More tire-kicking needed

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More tire-kicking needed

The government has kicked off investigations of imported Volkswagen Group automobiles after the leading German carmaker turned out to have rigged their diesel vehicles to pass emission tests in the United States. The authorities plan to randomly select samples of Golfs, Jettas, Beetles and Audi A3 after they go through customs clearance to conduct precise tests in the labs and on the road. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport also will reexamine diesel mileage claims of some types of Volkswagen vehicles.

It has not been confirmed yet if the problematic software for engines - the electronic control unit (ECU) - is also installed on Volkswagen cars in Korea. Sensor defects were found in Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI SUVs that were sold in 2009 in Korea. If those automobiles are emitting 40 times more pollutants than allowed, that’s a serious matter. It could trigger an environmental problem on a national level beyond the dimension of the public relations woes of a single carmaker. That’s why the government should conduct investigations as methodically and precisely as possible. The authorities also must find out if more than 100 types of diesel vehicles being sold in Korea have similar emission problems.

The government must reinforce its certification and management systems for cars. Over 50 new models of local and foreign vehicles hit our streets each year. In terms of sub-categories, the number is more like 200. But our authorities conduct superficial tests of vehicles based on data provided by manufacturers, and most cars go through only occasional performance tests after they are sold. Our current system of checking vehicles produced by global car companies has already proven too lax to effectively monitor their quality.

Manpower for screening is also critically lacking as seen in the meager number - 18 - of full-time employees at the Transportation Pollution Research Center in charge of conducting emissions tests under the National Institute of Environmental Research. Among them, only five workers are directly involved in the tests of vehicles, including 50 random emissions tests and an additional 50 tests for defective parts a year. Considering such circumstances, the tests can hardly be effective. The government’s reluctance to invite independent civilian experts to the tests doesn’t help.

Automobiles are part of our daily lives and the auto industry is a lynchpin of our economy. Only when the government thoroughly overhauls its test systems can our car market be mature.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 25, Page 34

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