Questions and answers about Volkswagen’s emissions testing scandal

German automaker Volkswagen AG admits that it rigged North American emissions tests so it would appear that its diesel-powered cars were emitting fewer nitrogen oxides, which can contribute to ozone buildup and respiratory illness.

The crisis widened on September 22, 2015 as the company made the stunning admission that 11 million of its diesel vehicles worldwide were fitted with same cheating software.

Here are some questions and answers about the ongoing crisis:

WHICH VEHICLES DOES THIS AFFECT? Vehicles worldwide with Type EA 189 diesel engines. In the U.S., VW installed software in roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the U.S. since 2008, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The software turned on the cars’ full emissions control systems when the cars were being tested by the government, and then turned off those systems during normal driving. The Jetta, Beetle, Audi A3 and Golf from the 2009-2015 model years, as well as the Passat from the 2014-2015 model years. All have with 2-Liter, four-cylinder diesel engines. Volkswagen has halted the sale of 2015 models and is prohibited from selling 2016 models until they are fixed.

WHAT DOES VOLKSWAGEN SAY? Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn issued a statement Sunday saying that the company will fully co-operate with government investigations and has ordered an internal probe. Winterkorn said, “I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public.” The company said Tuesday it would set aside around 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) to cover the cost from the scandal.

WHY WOULD VOLKSWAGEN CHEAT ON EMISSIONS TESTS? Experts think VW may have wanted to avoid the cost of additional hardware to meet tough U.S. emissions standards, so it came up with a cheaper software fix. The software also would have helped the cars’ fuel economy numbers, since they get better gas mileage when the emissions control system is turned off.

WHAT SHOULD CUSTOMERS DO? Volkswagen will fix the cars for free as soon as it develops a remedy. Owners will be notified when there’s a fix. In the meantime, the cars are safe to drive. Car buying site cautions owners against selling the cars right now if they don’t have to, since they can expect a lower trade-in value.

DOES THIS AFFECT OTHER DIESEL VEHICLES IN NORTH AMERICA? Not so far. Thirteen brands currently offer diesels in North America., including Ram, Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. West Virginia University, which conducted the tests that led to the discovery of Volkswagen’s software, said the BMW it tested passed.

WHAT’S NEXT? The U.S. government could fine Volkswagen $37,500 per vehicle for the violations, a total of more than $18 billion. The U.S. Justice Department, the California Air Resources Board and German authorities are also investigating. Winterkorn could also face scrutiny from Volkswagen’s board, which will meet as early as Wednesday. Investors have spoken. During the past two days, VW stock price has fallen more than 35 per cent.


Quebec drivers’ licences go black and white as part of security-driven redesign

SAAQ says changes will make it more difficult to illegally reproduce the cards

CBC news

Quebec’s automobile insurance board has unveiled a new design for drivers’ licences in the province aimed at making the cards more difficult to illegally replicate.

The driver photo will be black and white, which the SAAQ says will be higher resolution than its previous colour photos.

“The photo in black and white will have more information and more defined facial features,” said Mario Vaillancourt, a spokesman for the insurance board.

Other new features include:

  • the licence holder’s personal information is engraved by laser on a polycarbonate card.
  • it has additional or improved security features, some of which are tactile or visual.

The new licences are expected to last longer. Each card will be valid for eight years.

The first ones were mailed to Quebec drivers on Tuesday.

Old licences remain valid until their expiration date.

If cars are better—and they clearly are—drivers must be worse.

—Warren Buffett

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Rental agencies lending out recalled vehicles: Vancouver-area

Ross McLaughlin and Sandra Hermiston , CTV News

The auto industry has had a record number of recalls in 2014, including 41 million Takata airbags recalled due to the hazard of exploding shrapnel and hundreds of thousands of GM faulty ignition switches, linked to more than 100 deaths.

Car dealers are heavily regulated and are not allowed to sell a vehicle with an open safety recall, but as the McLaughlin on Your Side team discovered, the same rules don’t apply to rental cars, and that could impact the safety status of the cars you rent.

Consumer reporter Ross McLaughlin roamed rental car parking lots around Richmond and Vancouver, taking photos of vehicle identification numbers and licence plates. When the information was then run through CARFAX and manufacturers’ websites, several safety recalls appeared, with defects that could increase the risk of a crash.

Follow-up calls to the manufacturer of the vehicle confirmed the safety issues of the cars he found on the lot.

“If it doesn’t turn off like you expect it to and someone were to put it into shift out of park, it could move unintentionally,” said a Ford Canada customer service representative.

A Ford Escape being rented by Avis showed two open recalls: one for an ignition problem that could inadvertently leave the engine running when turned off, resulting in “unintended vehicle movement” and another for the instrument warning systems, meaning warning systems may not work, “increasing the risk of a crash.”

In an email to CTV Vancouver, Transport Canada said “these recalls address either a defect or a non-compliance condition that affects or is likely to affect safety.”

It wasn’t just the Avis rental vehicle that showed a problem. When the McLaughlin on Your Side team ran the licence plate and VIN on another 2015 Ford Escape at Budget, it also had the recall defect that could leave the engine running.

It too was rented out shortly after McLaughlin discovered the recall.

Budget still had dozens of Ford Escapes with the potentially hazardous open recall until CTV News got involved.

The Budget at the Vancouver International Airport is an independently owned and operated franchise of the Avis Budget Group. The head of customer service there said they were alerted to the problem after the McLaughlin team started asking Avis questions.

Budget pulled 40 Ford Escapes in the Vancouver area to be fixed, a repair that takes about an hour.

As for the vehicle Avis was renting, an employee at the YVR rental office said vehicles with safety recalls are removed from the fleet. The company’s head office confirmed that.

In an email to CTV News,Avis stated that when there is a recall it identifies the affected vehicles in its fleet and places them “on a ‘hard hold’ in the reservations system,” meaning they are not rented out until fixed.

It also said the safety problem involving the ignition on this Escape was fixed in early August. When McLaughlin followed up with Ford Canada on the phone it confirmed the recall had been posted as completed the day after CTV brought it to the attention of Avis.

Ford Canada told us it’s possible there could have been a delay from the dealer reporting the repair. However, McLaughlin confirmed the other safety issue involving the warning systems was still an open recall. But Avis told CTV News it will wait until it gets a notice from the manufacturer before taking it off the line.

For more recall information or to check a vehicle online visit Transport Canada’s recall page.

Semi autonomous tech, once for luxury cars, is rapidly going mainstream

By Dee-Ann Durbin


DETROIT _ Fully self-driving cars are a few years into the future. But some of the technology that will make them possible is already here.

Automakers are rapidly adding radar- and camera-based systems that can keep a car in its lane, detect pedestrians and brake automatically to avoid a collision. For now, they work with a driver behind the wheel, but eventually, versions of these systems will likely power self-driving cars.

Semi-autonomous features used to be confined to luxury cars, but they’re quickly migrating to mainstream brands as technology gets cheaper. Toyota, for example, will offer automatic braking, pedestrian detection and lane departure warning for just a few hundred dollars on all of its vehicles by 2017.

Automakers are also being nudged to add these features by safety advocates like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which gives its top crashworthiness rankings to vehicles with crash prevention technology.

Joseph Gerardi, a communications engineer from Centereach, New York, recently bought a 2015 Nissan Murano specifically for its semi-autonomous safety technology. As part of its $2,260 technology package, Nissan offers emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. The package also has forward collision warning, which uses radar to monitor both the car ahead and the car in front of that one.

Gerardi’s wife, Michele, and 4-year-old daughter, Caroline, use the SUV to get around town, so he wanted the most technology he could get for under $40,000.

“We just wanted to get the safest thing possible,” he said.

He thinks more people would push for semi-autonomous technology if automakers promoted it, or if dealers had a better understanding of how it works. Gerardi had to call Nissan, for example, to get a complete explanation of the Murano’s emergency braking system.

Not everyone likes the self-driving trend.

“I really, really dislike automobiles that think they’re cleverer than me,” said Will Inglis, who lives outside London and writes about the defence industry. He thinks drivers will come to rely too much on semi-autonomous technology and driving skills will degrade.

But people like Inglis may soon be in the minority. In a recent U.S. survey by the Boston Consulting Group, 55 per cent of drivers said they would likely buy a partially autonomous car in the next five years.

The array of semi-autonomous features now offered on cars can be bewildering. Here are some of the most common:

_ Adaptive cruise control: Regular cruise control, which has been around for decades, can keep the car at a set speed on the highway. Adaptive cruise control maintains a set speed as well as a set distance from the car in front of it, and it can slow down or speed up automatically. It started appearing on luxury brands like Mercedes and Lexus about a decade ago. Now, it’s available on less expensive models, like the Mazda3 small car and the Chrysler 200 sedan.

_ Lane keeping: Lane departure warning systems beep or vibrate if the driver leaves a lane. Camera-based lane-keeping systems actually steer the car back into the lane automatically. They have their limits; they might not work in snow or at other times when lane markings aren’t clearly visible. Lane keeping started appearing on the market in 2014. Among the vehicles that offer it are the Ford Fusion Titanium, as a $1,200 option, and the Jeep Renegade Limited, as a $995 option.

_ Emergency braking: Some forward-collision warning systems beep or flash lights to warn the driver if they detect an object. More advanced ones warn the driver and, if the driver doesn’t react, apply the brakes. The systems may either bring the car to a complete stop or slow it enough to mitigate damage. The technology, introduced in 2008, is recommended by the federal government. It’s already standard on the Volvo XC90 SUV, which can even brake automatically as the driver is turning into an intersection. Other vehicles that offer emergency braking are the Subaru Outback, as part of the $3,090 EyeSight package, and the Toyota Camry XLE, as part of a $2,570 technology and navigation package.

_ Self-parking: Self-parking systems can find a spot and automatically park in a parallel or perpendicular spot. The systems, on the market since 2008, are now on many mainstream vehicles. It’s a $395 option on the Ford Focus Titanium.

_ Highway autopilot: Single-lane highway autopilot is basically just a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping. It helps keep the car centred in its lane at highway speeds, allowing the driver to cruise with minimal effort. Mercedes, Infiniti and Audi are among those whose systems work in tandem on the highway. Others, including Tesla and Cadillac, are expected to offer advanced autopilot systems soon.

Drivers lack understanding of new safety features like collision warning

By Dee-Ann Durbin


DETROIT _ Adaptive cruise control has been an option on some cars for almost a decade. But in a recent national survey, 65 per cent of U.S. drivers didn’t know what it was.

The survey, by the University of Iowa Public Policy Center’s Transportation and Vehicle Safety program, suggests big gaps in the public’s knowledge about potentially life-saving features. Based on the responses, the university and the National Safety Council have developed a new Web site _ _ to teach drivers about new features, from tire-pressure monitoring systems to automatic emergency braking.

The site is one of several places that car owners and shoppers can learn about safety technology. The federal government’s auto-safety website _ _ lists crash-test results and uses icons to highlight cars with recommended safety features, including lane-departure warning and forward-collision warning. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety _ _ also explains key collision-avoidance features like automatic braking, and lists which cars have them.

Carmakers _ prodded by government regulators and public crash-test rankings _ are rapidly adding safety features. By 2018, for example, the U.S. will require all new vehicles to have backup cameras. But at the same time, cars are getting more reliable and lasting longer, so millions of people driving older cars may not be familiar with the latest safety options. The average vehicle on U.S. roads is now 11.5 years old _ older than adaptive cruise control.

Daniel McGehee, who conducted the survey, was surprised to find that even car dealers and service department managers weren’t always familiar with new safety features.

“The technology is changing so quickly they don’t have a good understanding,” said McGehee, the director of the Transportation and Vehicle Safety Research program.

The survey, which questioned 2,015 people last September about nine safety features, found that 92 per cent of drivers had heard of anti-lock brakes, which have been common on cars since the 1980s. But only about half had heard of more recent options like lane-departure warning, which gives an audible warning or vibrates to warn drivers when the car leaves its lane, or forward-collision warning, which alerts drivers to an imminent crash.

Ninety-four per cent were aware of cruise control, which keeps the vehicle at a set speed on the highway. But only about one-third had heard of its more advanced sibling, adaptive cruise control, which maintains a set speed and distance from the car ahead and can accelerate or brake on its own. It used to be a feature on luxury cars, but as radar and cameras have gotten cheaper, it’s being added to mainstream vehicles like the Honda CR-V and the Mazda6.

Even features that are standard on every car caused some head-scratching. Only 55 per cent of drivers were familiar with tire-pressure monitoring systems, which have been mandated by the U.S. government since 2007. The systems alert drivers, usually with a dashboard message, when one of their tires is underinflated. McGehee said drivers may not realize they have a feature like that because their tires are properly inflated.

“A lot of technologies lie in wait, but we know they are very useful when they’re needed,” he said.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that automakers have different names for safety features. Mercedes-Benz calls its adaptive cruise-control system Distronic Plus, for example, while Subaru packages adaptive cruise control within its EyeSight suite of safety systems. Systems also work differently; some will automatically steer drivers back into their lane if they leave it, for example, while others just give them a warning.

McGehee says the website doesn’t name particular automakers or systems, but simply tries to explain various technologies.

“This is a geeky area we’re getting into,” McGehee said. “We wanted to debrand the vehicles and concentrate on the concepts.”

The university is now studying what kinds of questions people have about their car’s features, with the goal of making a mobile manual that drivers could consult with voice commands. McGehee, an engineer who recently found himself fumbling around for the parking brake in a rental car, says the manual would let people ask things like, “Where is my parking brake?” or “How does my parking brake work?”

The University of Iowa received three grants totalling $17.2 million for the project and for future efforts, including the mobile manual. The money came from Toyota Motor Corp., which set aside $30 million for safety education programs in 2012 as part of a $1 billion class-action settlement over unintended acceleration claims.



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