Saturday, October 23, 2021

As Europe prepares to test electric cars, Volkswagen announces a huge recall

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Just how hot will electric vehicles (EVs) become in Germany?

VW Group, the world’s largest carmaker, is sending a warning. In a presentation Wednesday at the opening of Volkswagen’s annual auto show in Hamburg, group finance chief Frank Witter indicated that the company will recall up to 400,000 polluting e-cars across Europe in early 2019.

What happened?

The models include about 78,000 Golf and Polo EV models and more than a third of a million VW’s models — so VW has some serious numbers on its hands. Though their emission-control systems are designed to block out nitrogen oxide, which is related to smog, the cars were made by Caddy Automotive, which sold them under the Volkswagen, SEAT and Skoda names.

Volkswagen found that the cars — which appeared to have been sold with particular, but undetected, contamination — registered significantly higher NOx emissions than its own clean-car models. The cars have a combination of gasoline and synthetic polyvinyl chloride fuel.

The problem is even more serious because VW’s cars emit no such pollution when driven on standard gasoline engines — indeed, their emissions are rated as extremely low. Such atypical fuel isn’t available in their station-stores.

Witter announced that the company plans to set aside €1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) to fix these cars. And that alone won’t make much of a dent: But Volkswagen has a total of approximately 1.9 million Golfs and Passats. On top of the recall, VW has promised to install hardware upgrades that will prevent the cars from blowing at least up to 23 times their maximum pollution levels.

The company has many other nits to pick. At least 800,000 VW fleet vehicles sold in Europe are covered by the recall — the company “may” also make some adjustments to the software on older Passats that are not even affected by the recall, Witter said. And, lest you think he’s making this up, he went on to say that VW might need to recall an additional 450,000 of its e-cars in France and Italy — adding that “we won’t stop at that.”

Other carmakers were considering the recall, too, he said, with BMW’s i4, the Mini electric and the Jaguar I-Pace all included in VW’s recall announcement. While the recall is restricted to Europe, the company said it was working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the Model Year 2020 versions of its Golf and Polo models.

What happens next?

If you own one of the affected cars, VW says, you should call them and get it fixed. They will install a hardware upgrade to a fuel quality head filter called “SCR,” where the driver vents, which helps keep the gas in the tank and reduce the amount of NOx that ends up in the exhaust.

You also need to make sure that your car is running properly, because anything that leaks fuel will emit NOx if it’s ignited. You should take the car in for a physical inspection and fix, as well as contact VW’s customer service for information. You can get info by calling Volkswagen on 1-800-255-2768 or online.

VW said it will work quickly with automakers such as BMW, MINI and Skoda, which they say share the same problems. Assuming the fix works, these cars, too, will be recalled. But that could take a long time — probably a year or more.

Whether VW’s recalls will produce much of a bang for the euro was uncertain, however. A steady stream of expensive recalls hasn’t exactly driven up the cost of its stock. The company still hasn’t revealed how much money it expects to spend on the issue.

Still, Witter, who is also the CEO of Porsche — Volkswagen’s sports car division — was clearly frustrated by the situation, which had the smell of a real recall deadline.

“Of course we’ll try to come back to everybody as soon as possible,” he said. “Not even a year.”

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