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California, EPA To Widen Investigation Of Diesel Emission Cheats


Now we have a story about one of the world's biggest automakers and how it tried to pull a fast one on environmental regulators. Volkswagen has temporarily halted the sale of many of its diesel cars in the United States. This is after the Environmental Protection Agency said Volkswagen used software that deceived regulators measuring toxic exhaust. The German automaker said today that more than 11 million vehicles worldwide are involved here, and the company is setting aside $7.3 billion to deal with this scandal. The auto business is one of the industries NPR's Sonari Glinton covers, and he joins us from NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Sonari, good morning.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Good morning to you.

GREENE: So Volkswagen has basically admitted to tampering with this emissions software. Can you just first explain what that means?

GLINTON: Well, the EPA and the California regulators say Volkswagen installed this software that switches on the pollution controls during smog tests and then switches it off again, which allows the cars to drive normally and perform. But then, while they're performing, you know, normally and that switch is turned off, they could emit as much as 40 times the amount of legal pollution. And Volkswagen got away with it for about seven years, and the EPA says that when they were confronted, the company didn't come clean.

GREENE: Wow, I mean, this is just incredible. I mean, what happens now to Volkswagen now that they've admitted this?

GLINTON: What's interesting is that a whole slew of criminal investigations have begun because this is extremely important, especially in Germany. When you think German industrial complex, you think Volkswagen. So right now, Volkswagen is halting the sale of the diesel vehicles, and there's a recall of nearly 500,000 cars. The EPA in California say they're going to begin checking other automakers because there's a sense that Volkswagen might not be the only bad actor in this, and so there's going to be some extra scrutiny for the other automakers.

GREENE: Oh, so this could be a big deal not just for Volkswagen. I mean, it could spread through the industry.

GLINTON: Yeah, I mean, when you look at diesel sales, Volkswagen accounts for most of what's diesel. But other carmakers are getting in on this game, and there's going to be some scrutiny about how the emissions in these cars go.

GREENE: You know, Sonari, I just think of some of the other news that you've covered, I mean, carmakers getting into trouble recently, Toyota for that unintended acceleration. GM had those ignition switch problems. I mean, how does this all compare to those scandals?

GLINTON: Well, what's really super interesting is that within the auto industry, Volkswagen has this really stellar image, so it's an extra shock that it's Volkswagen. What's weird about this is that this is active. This is active malfeasance. This isn't like a sin of omission like, you know, the Toyota unintended acceleration or the General Motors ignition switch. You know, it's not a company making a mistake. It's a company actively doing something. And that's what I think will resonate with people who are listening. Also, it is important to point out that while this is really serious and, you know, there's a serious investigation here, this is about emissions, and it's not about safety. So the cars that people have are still able to go on the road. They're polluting, and they need to be fixed, but they're not a safety risk.

GREENE: All right, that's NPR's Sonari Glinton talking to us about news that Volkswagen has been duping environmental regulators. Sonari, thanks very much.

GLINTON: It's good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.
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