Porsche, Fiat face multimillion-dollar payouts in separate diesel scandals

Porsche logo.

On Tuesday, Germany’s Stuttgart Public Prosecutors’s Office issued a fine notice of €535 million ($598.99 million) to Porsche for its part in the Volkswagen Group diesel emissions scandal that broke in 2015.

Until recently, German authorities have been reserved in their actions against the VW Group brands—Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche—that installed illegal software on their diesel vehicles to conceal the true amount of nitrogen oxides emissions that were released during real-world driving. Instead, US authorities have been at the forefront of pursuing VW Group and its executives in attempts to make cheated customers and citizens whole.

But in April, German prosecutors filed their first criminal indictment of VW Group executives, including former CEO Martin Winterkorn.

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Mazda brings a new diesel CX-5 SUV to the US—but why?

You'd have to look carefully at the CX-5's badges to tell whether it was one of the new diesel-powered versions.

When Mazda invited us to a roundtable discussion about powertrain technology at this year’s New York auto show, it was easy to say yes. After all, the company is responsible for a significant recent breakthrough in internal combustion engine technology. So you can imagine my surprise when it turned out the topic on Mazda’s mind was the introduction of its Skyactiv-D diesel engine to the North American market, under the hood of the (excellent) CX-5 SUV. Intrigued, I had to find out why the Japanese automaker was taking this step.

Diesel’s fall from grace

You can be forgiven for thinking that “diesel” was now a dirty word. For a while, this liquid hydrocarbon fuel looked like it might be an important tool in helping fight climate change. After all, diesel engines are much more efficient than ones that run gasoline, so you can drive further between filling stations and emit less CO2 while doing it. But CO2 isn’t the only problematic component of diesel exhaust. A more immediate danger posed by diesel exhaust is the soup of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates that result as combustion products. While CO2 will wreck our climate in the coming decades, NOx damages peoples’ lungs today. And it’s NOx that’s responsible for diesel’s fall from grace.

Or, more accurately, it’s been the widespread lying by industry to regulators about the exact amounts of NOx emissions from their cars. The most well-known culprit has been Volkswagen Group. In 2015 it got caught lying to federal regulators in the US and the penalties have been stiff. Executives have been prosecuted. Hundreds of thousands of cars have had to be bought back from owners, billions of dollars in fines were levied, and an entirely new business plan had to be created to rapidly electrify one of the three biggest car companies in the world by the middle of the next decade.

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Germany’s first criminal indictment in VW emissions scandal is ex-CEO Winterkorn

Martin Winterkorn.

On Monday, German prosecutors filed a criminal indictment against former Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn for participating in the fraud that led to the diesel-emissions scandal that rocked the company in 2015. Four other managers were also indicted today, but their names were not released.

In 2015, US officials accused VW Group of putting illegal software on diesel Audis, Volkswagens, and Porsches. The software would essentially kill the cars’ emissions-reduction systems during real-world driving to improve performance, but under laboratory conditions, the cars would pass emissions tests easily. Later, it was discovered that VW Group’s diesels were using the same mechanism to subvert European Union vehicle emissions standards. Winterkorn and other VW Group management said they had no knowledge of this software and blamed its presence on “rogue engineers.”

Winterkorn stepped down from his position shortly after VW Group’s cheating was made public.

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MIT says we’re overlooking a near-term solution to diesel trucking emissions

Trucks lined up at a truck stop.

Transportation is one of the major causes of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks account for about a quarter of all transportation-related emissions. At present, semis and other long-haul trucks are mostly diesel-powered, so they emit nitrogen oxides and particulates that aren’t just bad for the climate; they’re bad for human health as well.

Tesla made a splash in 2017 when it introduced its all-electric semi truck, and announcements from other trucking companies followed. Daimler sold small electric delivery trucks and has an electric Cascadia in development, Nikola announced a hydrogen-powered fuel cell truck, and Siemens debuted a catenary system for freight. Yet two years later, trucking in the US is still driven by diesel-fueled, compression-ignition (CI), internal combustion engines.

Daniel Cohn and Leslie Bromberg, a pair of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), published a paper with the Society of Automotive Engineers, suggesting that the best way forward is not to wait for all-electric or hydrogen-powered semis, but to build a plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) truck with an internal combustion engine/generator that can burn either gasoline or renewable ethanol or methanol.

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862,520 Fiat-Chrysler vehicles have emissions issues, will be recalled

RAM logo covered in snow.

Issues with the catalytic converters of 862,520 Fiat-Chrysler vehicles are prompting a semi-voluntary recall, according to officials from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

The vehicles in question include:

  • 2011-2016 Model Year (MY) Dodge Journey
  • 2011-2014 MY Chrysler 200/Dodge Avenger
  • 2011-2012 MY Dodge Caliber
  • 2011-2016 MY Jeep Compass/Patriot

The recall will be conducted in phases, with owners of older cars being notified first that they can bring their cars in to be fixed. The last phase is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2019. Unlike previous Fiat-Chrysler emissions recalls, these fixes require replacement parts.

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“Our worst fears have come true,” VW Group exec wrote to Audi exec

Audi and Volkswagen signs.

On Thursday, a federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, indicted four Audi executives for playing a role in the diesel cheating scandals that rocked parent company Volkswagen Group in 2015 and 2016. The four executives—Richard Bauder, Axel Eiser, Stefan Knirsch, and Carsten Nagel—all worked for Audi in Germany, and they have not been arrested.

The four men have been charged (PDF) with conspiracy to defraud the United States, commit wire fraud, and violate the Clean Air Act.

The indictment offered some new details on how emissions cheating unfolded at Audi and VW Group, especially with respect to emissions control system cheats on Audi’s 3.0L diesel vehicles.

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Fiat Chrysler settles in lawsuit over diesel-emissions cheating

Fiat Chrysler vehicles in a lot

The US Justice Department (DOJ) on Thursday announced a $305 million civil settlement between Fiat Chrysler and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a lawsuit over illegal software found on certain diesel Dodge Ram models and diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee models.

The terms of the settlement also included an additional $19 million payment to the state of California, which regulates auto emissions through the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

On top of all this, Fiat Chrysler is expected to upgrade the software on all of the offending vehicles and pay into a mitigation fund designed to ameliorate damage done by excess nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. The two programs together will cost the company an additional $185 million.

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Volvo’s coming all-electric semi will compete with Tesla’s

Volvo

On Wednesday, Volvo Trucks North America announced that in 2019 it will demonstrate an all-electric Volvo semi truck, which it expects to go into production in 2020.

The semi will be an all-electric VNR, similar to Volvo’s current diesel VNR model, and it will be used for regional-haul operations as well as drayage (that is, transporting shipping containers from barges to their next mode of transport).

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