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Everything to Know About Volkswagen’s Emissions Crisis

3 minute read

Volkswagen said Tuesday that 11 million of its cars can appear more environmentally-friendly than they are during emissions tests. That revelation came days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleged such software was on nearly half a million cars Volkswagen sold in the states.

What does Volkswagen’s emissions scandal mean for the German automaker and for VW owners worldwide? Here’s what you need to know.

What exactly did VW do wrong?

The company put software called a “defeat device” on millions of its diesel-powered cars. That software can tell when a car is going through an emissions test, making the vehicle appear more environmentally-friendly than it actually is.

Wait — emissions? What does that mean?

Emissions are exactly what they sound like: The exhaust that comes out the back of a car using an internal combustion engine. These gasses are considered harmful to the environment, contributing to climate change. In the U.S., car emissions are regulated at the federal level through the Clean Air Act, and can also be regulated at the state level.

Why would VW want to cheat on emissions tests?

The U.S. has tougher diesel emissions standards than Europe, where such cars are far more common. Meeting those steeper requirements can mean reductions in fuel efficiency and performance, making it tougher for an automaker like VW to advertise their diesel cars against more typical vehicles in the U.S.

Which cars are affected?

The diesel versions of the Jetta, Beetle and Golf model years 2009-2015, as well as the 2014 and 2015 Passat diesel. The diesel Audi A3 model years 2009-2015 is also involved (Volkswagen owns the Audi luxury brand). If you own one of these vehicles, contact your Volkswagen dealer or the company for more information. But this is purely an environmental issue, your personal safety isn’t at risk if you continue to drive your VW.

What’s happening to Volkswagen as a result of all this?

VW could face billions of dollars in fines from the EPA and, potentially, other government agencies around the world. There’s also the chance of civil lawsuits launched by consumers who feel duped.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen has taken a big hit on the stock market, where VW shares have fallen about 38% in two days. VW’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn, was forced to issue a public apology over the matter. The German press has reported Winterkorn will be dismissed over the scandal, but a Volkswagen spokesperson has called those suggestions “ridiculous.”

But the biggest toll could be felt by Volkswagen’s consumer brand, particularly in the U.S. The company has been working hard to grab more of the U.S. auto market; these events could certainly be a roadblock towards that goal.

The Wildest Concept Cars of 2014

The Chevy Chaparral 2x Vision concept car on display during the third day of media day at the LA Auto show.
Anybody can take Chevy's Chaparral 2x Vision concept car for a spin — anybody with Gran Turismo 6 for the Sony PlayStation, anyway, where the car is a playable download.Gene Blevins—LA DailyNews/Corbis
Toyota shows their future mobility concept Toyota FV2 during the 2014 International CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 7, 2014 in Las Vegas.
One day, we'll all finally get to ride those light-cycles from Tron. For now, there's Toyota's FV2 concept car.Joe Klamar—AFP/Getty Images
Preview Day At The Moscow International Auto Salon
Doors? Where you're going in the Smart Brabus FourJoy concept car, you don't need doors.Bloomberg/Getty Images
A worker cleans the floor beside Volkwagen's new concept car "TRISTAR" at the booth of German carmaker Volkswagen Nutzfahrzeuge ( Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles) at the IAA truck show in Hanover on Sept. 23, 2014.
The pickup truck hasn't really changed much in decades — until Volkswagen took it on with this Tristar concept car, which takes a pickup and makes it super offroad-friendly.Fabian Bimmer—Reuters/Corbis
Nissan shows their BladeGlider concept car on display during day 2 of media day at the LA Auto show on Nov. 19, 2014.
Nissan's 3-seat electric BladeGlider concept car might actually make it to production, pretty rare for a concept car this wild. If a Jedi Knight drove a car, it would be the BladeGlider.Gene Blevins—LA DailyNews/Corbis
The Toyota C-HR Concept car is displayed on media day at the Paris Mondial de l'Automobile on Oct. 2, 2014.
Toyota hasn't said much about its high-riding C-HR Concept crossover, but we know that it's purple. Very purple.Benoit Tessier—Reuters/Corbis
The Maserati Alfieri concept car is displayed at the group's stand of the Geneva Motor Show, on March 4, 2014.
Maserati says its Alfieri concept car represents "the future of Maserati design." Too bad most of us can't conceptualize being able to afford a Maserati any time soon.Pierre Albouy—AFP/Getty Images
Mercedes-Benz's new Sport Utility Coupe concept car G-Code is seen at its unveiling event during the opening ceremony of Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz research and development (R&D) centre in Beijing on Nov. 3, 2014.
Mercedes-Benz's G-Code concept SUV comes covered in what the company calls "multi-voltaic silver" paint that's supposed to act like one big solar cell. It's all very green — err, "multi-voltaic silver." Kim Kyung-Hoon—Reuters/Corbis
A president-mobil concept car, designed by Georgy Ostretsov, is given a test run across the Zolotoi Rog (Golden Horn) Bay on Oct. 3, 2014. The car's engine is powered by ethanol biofuel.
It somehow doesn't feel like this car, designed by Russian artist Gosha Ostretsov, will fly off the shelves. But that's okay, because it's more art exhibit than commercial vehicle. Smityuk Yuri—ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis


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