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Nearly a million illegal tons of smog resulted from VW's diesel cars

Lucas Mearian | Oct. 5, 2015
Volkwagen's diesel cars set air quality back by years, according to Autolist analysis.

screen shot 2015 10 01 at 4.39.06 pm
Credit: Autolist

When you add up all the additional smog from 11 million diesel Volkswagens that cheated emissions tests over the past six years, you get 918,720 tons of extra nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution.

That's what used-car aggregation site Autolist came up with in an analysis, claiming VW's deceit has set air quality back for years.

The additional pollution, coming from Volkswagens and Audis that used a "defeat device" to thwart emissions tests, is the equivalent of adding another 437 million cars to the world's roadways; that's nearly twice the 256 million cars in the U.S. today.

screen shot 2015 10 01 at 4.39.23 pm
Credit: Autolist

Alex Klein, vice president of data science at Autolist, said he decided to crunch the exhaust numbers after reading one of the many articles on how VW had rigged software in its vehicles to make them appear to have low emissions. He wanted to find out how much extra pollution the vehicles created. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the affected Volkswagens were emitting up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide (NOx).

"It's pretty insane. This is really, really severe," Klein said. "I was just doing some back of the envelope stuff and thought, 'that can't be. Those numbers are too big.' "

"It really is this bad," he added. "It's no wonder the dialogue now is that this is going to... reshape the auto industry."

Klein said he used the U.S. Department of Energy's fuel economy site to determine emissions ratings for all the Volkswagen cars listed by the EPA as having an emissions "defeat device."

Along with the EPA, organizations such as the International Council of Clean Transportation, have tested Volkswagen's cars and stated that they emit from 5 and 35 times the emissions limit. Klein used those figures for his calculations.

Autolist noted that the first VW equipped with the software defeat device was the 2009 Jetta TDI. When first released in late 2008, the Jetta TDI, which went on to win Green Car of the Year, was one of the first cars to meet the EPA's stricter Tier II, Bin 5 emission standards. The standards are the equivalent to California's low-emission vehicle standards that limit emissions to .07 grams of nitrogen oxide per mile driven.

screen shot 2015 10 01 at 4.38.51 pm
Click on image to enlarge. Credit: Autolist

From 2008 through 2015, VW continued to produce the engines it claimed were even cleaner, and they earned emission ratings of .04 grams of nitrogen oxide per mile, much lower than the government's standards.


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