The Academic Paper That Broke the Volkswagen Scandal – The Atlantic

Posted: Saturday, September 26, 2015


But how did this whole thing begin? At a small lab in West Virgina, it turns out. In 2012, a group of researchers at West Virginia University won a $50,000 grant from the International Council on Clean Transportation to do performance testing on clean diesel cars. Arvind Thiruvengadam, a research assistant professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, told NPR this week that the team was merely excited do the research—which involved driving the clean diesel cars outside the lab—and write a journal paper based on the data. They never expected that they would discover one of the biggest frauds in automotive history.


When Thiruvengadam and his colleagues tested Volkswagen’s clean diesel cars, they found discrepancies up to 35 times the expected emissions levels. The researchers suspected cheating, but couldn’t be sure. David Carder, another researcher on the West Virginia University team, told Reuters that the fallout at hand is surprising because this data was made public over a year and a half ago.


The stakes were upped when the Volkswagen cars in question were tested by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in an investigation starting May of last year, and the CARB and EPA started discussions with Volkswagen on why there were such discrepancies. Volkswagen insisted to EPA officials that the discrepancies were due to a technical issue rather than deliberate cheating. Only when the EPA threatened not to approve Volkswagen’s 2016 clean diesel cars for sale in the U.S. did the company finally fess up.


Volkswagen will survive this scandal (even though its stock has plunged 30 percent, wiping out a quarter of its market value), but now the future of diesel cars are at stake and it’s expected that the consumers who wanted clean diesel cars for their greenness will likely switch to hybrids, while those who care for performance might try to dodge the recall. Either way, Volkswagen will be held responsible for clean diesel’s coming existential crisis.

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