This distinction between “engineering to the test” and outright cheating is critical to understanding the gravity of Volkswagen’s predicament. Investigations by the ICCT and Transport & Environment, a European advocacy group, have shown that European-market diesels from a variety of automakers regularly fail to comply with the tough Euro 6 standard in real-world tests like the one that led to VW’s U.S. scandal. The only clear difference between VW and the rest of the industry is that, in this case, the EPA forced it to admit that it actively cheated with purpose-built software
Volkswagen’s confession is especially damning because Winterkorn is known as a detail-oriented engineer who, upon taking over VW in 2007, bet the company’s future on a diesel-emissions reduction plan centered on the company’s new BlueTDI technology. It’s difficult to imagine that a man who fixates on such minute details as the noise a steering column adjuster makes would know nothing about active manipulation of diesel emissions while he was in charge. With this scandal breaking in the midst of leadership turmoil at Volkswagen and just two weeks before a critical supervisory board meeting, the Winterkorn and his company may be crippled even as it appears ready to pass Toyota to become the world’s largest automaker.