Volkswagen has some explaining to do.
On Friday, the German automaker was accused of violating the Clean Air Act for installing software on vehicles that violates environmental standards meant to reduce smog, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Volkswagen installed the software on almost 500,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S., according to an EPA press release.
The software, known as a “defeat device,” conceals the cars’ emissions of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that contributes to the creation of smog and ozone and causes health issues like asthma attacks.
The installed software is designed to turn on full emissions control systems only when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, but neglects to do the same during normal driving situations when Volkswagens pollute far more heavily.
This means that during testing the the cars are meeting emissions standards, but are emitting nitrogen oxides up to 40 times the standard when the car is in actual use, according to the EPA.
“Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” Cynthia Giles, the EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance, said in the EPA press release.
The EPA notified Volkswagen of the violation and accused the German automaker of breaking the law. Volkswagen may have to pay a fine.
Dan Abrams, EPA deputy press secretary, told Tech Insider that no recall is being issued today.
“Manufacturers are given a reasonable amount of time to develop a plan to complete the repairs, including both the repair procedure and manufacture of any needed parts,” he wrote in an email. “Depending on the complexity of the repair and the lead time needed to obtain the necessary components, it could take up to one year to identify corrective actions, develop a recall plan and issue recall notices.”
Affected diesel models include the 2009-15 Audi A3, the 2009 — 15 Beetle, the 2009 — 15 Golf, the 2014-15 Passat and the 2009-15 Volkswagen Jetta. The EPA allegations include about 482,000 diesel passenger cars that have been sold since 2009 in the United States.
The defeat device was uncovered by independent researchers at West Virginia University working with the International Council on Clean Transportation, according to the release.
In 2005, Volkswagen had to pay the EPA a $US1.1 million fine for failing to promptly notify and fix a defective oxygen sensor that affected at least 329,000 of their 1999, 2000 and 2001 Golfs, Jettas, and New Beetles. At the time, the fine was the largest civil penalty to date for that type of violation. Volkswagen recalled affected vehicles at a cost of more than $US26 million at the time.
The Obama administration is cracking down on automakers breaking federal rules. In November 2014, Korean automakers Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors were fined a combined $US300 million in a settlement for overstating vehicle fuel-economy standards on 1.2 million cars, the New York Times reported. The fine marked the administration’s biggest penalty for violating the Clean Air Act.
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