Commentary: Is $18 Billion Enough?

2015 Volkswagen Passat SEL TDI 010
Photo by Randy Stern

$18 billion is how much it costs to lie to consumers.

Volkswagen AG has reached a settlement with the EPA to rectify an issue with their 2.0 liter TDI engines. VW will initiate a three-pronged plan that includes buybacks or retrofits to make these cars EPA Tier 4 emissions compliant. Whether you're a current owner or not the decision by Volkswagen to misinform will have a lasting impact on everyone who breathes. It is up to you to decide if this is enough to earn back your trust or at least assuage your anger.

There must be a discussion about the conditions which led to Volkswagen's decision to lie, but right now it is important to consider where that decision leaves owners of 2.0L TDI equipped models. If you are the owner of a 2013-2015 Beetle, 2010-2015 Golf, 2009-2015 Jetta/SportsWagen, 2012-2015 Passat, or 2015 Audi A3 then your car is part of the settlement. So what happened next?

If you currently own or lease one of the affected vehicles you are eligible for a vehicle buyback, early lease termination plus cash payment, or wait for an EPA/CARB approved mechanical emission solution plus cash payment. Even if you formerly owned one of these vehicles you may be eligible for compensation in the form of cash payments.

So, how much will you receive in a buyback from VW? Head over to the NADAGuides website and enter your model as well as mileage and take a look at the Clean Trade-In value for your respective vehicle. For example, if you own an automatic equipped 2015 Golf S with 20,000 mile then you can currently expect approximately $16,425 for your buyback. Leases will also be able to terminate their lease at no charge and receive a cash payment.

Those who decide to keep their vehicles and wait on an emission solution should expect that once a solution is agreed upon by the EPA and CARB that a dealer will need to take the vehicle to install a secondary catalytic reduction system (SCR) to meet current NOx emission limits. This will require extensive modifications due to space limitations on a car that is designed to be as space efficient as possible. This solution also comes with the reality that you will continue to pollute at illegal levels while waiting on a solution which is something to consider.

Diesel exhaust in its raw form is a very toxic pollutant. If you've ever seen the black residue on stone or concrete buildings you know the results of acid rain. One of the side effects of high compression ignition is the increase in nitrous oxide or NOx emissions. There is also the issue of nano- and microparticle emissions from compression ignition. These particles are small enough that once they enter the lungs they can cross the bronchial capillaries and enter the bloodstream directly.

As a bus driver I have driven buses from the pre diesel particulate filter (DPF) and pre-SCR era as well as the 2013 compliant engines. I can tell you first hand that a day spent in those older buses is some I want to do less and less as we buy new low-emission buses to replace our aging fleet. Acute side-effects from being exposed to diesel exhaust include: headache, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, coughing, difficult or labored breathing, tightness of chest, and irritation of the eyes and nose and throat, and I can say that I have experienced all of these on a regular basis.

VW has expressed with its willingness to disregard the current Clean Air Act standards that it has a disregard for public health and safety because they were afraid their fun to drive image would be tarnished by emissions technology. Whether it is your health, your children's health or the health of the environment that you are worried about then it is without a doubt that the actions of a company that has accepted over $235 billion of consumers hard earned income represents a breach of trust. To rectify this, the EPA has told VW it must pay $2.7 over three years into an environment trust to remediate excess nitrogen oxide emissions as well as investing $2 billion over 10 years in zero emissions vehicle infrastructure.

In an era where it has become a perceived status quo to see corruption or foul play go unpunished Volkswagen has been punished for thinking it is too big to be caught. This is certainly not the first time that this has happened and it most likely will not be the last, but this is a perfect example of the EPA doing its job to ensure that companies live up to their own claims.

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