This week brought confusion for General Motors and its German subsidiary Opel.
US-based General Motors told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it had misstated the fuel economy on some 130,000 Chevy Traverses, GMC Acadias, and Buick Enclaves from 2016, overestimating the cars’ mileage by 1-2 miles per gallon. GM has said it will compensate customers for the miles per gallon they thought they were getting, possibly with gift cards. The automaker also halted the sales of another 60,000 affected vehicles.
GM said that the misstated mileage came from incorrect calculations made by the company when it was updating numbers for their 2016 models. The company said that new “emissions-related” hardware had changed the cars’ miles per gallon, and GM failed to take that change into account. GM noted that its engineers discovered the error as they were working on the 2017 models.
The automaker assured customers that the discrepancy was isolated to 2016 models.
In Germany, GM’s Opel has been denying allegations of illegal emissions-system-killing software in its diesel Zafira compact vans and its Insignia sedans, according to Bloomberg. The allegations come from three organizations—Spiegel magazine, a German television program called Monitor, and a German environmental lobbying group. The three groups carried out a joint investigation that found that the Opel cars in question turned off the emissions control system when the car hit certain conditions—like in high-altitude and when the driver pushed the car over 87 mph.
This trick is not terribly new—since at least 1973 the US EPA has been reprimanding automakers for building cars that circumvent the emissions control system during conditions when the engine would have to work extra hard, like in thin air or when the weather is very cold. In the early ’70s, the EPA reprimanded GM, Ford, Chrysler, American Motors, Nissan, and Toyota for building cars with devices that would “defeat the effectiveness of emission control systems under conditions not experienced during EPA’s certification testing.”
However, Opel doesn’t currently sell cars in the US, and according to the Wall Street Journal, “Under European law, auto makers are allowed to use so-called defeat devices to suppress emissions control under certain conditions to protect the engine, such as in colder temperatures to limit soot emissions to protect the particulate filter in the catalytic converter.”
Opel has denied that any of its software is illegal. The company’s CEO, Dr. Karl-Thomas Neumann, wrote earlier this week that the recent accusations against his company “are misleading oversimplifications and misinterpretations of the complicated interrelationships of a modern emissions control system of a diesel engine. Emissions control devices are highly sophisticated integrated systems, which cannot be broken down into isolated parameters.”
“We have to repeat that we do not believe that these results are objective or scientifically founded,” Neumann continued.
The next day, Neumann admitted to a German investigating committee that those models do in fact switch off the exhaust treatment systems under certain “speed and air pressure conditions,” but Neumann contended that the design is legal under German law, according to Reuters.
Recently, the German government tested 53 car models for software similar to what was found in Volkswagen’s now-infamous diesels. The investigation concluded that only Volkswagen had included a program to circumvent lab testing and bypass the emissions control system under normal driving conditions. The software on Opel’s cars doesn’t bypass any required testing.
The German investigating committee gave Opel 14 days to provide more detailed technical information on the emissions control system’s parameters in the cars in question.