Dieselgate Darkens
VW Scandal At Risk of Widening

VW said on Thursday it was checking whether a second engine type might be fitted with the test-rigging software. This could fuel growing doubts over whether VW can keep its promise to refit all affected cars next year.

VW’s diesel emissions-rigging scandal looked set to widen on Thursday as the company said it was checking whether it had fitted fraudulent software into early versions of a second engine.

So far, the company has admitted that its EA189 engine, built into 11 million diesel cars worldwide, was affected. But it emerged on Thursday that earlier versions of the successor engine, the EA288, may also have been equipped with the device to cheat emissions tests. 

A spokesman for the automaker told the dpa news agency that VW was investigating the initial version of the EA288 engine that was based on the Euro 5 European emissions standard. “We’re in the process of taking a close look at that,” the spokesman said. He could not say how many engines might be affected. So far, the German Federal Motor Transport Authority has only ruled that EA288 engines based on the later Euro 6 emissions standard might be affected.

The EA288 was introduced in 2012, initially in line with Euro 5, and was also sold in Germany, for example in the Golf, VW’s top seller. The automaker then gradually switched to the Euro 6 version. Details on the timing of that transition were not immediately available. Since last month, VW dealerships only have Euro 6 engines on their lots.VW has so far consistently stressed that the “current diesel engine generation EA288 isn’t affected.” But it did not make a specific statement about the Euro 5 version of the EA288.

The finding could compound VW’s difficulties. Even ignoring the EA288, the automaker is preparing the most expensive recall in motoring history to refit the EA189 engines. Researchers at investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein estimate it will cost €15 billion ($17 billion) to €20 billion. Germany’s Center of Automotive Management said that, including compensation claims and penalties, the total cost to VW may exceed €30 billion.

Meanwhile there are growing doubts about whether VW will be able to keep to the timetable it has set itself for the recall. The message of VW’s new chief executive, Matthias Müller, was clear. “If all goes according to plan, we can start the recall in January. All the cars should be fixed by the end of 2016,” he told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in an interview on October 6. 

Auto experts said that might be too ambitious. Too many vehicles with different engines, production years and specifications for individual markets are involved. It will involve 8.5 million cars in 28 EU countries.

According to information from company sources and a supplier, about 3 million cars with 1.6-liter engines and about 4.5 million with 2.0-liter engines are affected. The rest are the small 1.2-liter three-cylinder engines. These are figures that have not been publicly known so far – probably because in light of the affected engine types, the timeframe for the upcoming recall had to be scrutinized. Volkswagen declined to comment on these details.

The three million cars with 1.6-liter engines are the biggest problem. As VW has always emphasized, for the other cars a software update should be sufficient for complying with the limits on nitrogen oxide, but the 1.6-liter engines would require technical alterations to the actual hardware.

While the software update can actually start according to plan in January, the conversion of the affected 1.6-liter TDI engines will likely not begin until September 2016. That’s because important components must first be ordered from suppliers. The technical solutions are currently being worked out and are then expected to be approved in November by the Federal Motor Transport Authority. Only then will suppliers be able to start producing the parts.

The problem with the 1.6-liter engine is that its catalytic converter is too small to capture enough nitrogen oxide particles. Experts said a bigger system may be needed.

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