ShamefulVolkswagen has sometimes been associated with hippies and flower power, but not today. The German automakers has been ordered by the Obama White House to recall around half-a-million vehicles, accusing them of using "software intentionally designed to circumvent environmental standards for reducing smog." If true, and I doubt these accusations would be made public without pretty solid evidence, this is very bad.
We've been writing for a while about how air pollution is a major environmental threat: It's bad for our hearts, for our lungs, it causes cancer, triggers asthma, anxiety, etc. It's estimated to cause about 7 million deaths per year, more than malaria and AIDS combined. In fact, it's so bad that the World Health Organization now puts air pollution in the same category as tobacco smoke, UV radiation and plutonium! Urban air is getting so dirty, 7 out of 8 people breathe air that fails to meet WHO safe levels, and the last thing we need is a giant automaker to be selling vehicles that are polluting more than they should.
The deception wasn't just an accident or a software bug. The cars were actually designed to detect when they are undergoing emission testing and provide false readings:
The Environmental Protection Agency issued the company a notice of violation and accused the company of breaking the law by installing software known as a “defeat device” in 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from model years 2009-15. The device is programmed to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and to only turn on full emissions control systems during that testing. Those controls are turned off during normal driving situations, when the vehicles pollute far more heavily than reported by the manufacturer, the E.P.A. said. (source)
The illegal software concealed true nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, a contributor to smog linked to health issues like asthma.
The allegations cover roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the United States since 2009 (more about the link between diesel and cancer here). California has also issued a notice of violation to the company.
Affected diesel models include: the 2009-15 Volkswagen Jetta, 2009–15 Beetle, 2009–15 Golf, 2014-15 Passat and 2009-15 Audi A3.
Let's hope that this will send a clear signals to other cheaters, and let's hope that the regulators won't stop here but will double-down on enforcing the existing laws to catch others who are doing similar things. The air we breathe is too important for anything less.