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Volkswagen 'Dieselgate' Fallout: Germany Tests Cars; Report Sends BMW Shares Down

Volkswagen diesels are shown behind a security fence on a storage lot near a VW dealership in Salt Lake City. The carmaker is reeling from a scandal over its use of devices to fool emissions tests of diesel models.
Rick Bowmer
Volkswagen diesels are shown behind a security fence on a storage lot near a VW dealership in Salt Lake City. The carmaker is reeling from a scandal over its use of devices to fool emissions tests of diesel models.

One day after Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn announced his resignation over the German automaker's use of software to dupe emissions control tests, European countries are conducting new tests — and the Auto Bild site says a BMW diesel model also failed to meet European standards.

The new report that a BMW X3 produced more than 11 times the amount of NOx (nitrous oxides) pollution allowed under Europe's standards spurred a sharp drop in BMW's stock price, which fell more than 7 percent Thursday.

That test was carried out by the International Council on Clean Transportation, which found that the BMW model performed worse than a VW Passat TDI — one of the cars included in the Environmental Protection Agency's call for a recall.

"All measured data suggest that this is not a VW-specific issue," Peter Mock, the group's Europe managing director, tells Auto Bild.

The test-cheating software is on 11 million vehicles worldwide, Volkswagen said this week, vastly increasing the scope of a problem that the EPA had said affects more than 480,000 diesel VW and Audi vehicles in the U.S.

On Thursday, Germany's transportation minister said Volkswagen's diesel cars in Europe with 1.6 and 2.0 liter engines have the deceptive software, adding that random tests will be carried out on a wide range of vehicles.

Volkswagen's stock has been hammered since the revelations emerged. After hitting the $163 mark Friday, it sank to $102 early Wednesday, before rising a bit on news of Winterkorn's resignation. The company has shed billions in market value, and it still faces more than $17 billion in potential fines in the U.S. alone.

German media are now reporting that two top development executives at Volkswagen units — one at Audi and another at Porsche — will also leave the car giant, due to their earlier roles at Volkswagen's central division.

The European Commission is urging all its member nations to investigate how cars perform on emissions tests and to determine whether they have software that turns on emissions control systems only when the car is undergoing an official test, as the Volkswagen cars were found to do.

The EPA called that software part of a "defeat device" that enabled VW cars to pass emissions tests even though under normal driving conditions, they emit up to 40 times more pollution than allowed under U.S. standards.

Discussing the scandal that's now been dubbed "dieselgate," European Commission spokeswoman Lucia Caudet says, "We need to have the full picture whether and how many vehicles certified in the EU were equipped with defeat devices."

Cheating on emissions tests is widespread and well-known, according to German auto association spokesman Gerd Lottsiepen, who tells Deutsche Welle, "This practice has been going on for years and we've had our suspicions for a long time but lacked evidence. The U.S. authorities have now found proof."

Lottsiepen describes how a "defeat device" works:

"A special software installed on a small computer recognizes that the vehicle is not running normally, but instead, running in test mode. The software knows the front wheels are turning but the vehicle is not moving - which can easily be determined by GPS. There are also other ways of using software to recognize a test run."

Other ways a test might be detected, the EPA says, range from the position of the steering wheel to barometric pressure.

Detailing where emissions testing is headed in Europe, the International Council on Clean Transportation says:

"Controlling nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from Euro 6 diesel passenger cars is one of the biggest technical challenges facing automakers. Euro 6 limits NOx emissions from diesel passenger cars to 80 mg per kilometer, down from 180 mg/km for Euro 5 vehicles. The new limit value is not as stringent as it appears, because it applies to an outdated emissions certification driving cycle (the New European Driving Cycle, NEDC) that should be replaced by a more realistic one (the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Cycle, WLTC) from 2017 on.

"But the biggest challenge for diesel passenger car manufacturers arises not from the certification cycle but from the real-driving emissions (RDE) test, which is scheduled to become a mandatory step for the type approval of passenger cars in the EU in January 2016. Under this new testing framework, diesel passenger cars will have to prove that they can keep NOx emissions at reasonably low levels during a test that more closely represents real-world driving situations."

The EPA lists the cars that contain "a sophisticated software device that circumvents EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants" below:

  • Jetta (model year 2009-2015)
  • Jetta Sportwagen (2009-2014)
  • Beetle (2013-2015)
  • Beetle Convertible (2013-2015)
  • Audi A3 (2010-2015)
  • Golf (2010-2015)
  • Golf Sportwagen (2015)
  • Passat (2012-2015)
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    Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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