Wolfsburg, we have a problem.
Yesterday, we told you about a couple of plans that Volkswagen may have been considering to fix roughly 567,000 U.S. diesels and bring them in line with federal and state emissions laws. Alas, those and other plans have been given a big ol' thumbs-down by the California Air Resources Board, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency agreed.
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In explaining why it had sent Volkswagen back to the drawing board, CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols expressed more than a little frustration with the automaker's willingness to admit guilt and address the problem of diesel emissions in its vehicles:
"Volkswagen made a decision to cheat on emissions tests and then tried to cover it up. They continued and compounded the lie and when they were caught they tried to deny it. The result is thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide that have harmed the health of Californians. They need to make it right. Today's action is a step in the direction of assuring that will happen."
Without getting into the details of the fixes Volkswagen had floated, CARB cited three major shortcomings with the automaker's proposal:
- The proposed plans contain gaps and lack sufficient detail.
- The descriptions of proposed repairs lack enough information for a technical evaluation; and
- The proposals do not adequately address overall impacts on vehicle performance, emissions and safety
You'll find a far snippier, snappier, detailed rejection letter on the CARB website. It's worth a read.
Though the EPA hasn't formally issued its own denial of Volkswagen's proposed repair plan, the fact that agency officials have said that they concur with CARB's decision doesn't bode well for the automaker. The EPA's response to Volkswagen may be superficially different, but for all practical purposes, it's likely to be the same.
SO, WHAT NOW?
There's good news and bad news here. In fact, there may be more good news than you'd think.
For starters, Nichols and her team were careful to note that their rejection of Volkswagen's proposal applies only to 2.0-liter diesels from Volkswagen and Audi. The repair of 3.0-liter diesels from Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche will be detailed in a separate proposal, due to CARB by February 2.
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Also good is the fact that, in its rejection, CARB expresses a great deal of concern about identifying and notifying consumers about the recall. Admittedly, there are some worries about the effectiveness of Volkswagen's fix itself, but much of CARB's focus has to do with the administration of the recall rather than with the repair plan itself. It would seem that the admin side of things may be more quickly and easily brought up to speed than the technical side.
The bad news is that even if the 3.0-liter plan is approved by CARB (and by extension, the EPA), that will fix just a fraction of Volkswagen diesels on the road. The vast majority are 2.0-liter vehicles, some 482,000 of which are registered in the U.S.
Also bad is the fact that CARB doesn't seem entirely convinced by the fix Volkswagen has proposed (likely, catalytic converters). It says that Volkswagen's proposal doesn't adequately explain how the repair will actually fix cars and what effect those fixes will have on emissions.
Similarly, CARB is very wary about evaluating the plan (which isn't surprising, given the fact that Volkswagen engineered diesels to cheat on emissions tests from 2009 to 2015). CARB wants to be able to assess whether the fixes work in individual cars and as a whole, and so far, Volkswagen hasn't provided enough detail to ensure that.
Perhaps most worrisome of all, we're left with the impression that Volkswagen isn't taking this very seriously. Nichols' frustration with Volkswagen's response to the Dieselgate crisis echoes what we heard from the EPA's Gina McCarthy, who's said that Volkswagen hasn't been willing to help find "a satisfactory way forward".
Volkswagen will have a meeting with the EPA itself later today. We don't expect the EPA's response to Volkswagen to be substantially different from CARB's, but of course, we'll keep you posted.
In the meantime, you can read another take on CARB's rejection from our colleagues at Green Car Reports. And if you need a refresher on the whole Dieselgate crisis, click here for a full list of articles about it.