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California ARB rejects VW 2 liter engine recall plan

12 January 2016

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has rejected the recall plan submitted by Volkswagen, which covers VW’s 2-liter diesel passenger vehicles sold in California between 2009 and 2015. The ARB has also issued a formal Notice of Violation (NOV) of California air quality regulations associated with the company’s use of a control strategy to defeat the regulatory emission tests in those cars. The rejection of the recall plan may open the door for other remedies, including a mandatory buyback of the affected vehicles by Volkswagen.

The recall rejection documents have been posted on the ARB VW investigation page. The rejection only applies to VW’s diesel 2.0 L vehicles, not 3.0 L vehicles. The submission of the recall plan for 3.0 L vehicles is due to the ARB on February 2, 2016.

“Volkswagen made a decision to cheat on emissions tests and then tried to cover it up,” said ARB Chair Mary D. Nichols. “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.”

The ARB, in conjunction with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will continue to evaluate VW’s technical proposals to determine if and in what way the affected vehicles can be fixed. However, while the announced action does not preclude a recall, it allows for a broader array of potential remedies, said the agency. One of the corrective actions that is part of the ongoing discussions is a buyback of the affected vehicles—an option that would be rather costly to Volkswagen.

The US EPA has also expressed their disappointment with the Volkswagen recall plan and filed a court complaint against the company that seeks injunctive relief and an assessment of civil penalties.

The ARB has not provided technical details on the rejection of the VW recall plan, citing “gaps” in the proposal and insufficient information for a technical evaluation among the reasons for the rejection. One of the major issues in the negotiations between VW and the US regulators appears to be whether a hardware recall be required, in addition to a software reflash. Most of the affected VW 2.0 L models have been equipped with NOx adsorbers, a technology of a potentially insufficient durability. Volkswagen has recently proposed a “catalytic converter” recall option for the US-market 2 liter engines, according to European press reports. The matter is to be discussed tomorrow (Wednesday) in Washington, DC, at a meeting between VW CEO Matthias Müller and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Under the VW dual calibration strategy, the NOx adsorber was not properly regenerated and desulfated during real driving. If the vehicles are reflashed with new control software and the NOx adsorber is regenerated during regular operation, its emission durability may fall short of the required 120,000 miles. NOx adsorbers are costly components, due to their high loadings of precious metals including Pt and Rh. Therefore, a NOx adsorber replacement (potentially with a unit that is larger and/or has a higher metal loading) would be a costly recall option—but it would still pale in comparison to vehicle buyback.

The ARB’s NOV details 13 specific violations of California regulations, including failure to comply with the emission standards or test procedures; invalid certification applications; the use of Defeat Devices; the importation, delivery, purchase, acquisition, or receipt of uncertified vehicles; the sale of vehicles that do not meet emission standards; and failure to comply with onboard diagnostic (OBD) system requirements.

Source: California ARB


NOx Adsorbers