Volkswagen Scandal Puts Regulators on High Alert

Volkswagen Scandal Puts Regulators on High Alert

James M. Amend | WardsAuto
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Wednesday, October 7, 2015 - 9:30am

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind says Volkswagen’s emissions scandal further erodes an essential element of trust between the U.S. regulator and automakers, underscoring a new protocol where government agencies must be more proactive and question every bit of information the industry provides regarding safety, fuel economy and emissions.

“Part of the problem has been the reactive piece,” Rosekind tells WardsAuto after addressing an Automotive Industry Action Group quality summit here. “You wait until something breaks or somebody withholds it and then you’ve got to find it and then you got to get it fixed.

“NHTSA over the last several months has been very vigilant and we will continue to be,” he adds. “The right balance is acknowledging that we have tools related to enforcement and defect recalls that can be used to the full extent when needed. I hope for (a) transformation to get us proactive. That’s the only way.”

NHTSA, the nation’s top safety and fuel-economy regulator, and the EPA, which enforces air quality through carbon-dioxide emissions laws, rely heavily on automakers self-reporting safety and vehicle-efficiency levels.

It was revealed Friday that VW cheated EPA emissions tests of its diesel-powered cars by installing a so-called “defeat device” that determines if a test procedure is under way and then dials up the engine’s efficiency. After the test, the engines would revert back to their natural state and resume spewing upwards of 40 times the legal emissions levels.

The German automaker’s deceit comes on the heels of a massive ignition-switch scandal at General Motors, where a defective part killed or injured hundreds of people. GM last week agreed to pay a $900 million federal fine, essentially closing the financial book on the scandal. It has been estimated VW could face up to $18 billion in fines.

Rosekind, NHTSA’s 15th chief regulator sworn in nine months ago, offers GM as a precedent. “They withheld, they deceived. They did not tell the truth. That’s a problem. That will interfere with safety. That makes us all more vigilant.”

Rosekind says the automakers’ evasiveness will lead NHTSA and EPA to more firmly challenge the industry’s reporting in the future. The EPA, for example, audits the emissions levels of between 15% and 20% of light vehicles at its Ann Arbor, MI, testing facility, and counts on automakers for the rest of the testing.

In a statement to WardsAuto, the EPA says “Manufacturers test the vehicles on their own using EPA test procedures. Manufacturers submit the test data and documentation to EPA. EPA reviews the data, and if all checks out, generates the certificate of conformity.”

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