VW imports had emissions sensor flaws in 2013

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VW imports had emissions sensor flaws in 2013

Volkswagen Korea was ordered to recall some of its cars in early 2014 by the Ministry of Environment after it found that a sensor that monitors the exhaust gas temperature wasn’t working properly, but the company has completely ignored the order for almost two years, according to a report by the ministry.

The report was obtained by the office of lawmaker Han Jeong-ae of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) on Wednesday.

It said the sensor defect was found in Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI SUVs that were sold in 2009 in Korea.

The report said the defect was found in a sensor that detects the temperature of exhaust gas coming out of a vehicle. It is a core measure of whether the exhaust being generated by a car meets the nation’s standards.

The German automaker is embroiled in a major scandal after it admitted that it had equipped some of its diesel vehicles with software to cheat emissions tests. It later admitted that about 11 million cars sold globally had been equipped with the software. It did not specify where those vehicles were sold.

Volkswagen allegedly planted software in the system to make the device operate only during emissions tests in the United States, after which it switched off and emissions were much higher.

The Korean Environment Ministry suspects the automaker might have made a similar provision to cheat tests in Korea. The ministry said the Tiguan SUV passed emissions tests, but the temperature sensor in 64.05 percent of the SUVs sold to local consumers didn’t operate properly.

“Each automaker has their own electronic control module [ECM],” said a spokesman for the National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER). “Automakers can control electronic devices simply by running some software in the module. The gas temperature sensor can also be controlled through the ECM. It is a temptation for automakers, since it costs so much money to reduce gas emission while keeping fuel efficiency. The tighter the emissions regulations, the lower the average fuel efficiency.”

The ministry said it doesn’t know if the sensor problem in the Tiguans sold in Korea were the same problem as in the 11 million vehicles described by Volkswagen. But the ministry says it is suspicious that the company ignored the recall order issued in January 2014. The sensor defect was discovered in September 2013.

“In general, most automakers follow a recall order if a defect is a simple technical error,” a ministry spokesman said. “It was very odd that Volkswagen wasn’t doing anything. But it was hard to punish them at the time, since new regulations that forced automakers to follow orders in accordance with a deadline were enacted in July.”

Under the new rules, Volkswagen Korea should submit a plan to repair the sensor defect by Dec. 29.

Meanwhile, the Environment Ministry said on Thursday that it will proceed with plans to inspect four models made by the Volkswagen Group, including the Volkswagen Golf hatchback, Jetta sedan, Beetle and Audi A3.

“We will randomly select cars among the four models that are currently in the Pyeongtaek PDI [Pre-Delivery Inspection] Center in Gyeonggi, the place where imports are stored before they are shipped to local dealerships after clearing customs,” said a spokesman from the Environment Ministry. “We will seal the cars so the automakers can’t touch or attempt to make any changes to the vehicles.”

The cars will be shipped to the NIER in Incheon this week, and inspections will begin next week. The ministry said it will first run tests in a lab, putting the vehicles on rollers to check the emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide. The cars will then be tested in actual road driving conditions.

“We will measure emissions generated while driving on a road and will check whether the electronic control unit, which operates like a brain for cars, sends signals to turn off the emission reduction device like it did in the United States,” said Kwon Sang-il, a researcher at the NIER.

After wrapping up the inspection on Volkswagen vehicles, the Environment Ministry said it will extend random tests to other diesel cars.

“Among 100 diesel cars being sold in the country, we will first target the models that were reported to have technical defects or that have high sales volume,” a ministry spokesman said.

“As anti-pollution tests have been tightened recently, automakers have learned some tricks to pass examinations,” said Kim Pil-soo, a professor in the automotive engineering department at Daelim University. “The government needs to tighten approval standards like the United States did.”

BY KWON SANG-SOO [kwon.sangsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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