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'When we lied, we never meant you to believe us' - Paul Willis, VW's UK managing director. Photo: still from Parliamentlive.tv.
'When we lied, we never meant you to believe us' - Paul Willis, VW's UK managing director. Photo: still from Parliamentlive.tv.
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No pollution? No deaths? Who does VW think it's kidding?

Damian Kahya / Greenpeace Energydesk

15th October 2015

It was a remarkable spectacle, writes Damian Kahya: MPs trying to get straight answers out of VW's top man in the UK over the 'dieselgate' scandal. Of course our cars gave false test results. But who would ever believe those stupid tests anyway? How many people died from all the extra pollution? None! There was no pollution!

When VW tells you that official tests suggest its cars can brake within a certain distance or meet a certain number of miles per gallon, they may actually be relying on you to know that the data is complete nonsense.

The Managing Director of Volkswagen UK claimed in Parliament today that the scandal which saw it rig - or as he put it 'mishandle' - the emissions test results for millions of diesel cars has not resulted in any extra emissions of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) compared to what people may have expected.

In an astonishing admission before the Environmental Audit Committee Volkswagen's Paul Willis claimed that he - and everyone else - always knew his vehicles emitted far more pollutants than test results showed. So how his company rigged them is essentially irrelevant to public health:

"What we're talking about here is mishandling a laboratory test. We're not talking about mishandling real world emissions, those are two completely different things, there is no suggestion that there is any change in the NOx in the real world."

The utterly bizarre assertion came in response to repeated questioning by MPs - including the Greens' Caroline Lucas - focusing on how much more NOx VW's cars have emitted compared to what was claimed in test results.

This matters because NOx and its derived substances, such as ozone, can trigger asthma, reduce lung function and cause lung diseases including bronchitis, according to the World Health Organisation. It is also associated with increased incidence of heart disease and premature deaths.

A preliminary analysis by Energydesk suggested that the extra emissions not previously known about could have caused hundreds of additional deaths worldwide.

'But we never meant to you to actually believe our lies'

In response Willis accepted that the UK car industry did have a responsibility to reduce the approximately 50,000 deaths each year from air pollution and revealed that he and his family had asthma.

"I am very, deeply concerned about public health, just to put things into perspective, I'm asthmatic, my son's asthmatic and I lived in China for three years ... you know what I learned in China more than anything else, actually in the 21st century none of us can take for granted the air that we breathe."

However he flatly denied that any extra NOx had been emitted or that the company bore any responsibility at all for increased air pollution specifically as a result of the testing scam - because consumers must have known the tests were nonsense from the start.

How much more NOx had been emitted by VW cars than would have been the case had the claims not been dishonest, pressed Lucas? "None, none", replied Willis.

In a contorted twist of logic Mr Willis argued that despite the firm deliberately misleading regulators on both sides of the Atlantic about the amount of NOx its cars emitted, and despite the fact it published these results to consumers, nobody could credibly believe the results of lab tests reflected real world driving conditions anyway. So VW cars had not - in fact - polluted cities any more than was claimed:

"What we've been discussing here today is a laboratory test. There has been no suggestion that there has been any influence on real world driving. So. As a result of what we're discussing here today there is no indication that there has been any more NOx put into the atmosphere. No suggestion ...

"We're talking about the testing regime. We're not talking about real world driving, everybody knows, it's in the public domain that there is a delta between the test regime and real world driving so therefore it is entirely logical that there is no difference in the NOx on real world driving because the test and real world driving are completely separate."

So blame ... the regulators and governments

Like a desperate double-glazing salesman the embattled executive essentially claimed that your house isn't any colder after installing his windows than he said it would be, even though it is.

When, shivering, you ask why, he explains that the test he used to prove to you that your house would be significantly warmer is merely a 'lab' test which nobody believes, so the fact he rigged it a little really doesn't matter. Your house would have been cold anyway so really, it's your fault your children have a cold.

In fact he went on to move the blame for the scandal towards the very regulators (and governments) the company's engineers have gone to great lengths to mislead - claiming that their testing regime did little to help the industry.

It came as he and a representative of the motor industry association (part-funded by VW) argued that lab-testing was flawed and unhelpful. The volte-face comes after the motor industry has previously lobbied against changes to the testing regime designed to make results more closely reflect real world emissions.

It's hard to say where this legally inspired line of argument will ultimately lead, but consumers beware. When VW tells you that official tests suggest its cars can brake within a certain distance or meet a certain number of miles per gallon, they may actually be relying on you to know that the data is complete nonsense.

 


 

Damian Kahya is an author at Greenpeace Energydesk. He tweets @damiankahya.

This article was originally published on Greenpeace Energydesk, which is editorially independent of Greenpeace.

 

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