air pollution

The Volkswagen emission scandal

A Volkswagen promotional photo. Photo credit: Volkswagen.
By Anders Lorenzen

The world’s largest car maker, Volkswagen (VW), has become embroiled in an embarrassing emissions scandal.

In short, VW has been found guilty of rigging emissions tests, by installing software that turns off emissions controls when driving normally, and turns them on when the car is undergoing an emissions test. Understandably, the company has been accused of undermining efforts to tackle air pollution and combat climate change.

There have already been huge consequences. The CEO of the German car giant, Martin Winterkorn, has been forced to resign. The financial implications are immense, and could severely hurt the German economy, which is the largest in the EU. It was first reported that only US cars  were implicated.. But German authorities have now admitted , that the European car market might also be implicated,  so in total on a worldwide scale 11m cars could be affected.  In the US VW can face penalties for each vehicle of  $37,500 for not complying with federal clean air rules , and this is not even taking into consideration individual lawsuits. As a result VW shares have tumbled.

A Guardian investigation has found that the scandal has caused nearly 1m tons of extra pollution, roughly the same as the UK’s combined emissions from all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture.

In the US, Girard Gibbs LLP, a national litigation firm, last week announced they are fielding a class action lawsuit against the company. The lawsuit is based on the grounds that VW intentionally installed software on diesel vehicles designed to cheat emissions tests, stating: “both state and federal laws in the United States impose vehicle emissions limits, which in recent years led to a marked decline in sales of diesel passenger cars. With its 2009 Jetta, Volkswagen, which recently surpassed Toyota as the world’s largest automaker, introduced “clean diesel” vehicles marketed as being better for the environment, and it soon expanded this “clean diesel” technology to other models.”

Girard Gibbs goes on to claim, that by falsifying the test results VW were able to sell cars emitting 10-40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide, which is a pollutant known to cause smog and a variety of health problems. Eric Gibbs, one of the founding partners of Girard Gibbs and the lead attorney on the case, stated: “It is critical that the civil justice system hold companies that engage in such conduct accountable. Not only does this kind of fraud harm consumers and the environment, it unfairly and negatively impacts competition, which is what drives our free market system. People should not stand for it”

A 2011 Greenpeace campaign targeted VW for not doing enough to make their cars cleaner and more efficient, and for not developing more electric or hybrid models. After a two-year campaign the company gave in to the demands of Greenpeace.  But it appears now that the car giant has also not been quite honest about this.  In a statement , Greenpeace said: ‘’the VW Scandal shows that the car industry is not shying away from committing crimes to cover up the health and environmental hazards of their products’’.

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