The 78 year-old German brand has created an impressive legacy worldwide arguably becoming part of the top three most purchased vehicles alongside Toyota and Subaru.
And it has impressive sales too. The company produced close to 10 million vehicles in 2009 alone, with revenues amounting to 197billion Euros in 2013 only.
The famed company however seems to be falling off its glory.
A discovery by America’s Environmental Protection Agency revealed that VW diesel cars on American roads were emitting up to 40 times more toxic fumes than permitted, according to The Guardian.
VW managed to make the amount of gases being emitted by its vehicles seem less than they really were. It did this by installing a programme in its engine’s software that lets the vehicle seem like its emitting less gases than it really is.
According to the Guardian, VW’s ‘defeat device’ therefore cuts emissions through techniques such as adjusting air-fuel ratios and exhaust flows, and in some (though not most VWs) injecting a urea-based solution to render NOx harmless.
This should call for alarm.
The understated emissions are estimated to be between 250,000 to 1million extra tones every year in the US alone.
This means bad news to the environment and for people as the emission of such harmful gases such as Nitric Oxide and Nitrogen dioxide (NOx) cause inflammation of the airways and worsens breathing. What’s worse, NOx emissions react with other compounds to cause serious respiratory conditions Asthma, Bronchitis and Emphysema and aggravate heart problems.
It also contributes to acid rain and smog.
According to the Guardian, London alone has linked 9,500 premature deaths annually to high levels of NOx in the environment.
As a result, VW is facing a couple of lawsuits from countries such as the US, whereas a lawsuit against the company in the UK is a possibility as discussions in its parliament are already ongoing.
The issue has therefore prompted an outcry from Kenya’s Centre for Climate Change Awareness (C4CCA) demanding that the National Environment Management Agency (NEMA) and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KeBS) to compel local VW and motor vehicle local franchises to declare the emission levels of cars they have imported into the country since 2009.
In a letter written by C4CCA, the organisation asks both NEMA and KeBS to use their statutory mandate to demand that dealers of VW’s also declare whether they were previously aware of the “defeat devices” that falsified pollution tests on diesel engine vehicles.
On its part, VW has admitted that 11 million vehicles may have been manipulated. According to C4CCA, Kenya is a big market for these vehicles and hence the scandal cannot be ignored.
“The right to a clean environment is enshrined under, among other Statutes, Article 69 of the Constitution which provides guidance to the State in ensuring sustainable management of the environment, and the Environmental Management and Coordination Act of 1999. These provisions offer guidelines both on the obligations of different actors, and rights therein”, says Stephen Ndegwa, the C4CCA executive director.
Ndegwa said that his organization is waiting to see what action NEMA and KEBS will demand from the local franchises before proceeding with any legal action.
The Problem at hand
KEBS and NEMA have rules against pollution. However, there are no specific prohibitions and measures on what amount of these emissions is illegal.
Additionally, if VW was to recall vehicles that have the defeat device, it would be hard to track down owners. First, the vehicles have a huge fan base and convincing people to neglect buying them because of the amount of emission it produces may not hold waters.
Second, there are a big number of owners whose cars were second hand vehicles and not VW itself. Third, not many people in the country would be convinced on why they should render a perfectly working car to fix something they think is not a problem.
“These are the challenges that we are currently facing. We surely need to take action, but are KEBS and NEMA willing to do their work?” he asks in conclusion.