Greed, lies and deception – the VW Dieselgate scandal laid bare

VW dieselgate

VW’s plea bargain in the US has led to many of the details as to how Dieselgate could happen being laid bare

This week Volkswagen has taken a significant (but far from final) step in drawing a line under the Dieselgate scandal, accepting a $4.3bn fine, agreeing to plead guilty to criminal charges and accepting six executives must face federal charges

But along with this plea bargain has come a number of lurid admissions that lay bare at least some of the depths VW employees sunk to in order to create and then try to hide the now infamous cheat software behind its emissions defeat devices.

Opinion: Is it time to say goodbye to diesel?

The full depth of analysis of VW’s signed agreement is best credited to the BBC’s Theo Leggett, whose full work you can read here. In brief, it highlights how:

– the plan to cheat emissions legislation was born in 2006, when VW supervisors realised they couldn’t meet targets for an engine set to be launched in 2007.

– the cheat device was then based on a system developed by VW’s subsidiary Audi, but which engineers stressed should “absolutely not be used” in the US.

– immediately, engineers on the project “raised objections to the propriety of the defeat device”.

– a manager responded by insisting it was used and “instructed those in attendance, in sum and substance, not to get caught”.

– in 2007 engineers objected again – and were over-riled again.

– the cheat software was then refined and improved over time, and came to be used as standard.

– a spate of breakdowns caused by the cheat software was actually fixed, and let to more exhortations from senior management to keep the software concealed.

– engineers and management were told to destroy documents referring to the software.

– when, in 2014, the California Air Resources Board highlighted the issue, VW supervisors “determined not to disclose to US regulators that the tested vehicle models operated with a defeat device”. Instead they “decided to pursue a strategy of concealing the defeat device… while appearing to cooperate”.

– a single employee acting “in direct contravention of instructions from supervisors at VW” finally confirmed the cheat codes were used.

– even then, engineers were told to “check their documents”. Thousands of documents were subsequently deleted.

Remarkably, VW rose to be the world’s number one car maker in 2016 despite its negative headlines. That is a testament to the modern product quality, the hard work hundreds of thousands of innocent employees and myriad other factors – not least the suspicion that consumers care less about the environment than their pockets and their cars – but none of that should mask the fact that company still has a long way to go to prove that it can be considered both transparent and trustworthy again.

Source: Autocar Online

Will London's pollution problem spell the end of diesel cars?

emissions

With various global cities turning on diesels and EU air quality regulations repeatedly being broken, the end of diesel engines could be near…

It’s become something of a New Year tradition in the capital: the news story revealing that London has breached annual EU air quality laws in just a matter of days.

According to today’s report in The Guardian newspaper, EU regulations demand that Nitrogen Dioxide levels must ‘not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre of air more than 18 times in a whole year’.

Is it time to say goodbye to diesel?

This year’s first breach in London was on the main A23 road running through Brixton in South London. It’s usually Putney High Street – four miles west of Brixton – that is the primary pollution hot spot. But, despite measures taken by the local council in 2016, including banning daytime lorry deliveries, not much has improved there either. 

The Guardian quotes figures from King’s College saying that these hourly pollution limits were broken ‘1221 times’ on Putney High Street.

Of course, it’s not the whole of the capital that is under fog of Nitrogen Dioxides, but over the next few weeks and months, places such as Oxford Street, the Strand and King’s Road in Chelsea – all shopping and tourist centres – will also go over the EU limits.

Other UK cities and towns that are said to have illegal levels of air pollution include Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham. 

This year’s New Year pollution alert was preceded the evening before by an alarming press release from the International Council for Clean Transport, claiming diesel cars could be putting out as much as ten times the level of Nitrous Oxides (NoX) emissions as is managed by heavy lorries. And it seems that this claim is not an exaggeration. 

For diesel, then, things aren’t looking too positive. Indeed, late last year, four global cities – Mexico City, Athens, Paris and Madrid – vowed to ban diesel-powered vehicles from the streets by 2025.

Just as activists helped ensure that Co2 reduction was the most important aspect of EU legislation in the early 2000s – thereby accelerating the use of diesel vehicles through tax breaks – the same people are now vowing to wipe diesel out.

Is diesel dead? Well, I’ve just had a very interesting 30 minutes on the phone to a senior JLR engine specialist, who assures me it shouldn’t be the case.

The reason heavy lorries can be so much less polluting than ordinary cars, he said, was primarily because Urea injections systems can solve the issue of NoX pollution. Also, while car drivers might drive very aggressively, accelerating hard and increasing NoX production, lorry drivers couldn’t drive like that. 

By fitting future diesel engines with Urea injection systems that are calibrated to squirt more fluid into the exhaust stream when the driver is accelerating hard, carrying lots of weight or the weather is cold, does solve the NoX issue. These newly calibrated diesel engines might need to have their Urea tanks re-filled more often, but that would partly be a reflection of driving style.

Particulate emissions – something else associated with diesel – were not now an issue, he claimed, thanks to more efficient filters and better regeneration systems to prevent them clogging up.

Truth is, however, older diesel vehicles will have to go from our city streets. Indeed, anything without Urea injection and self-maintaining particle filters should probably be taken off the road over the next few years. Some city centres could well ban any pre-Euro 6 diesel engine by 2020. Access to London’s central C-Charge zone will be restricted to EU6 diesels and EU4 cars in 2020. However, the current London Mayor is considering an even more strict regime, which would include all of the capital inside the North and South Circular roads.

Meanwhile, the traditional New Year NoX story will be back again in 365 day’s time. But there will be one countering good news story. Geely – the Chinese owner of Volvo – should have launched its new Coventry-built range of petrol hybrid range-extender delivery vans and London taxis. 

With the huge rise in Internet shopping, these whisper-clean petrol-electric vans should fill a gap in the market that the big carmakers have missed.

Source: Autocar Online

Opinion: 2017 is going to be a golden year for motorsport

Opinion: 2017 is going to be a golden year for motorsport – here’s why

2017 Formula 1 cars will look drastically different from last year’s cars

If there’s one thing to take from the Autosport International, it’s how exciting this year’s racing will be

This is the year motorsport gets its mojo back.

If top categories like Formula 1, the World Rally Championship and the World Endurance Championship live up to their potential, maybe, just maybe, 2017 will be the year we finally stop yearning for the good old days.

You can certainly feel the anticipation at the Autosport International, which is open today for the second of four days. Drivers, engineers and fans alike – everyone at the Birmingham NEC event is excited to see the new cars, to understand revamped regulations and to guess who’ll be quickest at round one.

The great thing is, for the first time in a long time making predictions is nigh on impossible. For example, will Mercedes have the quickest car out of the box during the first F1 winter test? Last year you might have bet hundreds on it being so, but with so many changes this year that look set to make the cars much harder to drive and more fascinating to watch, can you really discount Red Bull, Ferrari, and maybe even Williams, so quickly?

The same pre-season uncertainty can be seen in WRC. Reigning champ Sébastien Ogier moves to M-Sport now his old team Volkswagen is gone. No doubt the talented Frenchman will find pace in his Ford Fiesta WRC, but will it be enough to win the championship? Given the substantial differences of the cars competing in this year’s championship, an answer now would be nothing short of a guess.

Then there’s the WEC. Audi, like Volkswagen’s rally team, is gone following heavy post-Dieselgate cost cutting. The LMP1 category now has just two factory teams left, Porsche and Toyota. But while those two will be fighting for the top step of the podium, eyes may now be drawn to the LMP2 class, where new regulations mean the cars will be much faster.

“LMP2 cars will be around three seconds a lap quicker than Group C cars were at Le Mans, and Group C cars didn’t used to run the chicanes on the straight,” was the explanation of speed from racer Alex Brundle, who’s father you’ll likely know from Formula 1. “The LMP2 cars this year will be much faster.”

And while the British Touring Car Championship might not have introduced any major rule changes for 2017, its grid has been shaken up and new cars have joined the field, meaning there are all the right ingredients for this to be an even more hotly contested season than last year, where the championship went down to the wire.

With all that, plus plenty of inevitable action from the likes of MotoGP, Indycar and many more, 2017 could really be a golden year for racing. Thankfully we don’t have long to wait for it to start, because the first major series to kick things off is the WRC. It bursts back to life in Monte Carlo next week…

Source: Autocar Online

Comment: Why today's new car market is more interesting than ever

Opinion: Why today's new car market is more interesting than ever

The new Vauxhall Insignia is a big leap forward

Not long ago we were faced with a large portion of boring cars in the market’s mid-range, but today things are looking up

I think the middle market is starting to fight back. The recovery has been a while coming, given that it has probably been about 20 years since budget brands decided that they didn’t only want to be budget brands any more, and about the same amount of time since premium brands decided they didn’t want to be just premium brands anymore.

Kia, Hyundai and Skoda opted to move, little by little, into the midmarket sector. And Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW did the same from the other end – an end from which it is rather easier to move, because we’d all like a £15,000 Audi, but no one wants a £50,000 Hyundai.

And all of this meant what? That Ford, Vauxhall/Opel, Peugeot, Citroën, Renault, Fiat, Toyota, Nissan and Honda were left in the middle, feeling the squeeze.

And a squeeze it is. Not much more than a decade ago, the top 10 best sellers in the UK would have been three Fords, three Vauxhalls (all ordinary hatchbacks and saloons), the Volkswagen Golf, a couple of French cars and something like the Nissan Micra. But today, Ford and Vauxhall can count on just two each – small cars, too, on which it’s hard to make large profits – with six spaces ripe for the taking by others.

The Peugeot 306 used to be the eighth best-selling car in the country. Today, its equivalent isn’t even the eighth best-selling car in its class. Today’s top 10 usually includes a BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi. There will be Nissans still, too, because with extraordinary foresight, Nissan saw the demand for SUVs and crossovers coming. Or perhaps it created it. Who knows? But for too long the rest of the mid-market sat steady, just doing what it always did and hoping that the market would come back to it.

Belatedly, it appears to have realised that that approach isn’t going to wash anymore. A flurry of new cars are being introduced and they are, finally, interesting.

Such as? Such as the Toyota C-HR. Not only is it rather nice to look at, inside and out, but it’s also much better to drive than you might expect.

Ford would like you to unlearn everything you know about it, because it has launched the Edge, Mustang and the Vignale brand – although I suspect it’ll take the arrival of the next Fiesta before Vignale starts making headway.

The Peugeot 3008 is, like the C-HR, very pleasant to sit in. Citroën doesn’t have an equivalent yet, but there is DS. I’m not sure how much demand there will be for posh Citroëns, even if no chevron badges appear on them, but the will is clearly there. And if the cars are good enough, they’ll find buyers – as former budget brands have found.

Sports cars will be back, too.

Toyota is reviving the Supra and its Gazoo racing division might start developing hot Toyota road cars.

Honda’s range is still, for the most part, quite dull, as is Vauxhall’s. But at least the NSX is back, to provide some kind of halo, while the new Vauxhall Insignia is massive inside in a sort of Skoda Superb take on things.

What’s notable is that all of these cars are at least trying to give you a compelling reason to buy them. For too long, the saturated middle market hasn’t been able to do that. Finally, it seems, it has woken up.

Source: Autocar Online

Is it time to say goodbye to diesel?

Is it time to say goodbye to diesel?

Environmental pressures might convince more Brits to stop filling up at the black pump, but it could send used petrol car values skywards

Has diesel had its day? With the news that four cities across the globe are banning diesel cars outright from their centres, the ongoing Volkswagen emissions furore, and doctors calling for restrictions and fines on diesel cars here in the UK as a result of mounting evidence that they’re damaging our health, it seems increasingly likely.

Good news, you might think – especially if you’re a car enthusiast, many of whom have always loathed diesel. Financially, though, the U-turn we may see is a big cause for concern, as it could set off a chain of events which would result in a price slump on the used car market that would affect many of Britain’s used car owners and buyers.

Already, six British cities have been given the go-ahead to create clean air zones in which drivers of diesel cars could face congestion charges. Ten more are being proposed. In London, a fee of £10 on top of the current congestion charge has been suggested.

Were that to be repeated across the country – and that could be the case as soon as 2019 – it would mean around £200 a month added onto an average city-centre commute. Not exactly pocket change, in other words, and more than enough to provide a big incentive to swap into a petrol model, sharpish. Even those who don’t commute by car would probably avoid buying a diesel if they knew they couldn’t get into any large British city without paying a fee.

So far, there’s been no effect on the price of diesels, according to James Dower, the senior editor of Cap HPI’s Black Book. “It seems that consumer and fleet appetite for diesel vehicle has held up,” he says. “There is no waning in demand for diesel vehicles in the new or used market. Values have moved broadly in line with petrol engined equivalents through 2016, with little visible impact from negative headlines through the year.

“Used values for petrol and diesel vehicles have tracked in line with seasonal trends, and there is no evidence of a sudden drop in wholesale appetite or consumer demand. If pressure on values is coming, it’s some way off yet.”

Nevertheless, the question of whether to choose petrol or diesel is being raised more and more by car buyers in emails to motoring publications such as Autocar. The Volkswagen dieselgate scandal has potential diesel buyers feeling uneasy; the prospect of £200-a-month hike to their commuting costs will almost certainly do far more damage.

And were diesels to become the pariahs of the used car world, it could happen quite quickly. Owners wouldn’t be able to get out of their diesel cars quickly enough, with buyers shying away and choosing petrols or alternatively fuelled cars instead. Meanwhile, the part-exchange values of diesels would drop through the floor as dealers tried to reduce their liability.

Cars which previously commanded a premium over their petrol counterparts could soon be worth far less. Owners expecting the stronger residual values of their diesel cars to make up for the higher price they paid when they bought them could instead find themselves taking a hit.

What’s the solution, then? Perhaps we should all switch back to petrol. The thing is, that presents its own problems. Diesel was, of course, once the wonder-fuel. Governments across the world, but particularly in Europe, provided significant tax breaks to buyers of diesel cars, citing their supposed environmental credentials.

As a result, 38% of Britain’s cars today are diesel-fuelled, according to the SMMT. That equates to just over 12,600,000 diesel cars currently tooling around, the vast majority bought on the assumption that they would be cheaper to run, cheaper to tax and, potentially, easier on the environment. And because diesels have made up the vast majority of new car purchases for several years, the relative availability of mainstream, nearly-new petrol cars on the used car market has dropped dramatically.

Of the 2191 Audi A4s listed at the time of writing in the classified ads on our sister site PistonHeads, for example, just 280 are powered by petrol. Of 1889 Mk7 Volkswagen Golfs on the same site, 595 are petrol; 416 if you exclude high-performance models. Imagine how those proportions would be further skewed were the market to be flooded with diesels, and their petrol-powered alternatives required to take up the slack. As diesel car prices fell, so would petrol models’ prices rise as more and more buyers sought out an ever-dwindling supply.

There will always be drivers who need diesel cars. Anyone who does high motorway miles will still need the fuel economy a diesel provides. And SUVs that regularly tow heavy loads are best served with diesel torque on hand to help out. But these types of owners are far from the majority, and won’t be able to mop up the surplus on their own.

If it all goes wrong for derv, then, it won’t be quite as simple as dropping your diesel car and changing up to petrol. And if demand truly outstrips supply, the jump in values for petrol cars might actually make it very difficult for some drivers to make that switch. That could leave them footing an extra bill on their commute whether they like it or not, simply because it isn’t financially viable for them to trade up.

Buyers, it seems, have been led down a cul-de-sac by governments of the past, which championed diesel cars for their low CO2 emissions. The governments of today will have to be sensitive with their application of pollution charging in order to make sure diesel owners can extricate themselves without too much pain. If they’re not, I fear the future of diesel used car values looks less certain than the forecasters predict.

So, should we pre-empt the problem and sell our diesels now? Well, I’m not sure we’re quite at that stage yet. As Cap Hpi says, there’s no evidence yet that buyers are about to desert the fuel in their droves. Nevertheless, in spite of what the experts say, I’d be tempted to err on the side of caution and go for petrol, were I buying a used car in the near future. If the run on diesel happened, I’d be protected from the risk – and even if it didn’t, I’d still have a quieter, smoother-driving car, and I’d have spent less on it in the first place.

Source: Autocar Online

2016 Infiniti Q50 3.0t Sport Tech review

2016 Infiniti Q50 Country Road

Infiniti’s premium mid-sized saloon packs a serious punch, but lacks the dynamic prowess of European rivals

With the brains and brawn of Nissan behind it, Infiniti has always had the potential, on paper at least, to be a class-leading manufacturer. However, despite maintaining its presence in the UK for over eight years, Infiniti has categorically failed to make an impact in the premium car sector – I mean, when was the last time you saw one in the wild? Exactly.Ultimately, Nissan’s luxury sub-brand has long been in need of something special; a car to lure buyers away from the diverse range of accomplished, but in most cases, rather staid European competitors. Something, Infiniti hopes, its new range-topping Q50 3.0t will be able to achieve.On first inspection, things are off to a positive start, thanks to some handsome exterior styling. Granted, the gaping grill and swooping lines won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but next to our long term BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 it’s undoubtedly a striking design. And unlike previous Q50s, it’s no longer all show and no go.  Under the bonnet sits an all-new 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo engine, a motor belonging to the new VR family that replaces Nissan’s highly regarded VX engine, as used by the 370Z, among others. With a new direct injection system and revised turbochargers, the high-output version (the Middle-East gets a restricted unit) certainly doesn’t want for power, delivering 395bhp at 6,400 rpm and 350lb ft of torque between 1,600-5,200rpm.Our car’s power is sent to the rear wheels (a four-wheel driver version is available) through a seven-speed automatic gearbox and Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering system: its world-first ‘by-wire’ fully electronic steering setup, now in its second generation, allegedly provides smoother and more responsive directional handling. 

Source: Autocar Online

998kg Lotus Exige Race 380 track model revealed

998kg Lotus Exige Race 380 racing model revealed

Supercharged V6 track racer produces 375bhp and 410lb ft of torque and can go from 0-60mph in just 3.2sec

This is the Lotus Exige Race 380, a featherweight version of the roadgoing Exige Sport 380 that’s designed for track and competition use.

The Race 380 has the same supercharged 3.5-litre V6 engine as the road car, but the stripped-back model is 68kg lighter, weighing in at 998kg dry. This increases its power-to-weight ratio by 24bhp over the Sport 380’s, up to a total of 376bhp/ton.

The Sport’s manual gearbox is also swapped for an Xtrac six-speed sequential transmission. Combined with the weight loss, this helps to trim the car’s 0-60mph time to 3.2sec – 0.3sec quicker than the road car.

Additionally, the Race 380 gets more aggressive bodywork, which includes a large front splitter, a wider rear wing and a more effective rear diffuser. All this works to increase peak downforce by 240kg at 170mph.

Underneath, the Race 380 gets two-way adjustable Öhlins dampers and adjustable front and rear anti-roll bars.

It also gets lightweight forged metal wheels, and although these are shod with the same tyres as the road car – Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s – the added aero grip and improved chassis helps the 380 Race to lap Lotus’s Hethel test track 1.5sec faster than an Exige Cup R racer.

The Exige Race 380 is available to order now, priced from £119,400. First deliveries are scheduled for May 2017.

Source: Autocar Online

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles accused of using emissions cheat devices

FCA logo

FCA will be accused of using illegal emissions-cheating software on over 100,000 SUVs and trucks in the US

The US’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to publically accuse Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) of using cheat software akin to that used by Volkswagen in the Dieselgate emissions scandal, according to Reuters.

It’s not the first time FCA will have been mentioned in emissions controversies; Fiat had to answer to German regulators last spring, before being accused of using an emissions cheat device in October.

In the midst of the Volkswagen emissions scandal at the beginning of 2016, FCA also released an unprompted statement saying that its cars do not cheat emissions tests,.

FCA cars accused of cheating include both SUVs and pick-up trucks – over 100,000 of which have been sold – with cars sold since 2014 alleged to be fitted with software which ‘allowed excess diesel emissions’.

Volkswagen’s US emissions scandal has involved the arrest of two senior employees and charges held against five more, who are believed to be in Germany. The manufacturer agreed to pay a $4.3 billion (£3.55bn) fine to US regulators as a settlement.

FCA released the following statement in reaction to the EPA’s accusation: “FCA US is disappointed that the EPA has chosen to issue a notice of violation with respect to the emissions control technology employed in the company’s 2014-16 model year light-duty 3.0-litre diesel engines.

“FCA US looks forward to the opportunity to meet with the EPA’s enforcement division and representatives of the new administration to demonstrate that FCA US’s emissions control strategies are properly justified and thus are not ‘defeat devices; under applicable regulations and to resolve this matter expeditiously.”

Source: Autocar Online

Bentley plug-in hybrids coming across entire model range

Bentley plug-in hybrid SUV

Bentley CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer has confirmed the imminent introduction of a range of PHEV powertrain-equipped models

Bentley’s entire model range will be available with plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variants, CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer has confirmed.

Speaking at the Automotive News World Congress at the Detroit motor show, Dürheimer almost immediately made the announcement, after briefly mentioning autonomous driving.

Read more Detroit motor show news here

Dürheimer said: “You will understand if I don’t reveal our entire future product plan here today, but I can say that we are eager to introduce plug-in hybrid technology across all model lines in the next few years.”

“For Bentley, I consider PHEV much more than a transitional technology. It combines the best of both worlds.”

Dürheimer’s comments dispel the notion of an all-electric Bentley in the near future, after new design director Stefan Sielaff had been charged with provoking debate within Bentley over the possibility of an all-electric model. Sielaff’s comment of “not every idea we have is for production” seems to be confirmed by Dürheimer’s plug-in hybrid-only electrification strategy.

Dürheimer continued to suggest that fully autonomous cars would also never be in Bentley’s area of interest, saying: “technology in isolation is cold and can never be truly luxurious. We must never lose the human touch.”

Bentley’s attitude towards electric cars is in direct contrast with that of rival Rolls-Royce, which is said to admire EV technology for its silence and instant torque. In the past, the brand has experimented with EV powertrains in the Phantom 102EX.

Bentley’s plug-in hybrid expansion is expected to begin with the Continental GT and GTC, which will get the same 410bhp PHEV powertrain as the Porsche Cayenne plug-in hybrid. The Bentayga will follow the GT models in its adoption of a PHEV powertrain, although not until 2018. A Bentayga Coupé will be introduced in 2019, also with plug-in hybrid power.

Source: Autocar Online

2017 Honda Civic Type R BTCC racer revealed with striking new livery

2017 Honda Civic Type R BTCC racer revealed with striking new livery

Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden with the 2017 car

New car is an evolution of last year’s model; Driver’s champ Gordon Shedden expects progress in all areas

Halfords Yuasa Racing has unveiled the Honda Civic Type R it’ll field in this year’s British Touring Car Championship.

On show at the Autosport International show in Birmingham, the 2017 racer is based on last year’s platform but features a small number of upgrades. It also sports a striking new livery that switches last year’s orange and black pattern around.

“This is an evolutionary take on last year’s car but we expect to improve in all areas,” reigning BTCC champion Gordon Shedden told Autocar. “The target is to do it again – to win the championship.”

Like the 2016 model, the new Type R racer is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. It’s based on the road Type R’s unit but has been uprated by Neil Brown Engineering.

The powerplant, named K20C, produces around 370bhp, although Honda refrains from quoting an exact output. The car is front-wheel drive, and it weighs 1280kg, as per BTCC regulations.

2017 marks the eighth consecutive year Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal have raced alongside eachother at Honda’s BTCC outfit.

“Development is very restrictive in the BTCC on both the chassis and engine side, but we have been pushing hard in all departments and making good progress,” said Neal. “One of the biggest question marks heading into the new season will be over who adapts best to the new Dunlop tyre and in that respect, I think the inter-team rivalry with ‘Flash’ [Shedden] will be fascinating.”

This year’s championship kicks off at the 1-2 April at Brands Hatch.

2015 BTCC Honda Civic Type R driven

Source: Autocar Online

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