In an e-mail to Ars on Friday, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) confirmed that the regulator was ready to begin testing hardware and software that could potentially fix pollution issues with 475,000 2.0L diesel vehicles from Volkswagen Group. The German automaker was caught last year adding illegal software to its cars in order to cheat on US emissions tests—the cars turned on their emissions control system when they were being tested in a lab and turned the emissions control system off when they were being driven under real world conditions.
According to Reuters, CARB now says there will be fixes for three generations of diesels, involving both hardware and software updates. The regulator has said that VW Group must bring its cars within 80 to 90 percent of pollution standards to have any fixes approved. CARB head Mary Nichols told Reuters that VW Group need not bring its cars to 100 percent compliance with pollution standards because the company has agreed to put up $2.7 billion in a pollution mitigation fund that will offset the damage of the still-polluting cars.
CARB is working closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and any fix approved by California’s air regulator stands a good chance of being approved by the EPA, too. In January, CARB rejected VW Group’s proposed recall plan by saying the company did not provide enough necessary information to the regulator. The EPA issued a quick statement after CARB’s decision saying that it agreed.
In her interview with Reuters, Nichols said that Volkswagen’s people are being much more cooperative this summer than they were late last year. “They brought in a whole new team of people to work on various aspects of this,” Nichols told Reuters. ”There’s just a greater sense that we’re dealing with people who have access to the decision makers in Germany and who understand their credibility is on the line.”
In June, VW Group agreed to a $15 billion settlement with the Department of Justice. The agreement mandates that the automaker buy cars back from their owners at the price their vehicles were worth before VW Group’s cheating scandal came to light. Owners and lessees of affected diesels will also receive $5,100 to $10,000, depending on the vehicle (a graduated table of settlement payments can be found here). If CARB approves a fix for the affected diesels, owners could also opt to pass up the buyback and have their car fixed for free. That would save VW Group money out of the $10 billion set aside for buybacks.
If a fix is approved, VW Group could also cut the cost of its scandal by fixing and reselling the diesels it buys back from prior owners. Earlier this week, Nichols told the Wall Street Journal that CARB wants VW Group to be able to resell the diesels, adding “we believe that in the long-term that is more efficient.”
Without a fix approved by the EPA, Volkswagen would be barred from reselling its vehicles in the US or anywhere else in the world, per the terms of its settlement.
CARB also told Reuters that no fix is imminent for larger 3.0L diesel vehicles sold by VW, Audi, and Porsche. Eighty-five thousand vehicles in that category were discovered to have emissions cheating software.
As regulators and VW Group move toward final approval for their settlement, states are just winding up their offensive against the automaker. Last week, New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts filed complaints against VW Group, containing some of the most detailed public accounts of how the defeat devices operated.
Correction: The second paragraph of this article said VW Group only had to bring its cars within 80 to 90 percent of pollution limits, but we meant that the car maker only has to bring its cars 80 to 90 percent in line with pollution standards, meaning that the cars to not have to be 100 percent compliant on emissions and can pollute 10 to 20 percent more than other cars certified for the years they were sold in the US.