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VW Bets Big on EVs, Despite New Wave of Diesel Emissions Violations

Raquel Soat
Sep 06, 2019

EVs 5

The latest Volkswagen (VW) diesel emissions violation in South Korea exposes the difficulties of complying with standards implemented for existing technologies. On August 20, the South Korean Ministry of Environment announced a ban of eight diesel-powered vehicles from three Volkswagen AG companies due to emissions violations. The probe into VW indicated that the automaker manipulated pollution control devices used in their diesel vehicles to emit 10 times more nitrogen oxide than is permitted by South Korean law.

Volkswagen will receive fines of approximately $9.8 million (11.9 billion won) for the violations for the 1,261 vehicles that defied emissions regulations from May 2015 to January 2018. Additionally, South Korea will cancel the import certification of the eight vehicles and an investigation into Volkswagen AG brands will commence in the coming months. The vehicles in question are:

  • Volkswagen Touareg V6 3.0 TDIBMT
  • Volkswagen Touareg 3.0 TDI 4 Motion
  • Audi A6 40 TDI Quattro
  • Audi A6 50 TDI Quattro (two models)
  • Audi A7 50 TDI Quattro (two models)
This Again...

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is not VW’s first time in hot water over emissions violations in recent years. The now famous Dieselgate VW emissions scandal in the US is the largest to date—in terms of the number of cheating vehicles and sum of money paid in the settlement—but since the EU prohibited defeat devices in 2007, the company has come under fire several times for emissions violations.

Just before the news of the South Korean ban broke, a decision by a district court in Düsseldorf, Germany determined that the supposed solution VW implemented in 2015 for their defeat devices actually contained another cheating device. The new device only works in temperatures between 10 and 32 degrees C (50-90 degrees F), but above or below those temperatures the vehicle emit much higher levels of pollutants. VW will likely be slapped with more fines after the recent court decision, on top of fines from South Korea.

Can EVs Be VW's Way Forward?

VW has bet big on EVs over the past 2 years. The move to EVs could be seen as a strategic PR move on the part of VW, but it is also a huge financial investment and one that is not likely to save the reputation of the company. Estimates indicate the company has staked over $90 billion in bringing mass-produced Volkswagen AG EVs to the roads and has announced several new EV models—including the I.D. Buzz, an electrified version of the VW Microbus. 

In a TV commercial released during the NBA finals in June 2019, VW promised to rebrand as an EV leader and put the past and Dieselgate behind. The ad was well-received and affirmed VW’s commitment to electrification, but it remains to be seen whether the company will be able to turn an emissions and PR catastrophe into an opportunity to solidify EVs as the future of transportation.