Volkswagen’s “Scarlet Letter”: Dieselgate

by Nicholas Paolino

It was a dark day in 2015 when the story broke of supposed emissions violations on nearly a half-million Volkswagen-built vehicles. The company reportedly installed emissions software on their vehicles that would allow them to sense the set parameters of the testing cycle that is done by the EPA. When a car is tested for emissions compliance by the EPA it is set into a “test mode”. The stated “defeat devices” would be used to alter the car’s performance while in test mode, therefore, allowing the emissions compliance test to be passed. However, as soon as the vehicle was switched back to its normal operating mode the original parameters that would have violated emissions compliance would be resumed.

When the vehicles were in normal mode, the car’s computer would drastically change things like the fuel pressure, injection timing, and exhaust-gas recirculation. By changing these variables the vehicles were able to make the horsepower they could as well as get the incredible fuel mileage that was advertised for Volkswagen TDI diesel engines.

Volkswagen heavily advertised their “clean diesel” engines during this time before the scandal eventually broke. The advertisements ranged in medium from print ads to social media campaigns, to Super Bowl ads, often preaching that their diesel engines have such low emissions that they lower NOx emissions by ninety percent. These claims couldn’t have been further from the truth as NOx emissions were found to be “4,000 percent more” than the legal limit that the EPA has set for their testing.

“Dieselgate” as the scandal was so coined, has since cost Volkswagen approximately $33.6 billion dollars.

Volkswagen used advertising to deceive their customers, and this wasn’t to go without notice. The Federal Trade Commission charged that “Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. deceived consumers with the advertising campaign it used to promote its supposedly “clean diesel” VWs and Audis, which Volkswagen fitted with illegal emission defeat devices designed to mask high emissions during government tests.” The charges called for the Volkswagen Group of America to compensate their American consumers that bought or leased any of the vehicles that fell under the “dieselgate” testing. These vehicles ranged in manufacturing dates from 2008 to 2015. This clearly shows that Volkswagen had been lying to its customers about its “clean diesel” engines for approximately seven years.

Volkswagen is still dealing with the repercussions of their deceitful tactics to this day, and their overall standing with consumers is now greatfully tainted. The Federal Trade Commmission had every right to stand up for the consumers who had purchased or leased these vehicles with the mindset that they were going to be bettering the environment while also getting great gas mileage and saving money because of it. They used advertisments that were widely viewed to sell vehicles that were greatly attributing to the detriment of our atmosphere. This could easily be described as one of the largest dsiplays of mistrust in consumer history and will forever create skeptics of the automotive industry and the push for a cleaner future.