While regulators around the world lean on Volkswagen to recall and fix diesels with cheating software installed, unknown is how their owners will like what it comes up with.
In the U.S., an estimated 482,000 four-cylinder cars from 2009-2015 will need re-engineered emission controls. The automaker has not said precisely what software and possibly new components will be required, but it is possible if not likely mpg and driving performance will be adversely affected by a small measure.
The head of Volkswagen’s U.S. division, Michael Horn said this month before a congressional panel repairs would take years and require substantial changes but pressure is on to do things much sooner.
Horn has not said the company will reduce mpg below window sticker values, but some mpg is to be sacrificed and well known is TDIs in question could often beat window sticker, and that was part of their appeal — and value.
People paid extra for TDI “clean diesels” which were proclaimed boastfully that they beat EPA numbers.
Of course we now know they did so because software restricted them on testing dynos, but once un-tethered on the open road, they were free to emit as much NOx as some types of trucks.
That uncapped performance is usually the province of aftermarket modifiers looking for extra oomph but VW capitalized on it, and its owners were unwittingly happy with the results. It was Volkswagen’s dirty little secret and the FTC is looking into its advertising it used to sell more cars, as other authorities bear down.
“While the Environmental Protection Agency estimates the Jetta TDI at an economical 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, Volkswagen went a step further to show real world fuel economy of the Jetta TDI. Leading third-party certifier, AMCI, tested the Jetta TDI and found it performed 24 percent better in real world conditions, achieving 38 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway.” — from 2008 VW press release.
German regulators, impatient with Volkswagen’s response made an unusual move last week to compel it to recall 8.5 million affected vehicles; the U.S. EPA also wants to see a satisfactory solution and will be overseeing the process all the way through.
Though the Germans did that, they have no known fix in Europe either. It is a political move, as much as anything as authorities want results.
Volkswagen says it is working on a patch to emission controls for its EA189 series engine and also newer EA288 series four-cylinders. These latter engines do have “AdBlue” urea injection to mitigate NOx, but were also set up to cheat.
The 2016 models were withdrawn from EPA certification by Volkswagen because they also are set up with the cheat-enabled EA288 engines, and meanwhile consumers will have a choice.
Volkswagen itself cannot force owners to bring in their recalled diesels when it is ready to do that.
According to the U.S. EPA, the federal government is not in a position to force consumers to comply with a manufacturer recall.
It’s believed California may require owners to get the fix done – when it is made available – prior to permitting re-registration.
Also true is some states require vehicles to pass an emissions test prior to registration, but unfixed cheating diesels may pass them anyway as they have before – and other jurisdictions in states do not require emissions tests at all.
The EPA has said 17 states will require owners show proof of compliance with an emission recall before they can conduct an emissions test, but unclear is the degree to which this may be enforced.
In short, even when Volkswagen does make clean diesels finally clean, legislative teeth may not be sufficiently in place to force many owners to comply.
The New York Times reports already a VW chat board has seen warnings for owners to not take their affected TDIs to an authorized VW dealer for service, lest they forcefully update the cars.
Reports of owners saying they will not be happy with significant loss of performance have gone forth.
It’s unlikely as much as 8 mpg will be sacrificed in the fix, said John German, a senior fellow at the International Council on Clean Transportation, the Times reported.
What it will be is open to conjecture.
Also, drivability issues should not be a problem. Volkswagen’s Horn said a slightly lower top speed may result, which in itself may not be a problem in America as the cars can go well in excess of legal limits. But this may speak to 0-60 performance, and so owners are waiting to see what they are faced with.
What this will potentially do to resale value is also in question. Already the used car market has had reports of varying decreased auction prices.
After the dust settles will owners be left with cars they paid extra for, and are now not as desirable?
Will they opt to avoid the fix and go on emitting with cheating cars?
It’s believed Volkswagen may need to offer some form of incentive to get consumers to bring the cars in. GM in its ignition recall offered a $25 gift card.
The difference with VWs and cars with issues that may be immediately dangerous is no driver has died or been known to have been injured by the diesel emission problem in TDIs.
While some pundits have done “napkin sketch” estimates of potential deaths due to extra emissions, that is all theoretical. More certain is the repaired cars may be less desirable any way you slice it.
Or, maybe not. The pressure is on Volkswagen now to make good.