New Reporting Suggests That VW Employees Continued Developing the Company's Illegal Defeat Device Even in 2015

Mar 10, 2016, 14:15 ET from NDR Norddeutscher Rundfunk

HAMBURG, Germany, March 10, 2016 /PRNewswire/ --

The manipulation of diesel engines by Volkswagen appears to have been more extensive than previously known. Joint reporting by the investigative journalism consortium including German public broadcasters NDR and WDR together with the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung has revealed that such manipulation continued even months after the California Air Resources Board (CARB) began probing increased emissions levels in the German carmaker's automobiles.

The reporting indicates that VW developers apparently expanded the illegal defeat device around New Year's 2015 via a software update that went undetected by the US authorities. The update enabled the engine control unit to even more clearly discern whether the car was being tested for emissions or whether it was driving on the road. Developers upgraded the software with a feature that could recognize the movements of the steering wheel in order to more reliably determine if the car was driving on the road. If it was, the car would reduce its emissions control.

At the request of NDR, several software experts examined the US Passat model under investigation both before and after the update. They concluded that a new feature recognizing the position of the steering wheel had been added. "In the course of the update, the software was refined so that it could even more precisely recognize whether it was being inspected or not," said Thorsten Holz, professor for IT security at Ruhr University Bochum. As part of the deceitful measures, "it wasn't only the data that was replaced," explained Felix Domke, a Lübeck-based hacker with knowledge of Volkswagen's cheat software. "Following the update, the car no longer erroneously drives in the clean inspection mode. Instead it operates more frequently in the dirty road mode."

Early in the summer of 2014, California's clean air agency called on VW to explain excessive on-road emissions of its diesel vehicles. In response, VW offered to carry out the voluntary recall of affected vehicles in order to perform a software update that would reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide during on-road driving. At the end of December 2014, over 500,000 affected vehicles were recalled. VW has stated the company had in fact carried out software updates on 280,000 cars by spring of 2015.

In May 2015, CARB carried out subsequent testing and concluded that nitrogen oxide levels had been reduced in normal driving conditions through other measures taken within the software update. However, because the emissions were still 15 times over the limit, the agency intensified its probe and claimed it had discovered that the scale of emissions reduction changed based on steering wheel position, speed, driving duration and barometric pressure and that the vehicles were capable of detecting whether they were undergoing an inspection. It's possible that the software update allowing for the determination of steering wheel angle may have been decisive in helping CARB finally discover the illegal defeat device.

When contacted, Volkswagen declined to provide detailed comments. A VW spokesman stated only, "that the entire range of issues is currently being examined intensively. But we cannot provide extensive information on this prior to the completion of internal and external, independent investigations." Sources within Volkswagen say that development of the cheat software continued after it was first programmed in 2006. The sources also say that only a "small circle" of employees were involved and were acting without the knowledge of the management level.

Norddeutscher Rundfunk
Presse und Information
Iris Bents

SOURCE NDR Norddeutscher Rundfunk