Skip to main content

Here Is How European Automakers Have Not Learned From VW’s Mistakes

Renault is now under the microscope of investigators who are looking into its use of devices that reset diesel emissions. Volkswagen was the first on this hot seat.
Posted: November 10, 2016 - 11:46AM
Author: Marc Stern

Join us...    

It’s a sad fact that if Volkswagen had done the work and followed the plans laid out for the original development of the EA-189 diesel engine, then last year’s shocking revelation of emissions cheating would likely not have happened. The original plans, according to reports from various sources, called for the engine to be equipped with catalytic reduction and to use urea formaldehyde exhaust doping to clean things up.

That was the plan in 2006 when the engine was still in its developmental stages. However, when the lead project engineer, a transplant from Mercedes-Benz, left Volkswagen, the experienced Volkswagen manager who took over the project immediately canceled the doping plan as it would have meant that VW would have had to purchase a Mercedes-Benz license for the urea formaldehyde doping system, something which was just not done. VW decided to try taking a cut at emissions control so they went back to an old friend, reburning technology, which barely worked in the 1970s, and wouldn’t work in 2006 because tolerances were too tight and the requirements were too high.

VW’s Dieselgate Background

This was the background for VW’s self-inflicted emissions scandal that has cost the automaker so much and will likely cost it far more. You would have thought, too, that other automakers would have taken a look at the problems emissions cheating devices caused VW and would then have steered a course as far away as possible.

But, no, others did not look closely enough, apparently, and now other automakers are under investigation for their emissions cheating scandals. Renault, for example, is facing a criminal probe over diesel emissions. According to Reuters, investigators gave a file to prosecutors that lays out suspicions on how the automaker broke the emissions laws.

France’s consumer fraud watchdog unit (DGCCRF) gave prosecutors their findings on Wednesday. The regulators have been investigating whether Renault manipulated emissions test results. “It is now up to the courts to determine what further action to take over the suspected breaches,” said an official statement. Officials were not available for further comment.

So far, Renault is the only carmaker, besides VW, looking at a possible criminal probe. The automaker, in a short statement, said its engines comply with European law. For the most part, European automakers have managed to stay below the radar until the VW emissions scandal encouraged investigators to look anew at other automakers and the devices they used to clean up emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx).

European automakers regularly use programmable devices that enable diesel engines to pass emissions tests. The devices reset when the tests are complete so that performance and mileage remain acceptable, while emissions soar. That they can be used is the result of a massive loophole in European rules. Automakers can use defeat devices if the device is deemed necessary to protect the engine. As the Reuters report indicated, it is a loophole that “has been widely exploited.”

Earlier this year, Renault, Opal and Fiat told probers that the defeat devices installed in their vehicles were legal, under the exemption. In their conclusion, investigators said that the automakers’ stance “remained to be proven.”

Renault Explains Settings

Renault explained its reasoning for resetting its exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) settings; its top-selling diesel engines had serious turbo clogging. The reset worked in a narrow range (63-95 degrees Fahrenheit) where engines passed in room-temperature testing. Outside of this range, the system programming allowed NOx emissions to soar.

A preliminary probe by investigators is expected that will help prosecutors determine whether to order a formal inquiry under an investigating judge. This move can lead to a full trial. Investigators have a wide variety of material to consider including materials seized during police searches at Renault sites; interviews with Renault officials, and the results of independent testing conducted on Renault vehicles, sources said.

France began conducting random vehicle tests to look at variations that were observed between laboratory-based tests and real-world results. The tests began after VW made its admission that it had cheated for more than six years. A government probe found that on-the-road emissions from Renault and other models were many times higher than the limits. French officials acknowledged the differences as a result of April testing but said no cheating devices were found.

Renault said Wednesday it intended to assert its “rights to defend company’s corporate interest, as well as its employees and shareholders.”

Join us...