A huge pinch of salt.

4th November 2015


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Author

George Vernon-Hunt

Paul Suff looks at Volkswagen's sustainability report in the light of Dieselgate

Environment and sustainability professionals at Volkswagen have probably been keeping a low profile since news broke in September that the German-owned automotive company had fitted software in diesel vehicles to enable them to perform better in mandatory tests and therefore meet emissions standards for nitrogen oxide (NOx).

Volkswagen, whose brands include Audi, Porsche, Seat and Škoda as well as VW, has admitted that about 11 million cars worldwide, including eight million in Europe, are fitted with the so-called "defeat device".

The US Environmental Protection Agency, which uncovered the deception, says the software turns off emissions controls when driving normally and turns them on when a vehicle is undergoing an emission test. This results in cars on the road emitting up to 40 times the NOx emissions than the US standards allow.

VW employs almost 600,000 workers, has 118 production plants worldwide and reported sales in 2014 worth more than €202 billion. It is inconceivable that such a large, global company, with a public commitment to become the "world's most environmentally compatible automaker" by 2018 should deliberately cheat tests to protect human health and the environment. The company's 2014 sustainability report states: "Growth can only take place hand in hand with responsibility and environmental protection."

Fitting a device to cheat tests and ensure vehicles comply with regulations suggests that the environment has been sacrificed for growth. The sustainability report also says "environmental considerations are factored into every decision we make".

It is unclear who at VW sanctioned the fitting of the defeat device but, whoever it was, it is clear that he or she was not considering the environment. Dieselgate may speed up the introduction of more robust testing of vehicles so the process better replicates actual driving conditions rather than artificial ones.

Although reports suggest some in the European automotive industry have been lobbying to weaken the commission's plans for a new test cycle, EU industry commissioner Elbieta Biekowska said in October that the test procedures would be an "appropriate answer to the shortcomings of laboratory testing and will considerably reduce the risk of defeat devices being used".

Whatever the policy outcome, the scandal will cost VW a huge amount of money in fines and the costs of repairing the affected cars. Its reputation is tarnished and it is likely to take years to recover. As for its sustainability objectives, best take them with a huge pinch of salt.


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