Pollution Controls VW's Dieselgate Sparks Testing Debate

Volkswagen’s manipulation of emissions values could lead to more rigorous testing of cars and trucks. A company that conducts tests in Germany claims it has been calling for tougher testing for years, but has been thwarted by the auto industry.
Testing agency Tüv Nord is calling on lawmakers to fully open the engine lid to enable inspection of car parts and software. Faulty nitrogen oxide emissions might have been discovered earlier, the agency says.


The scandal over falsified emissions levels at Volkswagen is causing a dispute between technical testing agencies  and the relevant state ministries.

In a number of interviews, Guido Rettig, head of the Tüv Nord testing agency, accused the authorities of repeatedly obstructing more effective testing of automakers' products.

According to Mr. Rettig, Tüv Nord spent years requesting permission to examine the engine control unit (ECU) during registration testing. If it had been authorized to do so, the software designed to cheat the system would have been easier to find.

The debate sparked by Mr. Rettig might lead to more rigorous testing of car engines, including its software.

On Tuesday, agency Tüv Nord will be questioned about its role in the emissions scandal by the investigative committee at the Ministry of Transportation.

U.S. regulators revealed in September VW, Europe’s largest carmaker, had for years installed illegal software in its diesel cars, which made them emit less polluting gases during tests and comply with U.S. environmental regulations. On the road, however, the cars emitted more nitrogen oxide gases than the rules allowed.

Car owners, investors and politicians were shocked about the extent of the scam, which affects around 11 million smaller diesel cars. The scandal widened further on Monday, when VW admitted larger 3-liter diesel engines also contained the illegal software, affecting 85,000 Audi cars, VW’s Touareg model and the Porsche Cayenne SUV.

Volkswagen revealed in October that some 800,000 vehicles emitted higher levels of carbon dioxide than officially acknowledged. The carbon dioxide issue goes beyond diesel and includes gas-powered engines as well.

Prosecutors in the state of Niedersachsen, where VW has its headquarters in the city of Wolfsburg, said they would also investigate VW for tax evasion. Carbon dioxide emissions partially determine car taxes in Germany. If VW reported lower CO2 values, German states will have received lower car tax proceeds.

Matthias Müller, VW's chief executive since September, said Monday the company has found solutions to repair 90 percent of the manipulated engines and the work was relatively easy, according to German news agency DPA, citing a speech from Mr. Müller. His positive view helped push VW shares 3.2 percent to €113.45 on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The stock is still down around 30 percent since the manipulation was revealed in September.

The manipulation might have been discovered earlier if testing agencies, such as Tüv Nord, had permission to carry out such checks, Mr. Rettig of Tüv Nord said. But the demand was consistently rejected by lawmakers, who cited the need to protect company secrets, according to Mr. Rettig.

When pressed in his interviews, Mr. Rettig was unable to furnish evidence of his claims in recent years. The Federal Environment Ministry is unaware of any such initiative by Tüv Nord, which is a privately-owned testing agency which executes driving tests on behalf of some German states.

Officials at the Transportation Ministry are upset over the inspectors' demands, saying that Tüv Nord apparently failed to notice any manipulation during inspections of VW vehicles.

"Tüv Nord needs to explain its own mistakes first," said officials close to the Transportation Ministry, noting that the ministry would not involve Tüv Nord in an investigation of the incidents for now.


Dieselgate Weighs on VW-01 (2)


The inspectors themselves also feel that they are innocent in the scandal over manipulated CO2 values in Volkswagen vehicles.

"We rechecked dynamometers, methods and results, and we cannot confirm any erroneous CO2 measurements, neither in our facility nor at VW," said Tüv Nord head Rettig. The announced results are "a mystery" to him, he added.

VW itself admitted that it had measured "inexplicable" CO2 values during internal tests of new gasoline and diesel models on the test bench. The emissions values, which are also used as a basis for calculating the motor vehicle tax, where apparently systematically reported as too low to the Federal Motor Transport Authority.

Under the current licensing process, these values are audited and confirmed by licensed technical agencies, including Tüv Nord. The manufacturer has the freedom to select the agencies. A total of six testing agencies were involved in testing the affected VW models.

On Tuesday, the Tüv Nord will be questioned about its role in the emissions scandal by the investigative committee at the Ministry of Transportation.

"We want the Tüv to tell us why the false CO2 values at Volkswagen were not recognized," a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation told Handelsblatt. Access to the files will be necessary.

In addition, efforts are being examined over whether and how model approval at the E.U. level can be further developed so that software designed to cheat the system can be discovered more quickly. It is not yet clear whether the engine electronics software will have to be disclosed for that.

Another European carmaker, Renault, may have a diesel model which violats European emissions regulations, according to Berlin-based environmental group DUH. A certain diesel version of Renault's Espace model emits up to 25 times the allowed nitrogen oxide levels, according to the group. A Swiss university in Bern carried out the test on behalf of DUH, the environmental group said.

Renault was not immediately to comment when contacted by news agency Reuters.


Lukas Bay is an editor with Handelsblatt's companies and markets desk. To contact the author: [email protected]