If the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal isn’t a live-action Alice in Wonderland, we don’t know what is. Every new development makes the situation curiouser and curiouser. Now, German business newspaper Handelsblatthas published a lengthy article alleging that Audi invented the defeat device software in 1999. Based on “company and industry sources,” the tale goes that Audi developed a tweak to the engine control system in its diesel engines that made the engines run more quietly. They referred to the tweak as “acoustic mode” and “acoustic function,” but it had a problem: it increased nitrogen oxide emissions. So engineers in Ingolstadt worked up a software program to shut down the low-sound mode during emissions testing. Audi supposedly never used it, preferring to scrap the acoustic mode altogether.
In 2005 VW began work on the EA189 2.0-liter diesel. According to the Handelsblatt piece, a number of Audi engineers transferred to VW to lead development and work on the EA189. At some point after that, when VW engineers couldn’t get the 2.0-liter to meet stringent US nitrogen oxide emissions limits, somebody or somebodies resurrected the six-year-old Audi software idea. VW combined that with testing software from its component supplier Bosch – which Bosch warned VW not to use on cars for sale – to get the defeat device to work.
The connection emerged as part of VW’s internal investigation being led by US law firm Jones Day. As the 450 internal and external investigators combined through more than 1,500 computers and 102 terabytes of information, they came across VW engineers making references to “acoustic mode” and “acoustic function,” Audi’s original terms for the cheat code developed in 1999. The investigators want to learn more, but ancient and incomplete computer systems are making it difficult.
Right now it is believed that Audi never used the defeat device. However, the code words came up in communication about the 2.5-liter V6 TDI that Audi used in 2004, before VW began work on the EA189. When given that information last year, the state prosecutor in Branschweig, Germany asked the country’s Federal Motor Transport Authority to check out the V6 diesel. The FMTA asked Audi to look into it, Audi said it didn’t find anything. That gets Audi personnel out of the firing line. For now.
VW, though, has a lot of bullets to swallow or dodge. This week it needs to explain once and for all to a US judge how it’s going to fix the 580,000 cars here, but it can’t do that until it gets a sign-off from the US government. It might have pulled that off. A shareholder’s meeting this week needs to tackle the scandal’s costs, workforce bonuses, and the as-yet-unreleased 2015 earnings report. There are suggestions that the Jones Day findings will apportion blame, but Bloomberg wrote that it has been “difficult to find evidence concrete enough to hold individual employees accountable.” All VW will officially say is that it is “in consultations regarding the clarification of the diesel issues,” and will comment sometime this month.
Once we get all of the current questions answered, we want to know who invented the defeat device the EPA busted VW using in 1973.