As Volkswagen admitted that it had cheated on emissions testing of its “clean diesel” engines, it has tarnished the automaker’s reputation, while disrupting the entire industry and put diesel engines on trial in a country that was finally starting to embrace them. Volkswagen offered a diesel engine that had performance, good fuel economy, environmentally friendly and affordable enough to put in a small car.
Supporters of diesels have fought for decades to prove they can be clean and efficient alternatives for automobiles in the U.S. without giving up performance. And they were starting to gain ground largely because of VW’s heavily marketed clean-diesel technology that worked in a small car. It gave auto buyers environmental peace of mind.
The automaker has lost the trust of its customers in the U.S. and around the world. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency discovered the existence of the illegal “defeat device” software, which VW installed on 500,000 vehicles in the U.S. to make its diesel engines appear to meet air quality standards when they really did not under regular driving conditions. In Germany, the government said 2.8 million vehicles sold in Germany also have the software.
In addition to the EPA probe, criminal investigations, lawsuits and other agency investigations are under way. The scandal continued to grow with Wednesday’s resignation of VW CEO Martin Winterkorn after the admission that 11 million vehicles globally have the defeat device software, prompting agencies around the world to start checking emission levels of Volkswagen vehicles. Other automakers who sell vehicles with diesels find themselves in agency crosshairs. The EPA now sees the need for industry-wide checks and is working on new tests to detect cheating.