Happy new year, VW: Uncle Sam sues over engine cheatware

Automaker menaced by threat of billion-dollar fines

VW's year just got a lot worse already. Not only has the US government filed a lawsuit over its emissions-cheating software: it's also emerged that different software was written for 2.0 and 3.0 liter engines.

The Department of Justice's complaint is that the engine management software put VW in breach of the Clean Air Act. The lawsuit also names subsidiaries Porsche and Audi.

Reuters reports that Uncle Sam will seek fines as high as US$37,500 per vehicle, per violation of the law. For the 580,000 cars cited in the action, this may equate to anywhere between US$21.75 billion and US$87 billion. The real figure is likely to be a lot less than that, though, assuming VW doesn't clear its name.

The lawsuit covers four complaints made on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including tampering with the vehicles' emissions control systems and failing to report violations of the Clean Air Act.

As well as the 2.0 liter engines that are at the center of the scandal, the US lawsuit says the 3.0 liter diesels in the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne were telling porkies about their emissions.

The complaint reveals that EPA testing discovered two different hacks used in the 2.0 liter and 3.0 liter engines.

In the 2.0 liter engines, as we already know, the software was written to detect when the car was running on a dynamometer, and calibrated the engine to comply with air pollution emission limits. Outside the lab, the engine would ramp up its output of greenhouse gas beyond those restrictions.

“This dual-calibration system results in increased NOx emissions by a factor of up to 40 times above the EPA-compliant levels, depending on the type of vehicle and drive cycle," the complaint states.

The 3.0 liter engines also sensed dynamometer testing, but had a different response. Under test, the software put the engines into a "temperature conditioning" mode to achieve compliance, while in normal operation the NOx emissions were nine times higher than the federal standard.

The Register has of course previously reported on this, and notes that the existence of two different emissions-cheating hacks makes it hard for VW management to peddle the line that it was the unauthorized work of rogue engineers.

The DoJ's media release is here [PDF]. ®

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