Volkswagen forced to recall 500,000 vehicles over law-evading software

The automaker has been accused of using software to circumvent environmental law in the United States.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Volkswagen is being forced to recall approximately 482,000 vehicles after allegedly using technology to circumvent air emission standards.

On Friday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker to recall and fix hundreds of thousands of vehicles which violate the Clean Air Act. Volkswagen, which owns Audi -- a company also included in the edict -- used software which circumvents EPA standards for air pollutants, according to the watchdog.

All of the affected models allegedly use a "sophisticated software algorithm" which detects when a car is undergoing emissions tests. Full emissions controls are turned on only during the full test. Clean air and emission controls are "greatly reduced" during normal driving, which in turn does not meet EPA standards.

All vehicles sold in the United States must be covered by an EPA certificate which passes the car for meeting federal emission standards in air pollution control.

The EPA alleges that emission standards are met during test situations, but when vehicles are on the road, nitrogen oxides (NOx) are emitted at "up to 40 times" the standard.

The software used by the automaker to circumvent these rules is called a "defeat device" by the EPA.

"Motor vehicles equipped with defeat devices, which reduce the effectiveness of the emission control system during normal driving conditions, cannot be certified. By making and selling vehicles with defeat devices that allowed for higher levels of air emissions than were certified to EPA, Volkswagen violated two important provisions of the Clean Air Act," the agency says.

Four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars from model years 2009-2015 have been included in the recall. Models sold since 2008 may be recalled, including the Jetta (2009 - 2015), Beetle (2009 - 2015), Audi A3 (2009 - 2015), Golf (2009 - 2015) and Passat (2014 - 2015).

Volkswagen potentially faces billions in fines if found guilty of wilfully violating APA standards.

The EPA and California Air Resources Board (CARB) have both launched investigations into the German automaker's operations based on these claims after discovering the devices together with researchers at West Virginia University. When confronted, Volkswagen admitted that the cars contained defeat devices. CARB board executive Richard Corey commented:

"Working with US EPA we are taking this important step to protect public health thanks to the dogged investigations by our laboratory scientists and staff.

Our goal now is to ensure that the affected cars are brought into compliance, to dig more deeply into the extent and implications of Volkswagen's efforts to cheat on clean air rules, and to take appropriate further action."

The automaker has been granted a "reasonable amount of time" to complete the repairs, according to the EPA. Owners of these vehicles do not need to do anything at the moment, as it is up to Volkswagen to notify customers when cars are due in to be fixed.

In a statement, CEO of Volkswagen Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn said:

"I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public. We will cooperate fully with the responsible agencies, with transparency and urgency, to clearly, openly, and completely establish all of the facts of this case. Volkswagen has ordered an external investigation of this matter.

We do not and will not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law."

Top gadgets and accessories for hardware and data security

Read on: Top picks

Editorial standards