US is taking the lead again—this time in pursuit of VW

Financial Times, 21 January 2016:

 In your perceptive article on the VW scandal you state that diesel cars produce less CO2 than petrol models (Noxious omissions Jan 18) Of course this is only true if other pollution control devices are removed, which is the reason that VW created their defeat devices in the first place. So the technology used to minimise emissions of NOx is switched on during test cycles in the laboratory, but turned off under real driving conditions. This results in better mileage (and therefore less CO2), but the downside is higher levels of NOx in the urban environment.

The consequences are not trivial. Air pollution in the UK causes 1000  deaths every week, of which 45 % is attributable to NOx. Although VW has not yet come clean as to the strategic operation of its defeat devices within Europe, the concern is that its  illegal technology has resulted in extra premature  deaths amongst the UK population

When questioned on this issue by the House of Commons Environment Audit Committee in October 2015 , Ministers from the Department for  Environment, Food  and Rural Affairs and Department for Transport  could not say whether legal action against VW was being considered by any regulatory agency, nor which agency was primarily responsible. Several were mentioned including  the Serious Fraud Office, the Environment Agency and the Vehicle Type Approval Authority (VCA). Rory Stewart MP from DEFRA, stated these were matters for the individual agencies. Robert Goodwill MP from DfT stated that his agency had  insufficient equipment to carry out the necessary tests and that  his department was certainly  not in a position currently  to pursue such a case.

The contrast with the US  is striking. In America the Department of Justice is pursuing VW without fear or favour under the terms of the Clean Air Act and VW may incur fines of $30,000 per vehicle. In Europe there appears to be no appetite for a legal confrontation, whilst the UK doesn’t even think it can gather the necessary evidence. If one considers other areas of public life, such as  banking, Libor rigging and FIFA, it always seems to be the US that takes the lead, whilst Europe emerges as a cosy club for big business.

One wonders how long European consumers will tolerate this profound lack of corporate accountability. 

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges,Buckinghamshire