"Clean Diesel" Scandal Hits Japan?

If you follow car news, or wonder about the future of mobility - and/or care about the air we breathe, well, then you must have noticed that Volkswagen was caught on September 3 by the biggest story ever. Diesel cars use engines that are pretty powerful on less fuel compared to gasoline, but they also have more emissions of CO2 and worse, the Nitrogen compounds known as NOx. These combine on hot summer days to form smog and ozone and really bad stuff that will actually kill people.

So for a long time, diesel has had a bad rap, so to speak.

Then car manufacturers tried to remedy that by introducing all kinds of systems to clean the exhaust. Except, due to the terrific work by a small NGO in the US with just a staff of 25 or so people, it was revealed that Volkswagen had put a computer program algorithm in its engines, that could detect if the car was being tested or not.

In other words, if a test was going on, switch on the system to clean up the exhaust, and emit less NOx and other bad stuff. If driving as usual, no clean up system. Up to 40% more NOx emissions, as a result of ordinary driving with this setup.

This had been going on since at least 2009 in the VW Jetta, VW Beetle, VW Golf and Audi A3 (and others), according to this notice of violation from the US government (pdf).

So, VW is the only company putting illegal software in their cars? We don't know, at this point. Why not?

Car manufacturers do the testing, and submit the data to government agencies. Only now can we begin to hope that more independent testing will start.

Hats off - congratulations - to the small team of NGO clean air campaigners and experts who brought this to light. That I consider whistle-blowing at its very finest.

So-called "clean diesel" was just beginning to take off here in Japan, with all the Japanese car makers trying to introduce new models. VW doesn't sell any of its diesel cars in Japan, so the effect here is perhaps limited. News site Diamond.jp calls it the "Diesel Shock" (J) which may stick.

But I'm disappointed by the lack of response by serious car news sites, or professional bodies, that may rely on outside sources.

And have you ever seen a more tame response than this from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (E)...?

Brussels, 23 September 2015 – In light of the latest emission testing news, ACEA recognises the gravity of the situation and is taking this very seriously. However, we cannot comment on an issue affecting one individual company. There is no evidence that this is an industry-wide issue.
In the EU, the legal requirements concerning motor vehicle pollutant emissions currently refer to a test cycle performed under common laboratory conditions. All Euro 6 diesel cars on the market have received a Euro 6 approval certificate issued by a member state approval authority that confirms they comply with the legal requirements.
Soon, Euro 6 will also require for the first time emissions testing of diesel cars under realistic driving conditions, making Europe the only region in the world to implement such real world testing for cars. The automotive industry is fully supporting the development of this new Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test in order to ensure a more robust control on emissions. ACEA hopes that the RDE testing conditions and timings can be finalised urgently, so that the industry can get RDE-compliant vehicles into the market as soon as possible.
ACEA will continue to engage with the European Commission and national governments to address the current challenges and ensure that trust and confidence in the car industry and clean diesel technology are maintained.

One big automobile group, the Clean Diesel Promotion Association, (J) has not even bothered to update its website, and there are many other sites trying to convince Japanese car buyers that diesel is the hottest thing.

Not so fast, please.

I took until today (Thursday September 24) that this hit the news big time in Japan:

Top graph shows how few diesel cars are sold in Japan (0.1%) compared to Europe (40-70%).

Update: The Wall Street Journal thinks Japan's "big bet" on hybrid cars will benefit from the VW scandal.

Update 2: More trouble ahead, according to The New York Times? Key quote:

Some believe that using software to cheat on laboratory results goes beyond Volkswagen. While officially stated fuel efficiency and carbon-dioxide emissions figures have steadily improved over the years, real-world tests showed no corresponding improvement, according to the European Federation for Transport and Environment, an advocacy group based in Brussels. In fact, the group’s testing found that the average diesel car was producing emissions five times as high as what was permitted. Some vehicles from BMW and Opel emitted 10 times as much pollution on the road as in the lab. The difference between the lab and real-world results swelled to 40 percent last year, on average, from 8 percent in 2002, the group also found.


Pandabonium said…
And in the UK, hundreds still die from NOx pollution every year.

To me this goes beyond cars. Tokyo has regulations on trucks as well, but where I live, in Ibaraki-ken, trucks pass my house spewing particulate carbon - PM2.5 which makes my property dirty with soot and can cause lung problems. This is the same road along which dozens of children walk to and from elementary and junior high schools every day, and along which I ride my bicycle and recumbent tricycle. Cough, hackj!

Think of this happening throughout my city, throughout Ibaraki, and most of Japan where the exhaust of these commonplace trucks goes unregulated. When I think of the children who tease my dog and practice their English with me as they pass my home, it infuriates me. They should be growing up breathing clean air!

Japan, high tech? Japan, economic power house? Japan, modern democracy? Not in my book as long as this kind of crap goes on. I love this country and its people. I want the best for it. We should set our sights higher.

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