What now for the 80,000 Irish drivers who may yet be victims of this scandal?
Diesels now account for over 75pc of new cars on our roads and it's a worrying time for owners, writes Geraldine Herbert
Published 27/09/2015 | 02:30
The scandal engulfing Volkswagen, which has admitted cheating on diesel vehicle emissions tests in the US, has now spread to Europe.
The German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt confirmed that Volkswagen's emissions-data-manipulation software was present on cars sold in Europe and about 2.8 million vehicles in Germany are affected, including the smaller 1.2-litre engine cars.
The number of Irish cars fitted with a 'defeat device' could run to 80,000, based on the number of new Audi, Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen cars sold here between 2009 and 2014. A spokesperson for Volkswagen in Ireland has indicated that it will be early next week before exact figures for Ireland emerge.
Diesel has been the fuel of choice for many Irish drivers and for very noble reasons. Sold on the environmental benefits of very low levels of C02 and other pollutants, as well as the consequent improvement in fuel economy, such is their appeal that they now make up more than 75pc of cars on our roads.
But our love affair with diesel didn't start by chance. The current situation is the result of changes made to the motor tax system that was intended to lower carbon emissions by pushing people towards diesel.
In 2008, the Fianna Fail-Green Party coalition changed the VRT and motor tax system from one based on engine capacity to the current one based on Co2 emissions.
As a result of this change and huge improvements in the performance of diesel cars, sales dramatically shifted in favour of diesel. Consequently, the resale value of older cars with the old, higher tax rates fell.
Much of the EU's product and manufacturing regulation relies on manufacturers taking responsibility for compliance and certifying the conformity of their products.
The Volkswagen crisis has highlighted the critical flaws in self-regulation of the motor industry, with the deficient testing and compliance arrangements in place across the EU.
Cars in Ireland are subject to European emission legislation and undergo testing by the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC). As the gap between manufacturers' official figures and the real world continues to widen, the testing procedure have been heavily criticised for being outdated and not fit for purpose.
In response, the EU plans to introduce a new and tougher testing procedure in 2017. The World Harmonised Light Duty Tests Procedure (WLTP) aims to give consumers a more realistic insight into a vehicle's carbon-emission and fuel-consumption levels. In view of events, this is likely to be brought in sooner to bolster confidence.
Drivers of Volkswagen diesel cars in Ireland are likely to be concerned not only about resale values on a car not as eco-friendly as had originally been claimed but will also be wondering if their cars need major repairs and, if so, will they then be underpowered?
In a statement from Volkswagen Ireland this week, owners were assured that their cars are "technically safe and roadworthy". Until VW confirms which brands and models are affected and the next steps to be taken by owners, clarity on the scale of the problem is not possible.
In the past, global recalls have had virtually no impact on long-term resale values, but this recall also raises questions about the future of diesel engines. While there is no evidence that other car companies are using this 'defeat device', the software that is intentionally cheating the emission tests, there are increasing indications that diesel cars are producing far more pollution when driven on the roads than when they are tested in laboratory conditions.
Is the high-performance, low-emitting, 'clean' diesel vehicle really achievable?
For now, the immediate questions remain unanswered, how many of these cars are on our roads, how likely is a large-scale recall, what effect will the removal of this 'defeat device' have on the performance of the car, are the increased emission levels a cause for public health concern, will resale values be affected and how will this impact on Volkswagen sales or the sale of diesel cars in general?
At a time when the car industry is recovering and sales for this year are predicted to comfortably pass the 120,000 mark, any nervousness about diesel technology and resale values may shake customer confidence. Long term, the impact and burden could be felt by all Irish motorists in the form of higher motor taxes and increased car prices.