved away from the production of diesel-powered cars to hybrid cars and electric cars believed to be cars of the future.

Every new Porsche car will likely be electrically powered by 2025. Volkswagen admitted wrongdoing in a statement of facts published last year as part of a settlement with the US Department of Justice.

 The Volkswagen diesel scandal was exposed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The scandal has cost the company around US$29 billion, having pleaded guilty in a US court. Two persons, a former engineer and a compliance officer in connection with the scandal have been prosecuted and are both spending time behind bars.

Nearly 600,000 cars sold in the US were believed to be fitted with defeat devices designed to circumvent emissions tests. The United States have come hard on the car-maker for cheating in their vehicular models that emit harmful Nitrogen Oxide, NO“  and lying to regulators.

The issue of emissions from internal combustion engines has been of global concern. Many manufacturers’ vehicle performances on the road have been skewed and found to be at variance with the technical data provided to regulators.

They use devices to deceive auto regulators. Some auto makers have devised ways of beating emission regulations which some believe are disadvantageous obligation; with recourse to outright fraud. Volkswagen made diesel engine which would both perform well and be capable of meeting stringent US emissions standards. It however designed a system to switch on emissions controls when the cars were being tested, and turn them off during normal driving.

Experts believe that diesel cars have toxic emissions (those immediately harmful to humans, not CO‚ ). Heating air in an engine produces NO“  which include the toxic nitrogen dioxide, NO‚ , greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N‚ O) and nitric oxide (NO). Replacing petrol cars with diesel ones resulted in lower CO‚  emissions and climate impacts but it has clearly been worse for human health. Long-term exposure can significantly increase the risk of respiratory problems, and so these emissions have been regulated for some time. The fine particulate matter (PM) that diesel engines produce also causes cancer and can have acute respiratory effects. Environmentalists and auto experts believe other recalcitrant car manufacturers have been undermining regulators in Europe over tests for both NO“  and CO‚ .

Writing for the Financial Times, Patrick McGee reported that from 2001 to 2013, the gap in CO‚  emissions in the lab versus on the road nearly quadrupled from 8 per cent to 31 per cent, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. In 2016, the gap was 42 per cent. Even with car-makers under scrutiny, and European regulators under pressure to enforce rules, the gap has since widened—reaching 42 per cent in 2016.

Given the commission’s recent accusations it would, however, be wrong to conclude that car-makers “are at it again.” Rather, they never stopped in the first place. Once the VW engineers completed their allegedly damning report in early 2016, the company decided not to publish it. VW had just adopted a legal strategy of full co-operation with US authorities, in part to accelerate a settlement; it worried about appearing like it was shirking responsibility.

The results were given to independent institutes, in case they wanted to verify them. And VW moved on. Within months, however, allegations implicating Mercedes, Fiat-Chrysler and Opel, among others, began to emerge as the institutes and EU regulators performed their own comprehensive NO“  emissions tests.

It appears the VW emissions scandal may quicken the race for electric vehicles manufactures. It has given added impetus for companies to focus on the technology, as policy makers and environmental activists increasingly blamed diesel for cities’ air quality problems. Porsche which will no longer offer diesel versions of its cars is investing over US$7 billion into hybrid and electric mobility technology.

The German Legislative body, Bundesrat, in 2017 approved the ban on internal combustion engines, ICE arguing that the current lower costs for gasoline and diesel cars are detrimental when trying to encourage buyers from switching to zero emission cars.

It is to encourage Germany’s world car manufacturers to advance in the development of electric vehicles.  Oil dependent nations have been put on red alert on gradual withdrawal from fossil fuels use.