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The Managing Director of Volkswagen UK claimed in parliament today that the scandal which saw it rig – or as he put it “mishandle” –  the emissions test results for millions of diesel cars has not resulted in any extra emissions of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) compared to what people may have expected.

In an astonishing admission Volkswagen’s Paul Willis claimed that he – and everyone else – always knew his vehicles emitted far more pollutants than test results showed, so how his company rigged them is essentially irrelevant to public health.

The utterly bizarre assertion came in response to repeated questioning by MPs – including Caroline Lucas – focusing on how much more NOx VW’s cars have emitted compared to what was claimed in test results.

This matters because NOx and its derived substances, such as ozone, can trigger asthma, reduce lung function and cause lung diseases including bronchitis, according to the World Health Organisation. It is also associated with increased incidence of heart disease and premature deaths.

A preliminary analysis by Energydesk suggested that the extra emissions not previously known about could have caused hundreds of additional deaths worldwide.

In response VW UK Managing Director, Paul Willis, accepted that the UK car industry did have a responsibility to reduce the approximately 50,000 deaths each year from air pollution and revealed that he and his family had asthma. 

However he then flatly denied that any extra NOx had been emitted or that the company bore any responsibility at all for increased air pollution specifically as a result of the testing scam – because consumers must have known the tests were nonsense from the start.

In a contorted twist of logic Mr Willis argued that despite the firm deliberately misleading regulators on both sides of the Atlantic about the amount of NOx its cars emitted, and despite the fact it published these results to consumers, nobody could credibly believe the results of lab tests reflected real world driving conditions anyway, so VW cars had not – in fact – polluted cities any more than was claimed.

Like a desperate double-glazing salesman the embattled executive essentially claimed that your house isn’t any colder after installing his windows than he said it would be, even though it is.

When, shivering, you ask why, he explains that the test he used to prove to you that your house would be significantly warmer is merely a ‘lab’ test which nobody believes, so the fact he rigged it a little really doesn’t matter. Your house would have been cold anyway so really, it’s your fault your children have a cold. 

In fact he went on to move the blame for the scandal towards the very regulators (and governments) the company’s engineers have gone to great lengths to mislead – claiming that their testing regime did little to help the industry.

It came as he and a representative of the motor industry association (part-funded by VW) argued that lab-testing was flawed and unhelpful. The volte-face comes after the motor industry has previously lobbied against changes to the testing regime designed to make results more closely reflect real world emissions.

It’s hard to say where this legally inspired line of argument will ultimately lead, but consumers beware. When VW tells you that official tests suggest its cars can brake within a certain distance or meet a certain number of miles per gallon, they may actually be relying on you to know that the data is complete nonsense.

What he said in quotes

  • QAre you concerned about potential lawsuits relating to public health” “What we’re talking about here is mishandling a laboratory test we’re not talking about mishandling real world emissions, those are two completely different things, there is no suggestion that there is any change in the Nox in the real world” Q “so you’re not concerned” A “I am very, deeply concerned about public health, just to put things into perspective, i’m asthmatic, my son’s asthmatic and i lived in china for three years… you know what i learned in China more than anything else, actually in the 21st century none of us can take for granted the air that we breath”.
  • Q “Whats the difference in the level of NOx emissions between a vehicle with a defeat result and one without”, A “I don’t know that’s part of what we’re trying to find out”.
  • Q”how much more NOx has been emitted by your cars than would have been the case had the claims not been dishonest…” A: “None, none” Q “how can that be the case” A “What we’ve been discussing here today is a laboratory test. There has been no suggestion that there has been any influence on real world driving. So. As a result of what we’re discussing here today there is no indication that there has been any more NOx put into the atmosphere. No suggestion.” Q “But there must have been if your tests were underplaying the amount of Nox. there must be a discrepancy between what the laboratory figures said and what the actual figures are” A “There, there are two separate issues the type approval regime has a limit and the limit under EU 6 is 80mg per KM so the car goes into the lab and all cars go in the lab and they have to be below a certain level. That’s what we’re talking about today, we’re talking about the testing regime. We’re not talking about real world driving, everybody knows, it’s in the public domain that there is a delta between the test regime and real world driving so therefore it is entirely logical that there is no difference in the Nox on real world driving because the test and real world driving are completely separate.”

See also:

Q&A: WTF the VW scandal

Government agency receives more than £80m from VW