Category Archives: Auto

VW Poisons People, Monkeys and the Air We Breathe

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Once again, new revelations about the illegal and deceptive practices of German car makers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW attract media and public scrutiny. A few recent highlights:

Fortune reported that “Volkswagen’s CEO said he was ‘stunned’ by reports the carmaker had sponsored tests that exposed monkeys and humans to toxic diesel fumes and two years after an emissions cheating scandal, pledged once again to get to the bottom of the wrongdoing.  Europe’s largest automaker has come under fresh scrutiny after the New York Times said last week that Volkswagen and German peers BMW and Daimler funded an organization called European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) to commission the tests. The report came more than two years after VW admitted to cheating U.S. diesel emissions tests, sparking the biggest business crisis in its history, and pledged sweeping changes to ensure such misconduct never happened again.

The New York Times reported that in 2014 scientists in an Albuquerque laboratory conducted an unusual experiment: Ten monkeys squatted in airtight chambers, watching cartoons for entertainment as they inhaled fumes from a diesel Volkswagen Beetle. The details of the Albuquerque experiment have been disclosed in a lawsuit brought against Volkswagen in the United States, offering a rare window into the world of industry-backed academic research. The organization that commissioned the study, the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector, received all of its funding from Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW. It shut down last year amid controversy over its work. It also produced a skeptical assessment of data showing that diesel pollution far exceeded permitted levels in cities like Barcelona, Spain.

According to The Washington Post, the study by the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) was never published, and the research institute overseeing it has since been dissolved. All three carmakers involved in the study — Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen — distanced themselves from the research after the studies were disclosed. But the research institute behind the controversial tests on monkeys was founded by Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen and automotive components supplier Bosch, which has raised questions over the extent to which experiments with humans was backed by the three major carmakers, too.

Another account of the VW diesel emissions is featured on a new Netflix series “Dirty Money” an investigative series that exposes “brazen acts of corporate corruption and greed.”  The first episode, Hard NOx,  examines  the VW deception on emissions.

What Exon Mobil Didn’t Say about Climate Change

Based on a review of documents detailing what Exon Mobil knew about the company’s  role in climate change, Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes, writing in The New York Times,  conclude that “Exxon Mobil misled the public about the state of climate science and its implications. Available documents show a systematic, quantifiable discrepancy between what Exxon Mobil’s scientists and executives discussed about climate change in private and in academic circles, and what it presented to the general public.” Their analysis is published in Environmental Research Letters.  A coalition of state attorneys general and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating whether the company lied to the public and investors about what it knew about the dangers of climate change.  Making corporations liable for misleading investors about scientific evidence may be a valuable strategy for public health advocates seeking to reduce harmful corporate practices.

Audi Engineer Implicates Superiors in Diesel Case, Lawyer Says

A cloud of suspicion hanging over Volkswagen thickened, reports The New York Times,  after a lawyer for a jailed former engineer said his client implicated top managers of the German carmaker’s Audi luxury brand in a continuing diesel cheating scandal.  Statements and evidence provided to German investigators by the former head of thermodynamics in Audi’s engine development department suggest that knowledge of emissions fraud reached higher in the ranks of management than Volkswagen has admitted. No members of the company’s management board have been charged, although investigations are continuing.

Diesel emissions kill. What is the car industry going to do about it?

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The European Environment Agency estimates that 75,000 Europeans died prematurely as a result of nitrogen oxide poisoning in 2012 – among them 22,000 in Italy, 14,000 in Great Britain and 10,000 in Germany. In an attempt to protect the health of EU citizens, nitrogen oxide emissions limits have been established across Europe. Since 2010, that limit has been set at an annual maximum of 40 micrograms of NOx per cubic meter. Beyond that, all automobiles produced after January 2000 have been required to meet NOx emission reduction standards. Yet automakers have shamelessly flouted such emissions and health protection standards, reports Gears of Biz, a technology newsletter. Automobiles were equipped with software designed to trick laboratory ratings tests, and in normal driving conditions emissions far exceeded legal limits. A 1,500-euro ($1,750) fix could save thousands of lives – but carmakers are unwilling to pay.

German Carmakers Face Potential New Scandal Over Antitrust Issues

Germany’s high-end carmakers face a potentially destructive new scandal after European antitrust authorities said on Saturday that they were looking into allegations that Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW colluded illegally to hold down the prices of crucial technology, including emissions equipment, reports The New York Times. The emissions scandal, which came to light nearly two years ago, may now be spreading to rivals. Growing awareness of the harmful effects of diesel fumes has prompted European cities to consider bans of diesel cars and has led consumers to reject cars with diesel engines, a largely German innovation that traditionally accounted for half the market. The backlash could take on a new, far broader dimension if it turns out that the excess emissions were the result of illegal collusion by a de facto cartel. The investigation could also lead to billions of euros in fines.

The ‘Job-Killing’ Fiction Behind Trump’s Retreat on Fuel Economy Standards


When President Trump traveled to Michigan last week to announce that his administration will reevaluate (and almost certainly weaken) a key environmental achievement of the past decade — new fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for cars and light trucks — he alleged that “industry-killing regulations” had contributed to a loss of jobs in the U.S. automobile sector. The truth is, however, writes Yale Environment 360 that there is no factual basis for the claim that stricter standards have killed jobs. There is, however, abundant evidence that these regulations have saved Americans billions of dollars at the pump, bolstered U.S. energy independence, fostered automotive innovation, and led to major reductions in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Public health impact of excess nitrous oxides emissions from Volkswagen diesel passenger vehicles in Germany

A report in Environmental Health Letters estimates that 1,200 people in Europe will die prematurely because of excess nitrous oxide emissions released in Germany after Volkswagen installed “defeat device” software that allowed the cars to cheat on emissions test.  The MIT authors also estimate that by recalling and repairing the affected cars in Germany to meet current emissions standards by the end of 2017, Volkswagen could avert 2,600 additional premature deaths and save 4.1 billion euros in health costs.

Full citation: Chossière GP, Malina R, Ashok A, et al. Public health impacts of excess NOx emissions from Volkswagen diesel passenger vehicles in Germany. Environ. Res. Lett. 2017; 12:1-14.