VW, under deadline, submits fix to 2.0-liter diesel emissions violations

UPDATED: 11/20/15 9:22 pm - adds details

The EPA and California air regulators received an initial proposal from Volkswagen, which faced a Friday deadline, to address emissions violations with the company’s 2.0-liter diesel vehicles.

Details about the fix were not released.

The proposal comes a little more than two months after the company’s violations of diesel emissions tests were disclosed by California regulators and the EPA.

The EPA and the California Air Resources Board, which played an instrumental role in documenting the violations, said late Friday they will review the proposal. California regulators have four weeks to respond to VW’s plan.

CARB and EPA officials plan another meeting with senior VW officials in the first week of December to discuss and review the company’s draft proposal to fix the engines.

"We continue to fully cooperate with EPA and CARB as we work to develop an approved remedy as quickly as possible," VW said in a statement Friday. "The United States continues to be one of the important markets for Volkswagen Group where we have made significant investments over the years. Volkswagen is committed to making things right and regaining the trust of our valued customers."

EPA and CARB officials held a two-hour meeting on Friday afternoon with VW to discuss the company’s efforts to fix 482,000 2.0 liter cars that the company has admitted have illegal software that allow them to evade emissions standards.

VW did not submit its formal plan at the meeting.

CARB spokesman Dave Clegern said that VW was expected to submit the plan by the end of the business day Friday -- and had not done so by the time the meeting wrapped up.

Based on CARB’s review, VW may be forced to resubmit the draft proposal if it’s inadequate, the California agency said in a statement.

CARB said it will consult with the EPA during the review to develop a national recall plan.

“The remedy proposed in the recall must not only fix the violation in question, it must also address the safety, drivability, vehicle durability and fuel efficiency of the cars involved,” CARB said in a statement.

3 types of engines

Beyond developing an effective fix for each of the three types of non-compliant 4-cylinder engines, VW must document any adverse impacts on vehicles and consumers.

And since the emissions scandal centers on VW’s use of a sophisticated “defeat device” to cheat, any proposed remedy -- whether that’s retrofitting cars with new parts or revising software codes -- will need to be tested by California technicians before the plan is rolled out to consumers.

“We need to be sure that VW develops an effective fix for each of the three engine types in their cars, since each engine type (Gen 1, 2 and 3) uses different technologies to control pollution,” CARB said on its website. “It is crucial that whatever action VW takes to fix these cars also protects the consumer. That means the fix will need to consider safety, drivability, fuel economy and the durability of the engine itself and the emission-control technologies.”

Gift cards

VW has offered $1,000 worth of gift cards, half of which is to be spent at dealerships, to owners of cars with engines that pollute more than the law allows in an effort to identify the vehicles as it prepares to fix them. U.S. Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., have called that amount a “pittance” and are calling on VW to buy back the affected vehicles.

VW faces three generations of cars that are problematic. The older cars -- known as Gen I -- will be the hardest to fix, as they lack the Selective Catalytic Reduction device that VW added to models like the Passat starting in 2012.

Retrofits are often difficult and expensive for automakers. So-called Gen 2s may need additional hardware as well as software alterations, while Gen 3s may require just a software fix.

Separately, California Attorney General Kamala Harris as well as several attorneys general from other states are conducting criminal investigations into VW

And the diesel-emissions scandal continues to widen. Earlier Friday, the EPA and the CARB said they expanded a notice of violation to include all 3.0-liter diesel-powered autos from model year 2009-16 that originally went back only to 2014. The broader allegation covers about 85,000 VW, Audi and Porsche vehicles.

Dirty air

While not necessarily part of the recall plan, Volkswagen is also facing demands for mitigation of the effects of the violations.

Of the almost half a million dirty diesels that VW sold in the U.S., roughly 60,000 -- or 12 percent -- were sold in California.

Many of those belong to relatively affluent, green- minded consumers who live in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles region. But emissions often get blown into the Central Valley, where air quality is among the worst and asthma rates for children among the highest in the state.

California's Air Resources Board is developing an inventory of the pollution spewed into the air as a result of VW’s violations by looking at the amount of miles driven and the emissions profile of each of the three engine groups.

“VW will be held accountable for the extra emissions that the vehicles released to the air as part of ARB’s enforcement case,” CARB said on its website.

Mitigation suggestions

Advocacy groups are pushing for a mitigation fund that could total hundreds of millions of dollars to address the excess emissions of smog-producing nitrogen oxide.

“You can’t unbreathe the dirty air you’ve already breathed,” Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy and education at the American Lung Association, said in an interview with Bloomberg Friday. “But you can make the air cleaner in the future than it would have been.”

The Greenlining Institute, a nonprofit based in Berkeley, wants Volkswagen to offer incentives to help low- and moderate-income Californians drive electric vehicles, such as subsidizing leases for its electric Golf. It also suggests that VW pay for charging stations and electric-vehicle car-sharing in disadvantaged communities.

“In California, those who breathe the dirtiest air are disproportionately in low-income communities of color,” wrote Sara Chandler of the Greenlining Institute in a blog post. “The only way to truly bring Volkswagen to justice is to help those communities get access to clean transportation and cleaner air.”

Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report

You can reach Ryan Beene at autonews@crain.com

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