BMW has no Dieselgate, while VW skimped on emissions control

Earlier we saw a report from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) who showed the Dieselgate misbehavior affects not just Volkswagen/Audi 2.0 liter TDI Diesels, but cars from other manufacturers, even ones running on gasoline.  That report has gained enough attention that BMW had to respond, since one of its vehicles was specifically named.  Despite data published by TheICCT to the contrary, BMW claims their vehicles do not exhibit the Dieselgate behavior.  We also learned today that VW was essentially skimping on parts cost in an ambitious plan to become the largest automaker in the world.

TheICCT is the organization which, along with West Virginia University, revealed scandalous actions at Volkswagen.  Since the 2009 model year, Volkswagen has shipped 2.0 liter TDI Diesel equipped cars which should never have been allowed on the road, because these cars completely flouted emissions control laws.  In September 2015 Volkswagen staff admitted to the EPA a deception wherein their cars were rigged to detect the car was undergoing an emissions test, and to change engine behavior in order to pass the test with flying colors.  In other cases, like normal driving, the car’s engine would produce way more air pollution (NOx to be precise) than was allowed.

The same pattern of behavior was found by TheICCT upon studying a large number of European cars.

BMW Response

BMW’s response came after the German magazine, AutoBild, published a report based on data from TheICCT that the BMW X3 xDrive and some other vehicles failed in the same way.   BMW has to have contacted AutoBild to clarify matters, because BMW says the AutoBild report now says  “No evidence of emission manipulation by BMW (…) The values mentioned in the document were only generated in a single, one hour-long road test. Auto BILD has no access to the details of this test trail, which might explain the discrepancies to the test cycle NEDC.”

It is BMW’s position (see statement below) that their cars are not affected by this problem, they do not detect an emissions test being performed, do not distinguish between on-road operation or laboratory operation, that “the BMW Group does not manipulate or rig any emissions tests” and instead BMW “observe’s the legal requirements in each country and fulfill all local testing requirements.”

Diesel engines absolutely required to meet upcoming emissions standards

The company is also doubling down on Diesel technology saying that tough new emissions requirements can only be met with “extensive use of modern diesel engines and further electrification.”  What progress is occurring in Europe’s air pollution emissions is “largely due to the use of diesel technology” and the automakers must stick with Diesel engines because “a diesel engine emits roughly 15 to 20 per cent less CO2 on average than a comparable petrol engine.”

Robert Llewellyn touched on that issue in his rant published recently via the Fully Charged YouTube channel.  European automobile regulators decided some time ago that CO2 output is less with a Diesel than with gasoline engines.  That may be, but this kerfuffle has nothing to do with CO2 and everything to do with NOx.  When NOx gets into the atmosphere it goes through chemical changes and causes a number of bad effects, but since it’s not one of the Greenhouse Gas’s the NOx problem isn’t receiving the same attention as CO2.

Hence, while BMW’s response may be accurate, that CO2 emissions are less, that’s not the whole picture.  On the other hand, VW chose a different emissions control mechanism than all the other automakers who are using Diesel engines.  It’s possible that VW made a really bad choice, where the other automakers did not and their Diesel engines are okay.

The missing urea-powered emissions control system

To ponder this, let’s turn to another AutoBild article that goes over 30+ Dieselgate questions.

Among the answers is this quote from a letter sent to VW’s employees by council chairman Bernd Osterloh (translation by auto-translate feature in Chrome):  “We need for the future, a climate in which problems are not hidden, but are openly communicated to supervisors.  We need a culture in which one can argue with his superiors about the best way.”

That’s interesting, as are some of the other questions and answers.  For example, is the U.S. performing economic war against Germany?  No, the article explains, because the EPA also lodged similar complaints against American car companies, enacting large penalties.

Towards the bottom is a pair of questions concerning the “SCR Catalyst” (SCR means Selective Catalytic Reduction).  This system involves a “urea” tank (a chemical derived from urine), and the urea is squirted into the exhaust stream.  Doing so, along with a specific catalyst, neutralizes lots of the harmful pollutants that would otherwise get into the atmosphere, including the NOx.

VW’s TDI Diesels don’t use a urea tank, and VW had claimed that something magical was done thanks to the turbocharger or something such that VW still got great emissions despite the lack of urea.  We now know that was bogus, but that’s what VW claimed at the time.  AutoBild argues that VW chose to not adopt this technology to save on costs because the system would cost over 1500 euros.

VW’s ambitions to be #1 and the expensive urea-injection system

An NY Times article goes further, to note that in 2007 VW abandoned pollution control equipment designed by Mercedes-Benz and Bosch instead preferring their own technology.  According to the Times, this occurred in a context where Volkswagen was looking to aggressively grow its business and blow past Toyota to become the largest automaker in the world.

To gain traction in the U.S. meant aggressive emissions improvements because the U.S. Government is tightening its requirements (as are lots of other governments).  Capturing marketshare meant keeping the price low, which in turn meant having to skimp on emissions control equipment.

A critical step coincided with the departure of Wolfgang Bernhard, in 2007.  He had worked for Daimler prior to heading the Volkswagen brand, and had previously announced a deal where VW would use the BlueTec technology from Mercedes-Benz and Bosch.  BlueTec refers to the urea injection system just discussed.  It was following Bernhard’s departure that VW chose to ditch that technology, and to go with their own emissions control technology which we now know was a sham.

The Times said about BlueTec: “While it is an effective system, it can be costly and requires drivers to periodically top up a tank of urea.”


Retrieved from:

BMW Group statement concerning the current discussion of diesel engines

  • 24.09.2015
Munich. The BMW Group does not manipulate or rig any emissions tests. We observe the legal requirements in each country and fulfill all local testing requirements.

In other words, our exhaust treatment systems are active whether rolling on the test bench or driving on the road.

Clear, binding specifications and processes are in place through all phases of development at the BMW Group in order to avoid wrongdoing.

Two studies carried out by the ICCT have confirmed that the BMW X5 and 13 other BMW vehicles tested comply with the legal requirements concerning NOx emissions. No discrepancies were found in the X5 between laboratory-test and field-test NOx emissions.

Auto Bild has published a clarification of their article released on 24 September concerning the emissions of a BMW X3: “No evidence of emission manipulation by BMW (…) The values mentioned in the document were only generated in a single, one hour-long road test. Auto BILD has no access to the details of this test trail, which might explain the discrepancies to the test cycle NEDC.”

We are willing to discuss our testing procedures with the relevant authorities and to make our vehicles available for testing at any time.

The importance of diesel engines in achieving CO2 targets

Policymakers worldwide, and in particular in the European Union, are setting tough standards for CO2 and other emissions. The 2020 targets in Europe can only be fulfilled through extensive use of modern diesel engines and further electrification.

The progress achieved so far in CO2 reduction in Europe is largely due to the use of diesel technology. Meeting future requirements will not be feasible without diesel drive trains, since a diesel engine emits roughly 15 to 20 per cent less CO2 on average than a comparable petrol engine.

At the BMW Group, we have invested a great deal in recent years in refining and optimising diesel technology as part of our EfficientDynamics program.

At BMW, diesel vehicles accounted for 38% of vehicles sold worldwide last year: Europe 80%; Germany 73%; US 6%. This represents approx. 20,000 vehicles in the US in 2014.

The Euro 6 emissions standard, which took effect on 1 September 2015 and is binding for all new vehicle registrations, improves both environmental and consumer protection.

To bridge the gap between test results and real-life fuel consumption and emissions, the European Union is working on a new test cycle (WLTP) and an emissions test for real driving situations, known as “real driving emissions” or RDE. We support the swift introduction of the new regulations to create clarity for consumers and the industry as quickly as possible.


About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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