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Engineer’s Sentence May Help To Unravel VW Dieselgate

An engineer for Volkswagen pleaded guilty late last week to Dieselgate-related chargers that were contained in a sealed indictment. His story could help federal probers to wrap up Dieselgate late this year.

The cleverly crafted shell-game that surrounded Volkswagen’s emission cheating saga has started to unravel as the first engineer to have been charged has pleaded guilty and is now working with federal authorities.

James Liang, an engineer with the automaker for 34 years, turned himself in Friday. He quickly pleaded guilty to three conspiracy counts and was sentenced. This all happened within hours of his indictment on scandal-related charges. The federal grand jury indictment was opened in U.S. District Court, Detroit. Liang surrendered, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in Washington.

Three Charges

According to Bloomberg, Liang, who was involved with the development of the diesel powerplant that is at the heart of the Dieselgate affair – the 2.0-liter, turbocharged four – pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy:

• To defraud the U.S.
• To commit wire fraud
• To violate the Clean Air Act.

With his cooperation, the lid is likely to come off the tightly closed container that has been holding the details of Dieselgate for the last year. To recap Dieselgate, it is a scandal created by Volkswagen and which the automaker has inflicted on itself. It began with the development of the EA 189 four-cylinder diesel engine in 2006.

From almost the beginning, engineers realized the powerplant could not attain the strict emissions standards for oxides of nitrogen that were to come into effect in 2008. The engine was designed, at first, to use urea formaldehyde exhaust doping to help cut emissions. However, that technology was to be licensed from Mercedes-Benz, something which veteran engineers at VW rejected. The attitude was that if a process wasn’t invented and used at VW, it could not be employed.

Tried To Make Engine Work

VW’s engineering team tried to re-engineer the powerplant to use a lean-burn/reburn technology. However, that technology had already been tried by others and quickly rejected. Faced with a goal they could not attain – clean emissions – the engineers decided to cheat by using a software routine that made it look as if the vehicles passed their tests when, in reality, they failed. The failures were by as much as 40 percent over the limits.

The decision to employ a “defeat switch” was apparently made early on – in 2006. From that time, until the cheating device was found to exist nearly a decade later, the emissions scam was an ongoing scheme at Volkswagen. And, now that the authorities have the cooperation of Liang, it is likely that the wheels will quickly come off anything they don’t know.

In a Bloomberg news report detailing the recent court actions, the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) “provided the most detailed narrative to date about the origins of VW’s diesel emissions violations.” Liang’s attorney said that the engineer accepted “responsibility for his actions … He is remorseful.” The engineer’s attorney is Daniel Nixon.

Liang told the court in his appearance that VW “did not disclose the defeat device to U.S. regulators in order to sell the cars in the U.S. … That’s what makes me guilty.” VW declined to comment on Liang’s indictment and indicated that the company continues its cooperation with USDOJ.

Agreement on Case Soon?

Sources familiar with the information Liang is giving to prosecutors say that it could speed up the probe of the automaker. Indeed, an agreement in the criminal matter could come by the end of this year. Meantime, the U.S. is not alone in its probe of the automaker. Germany and South Korea are also conducting criminal investigations of VW.

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