Volkswagen Diesel Scandal: U.S. Focus - Statistics & Facts

In 2015, it became apparent that Volkswagen had equipped at least 10.8 million diesel vehicles worldwide with a device that lowers the production of greenhouse gas emissions during fuel economy tests. Luckily for U.S. motorists, the majority of defeat device-equipped vehicles were sold outside the United States due to a prevailing preference for traditional gas engines throughout the nation: Diesel-powered engines are believed to account for around one percent of U.S. sales, compared to about 82 percent of gas-powered engines, as well as 17 percent of alternative fuel technology engines. Consequently, the highest number of affected vehicles was sold to customers in Germany, where about one third of vehicles in operation are diesels. However, there were still at least half a million vehicles with emissions-manipulating software on U.S. roads as of October 2015.

While car owners and dealers in some countries, including the United States, have the chance to be part of a class action lawsuit against Volkswagen, many customers feel they are stuck with vehicles they would never have bought, had they known how detrimental to the environment these automobiles really are. The company is expected to be presented with a bill of up to 116,250 U.S. dollars per car for settling the issue in the United States alone, not including losses due to a drop in VW's share prices.

With their nefarious actions, Volkswagen did not only betray its own customers, but the company also violated fuel economy standards set by environmental agencies in various countries: In the United States, selling cars equipped with defeat devices is a violation of the Clean Air Act’s guidelines for emission standards. The U.S. National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) carbon dioxide emissions compliance targets are at 223 grams per mile for model year (MY) 2025 vehicles. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the current real-world tailpipe figure for Volkswagen’s MY 2016 vehicle fleet comes to around 325 grams per mile, while the group’s MY 2016 fuel economy level stands at 27.3 miles per gallon (mpg). By 2025, VW will have to increase average mileage per gallon to about 54.5 mpg, albeit under laboratory circumstances, rather than real-world testings. Two of the most effective factors to boost mileage per gallon are to reduce weight and horsepower. That said, a typical vehicle on U.S. roads today is about 400 pounds heavier than a comparable automobile 20 years ago, and typical weight reductions are mainly accomplished by swapping metals for some of the least environmentally friendly materials on earth: plastics and composite materials.

Another aspect covered by the U.S. Clean Air Act is the production of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, collectively referred to as NOx. These greenhouse gases are believed to be particularly hazardous and the major factor behind smog. While diesel vehicles tend to score better in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, it is the NOx emissions from diesels that remain a cause of concern among environmental activists. The EPA issued a notice of violation to Volkswagen in 2015, because the agency believes that real-time NOx emissions of certain Audis and Volkswagens are up to 40 times higher than they should be. In a collaborative study, researchers at the MIT and the Harvard University claim that Volkswagen's excess emissions will lead to the premature death of 59 people in the United States.

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