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A file photo of Volkswagen’s Chakan plant. Arai is expected to submit its report to the authorities in a week. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
A file photo of Volkswagen’s Chakan plant. Arai is expected to submit its report to the authorities in a week. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

India to probe Volkswagen cars over emission revelations

Govt has written to Arai to evaluate Volkswagen cars and check if the car maker uses the 'defeat device' to fudge data

New Delhi: India on Thursday ordered a probe into whether Volkswagen (VW) has flouted emission norms in the country after the car maker admitted to cheating on emissions tests in the US, said two top government officials familiar with the matter.

The government has written to apex vehicle-testing agency Automotive Research Association of India (Arai) in Pune to evaluate Volkswagen cars.

“We have written, requested Arai to look into the applicability of the matter," said a government official. “We want to know that what happened in the US could happen in India or not. Arai will also seek a clarification from Volkswagen India on the matter."

Volkswagen India declined to comment in the matter.

The move comes after Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen AG’s embattled chief executive officer, stepped down on Wednesday in the wake of the emission scandal engulfing the German auto maker, which has been accused of systematically manipulating data of exhaust emissions tests in millions of diesel cars sold worldwide.

The auto major had admitted to the irregularities concerning a particular software used in diesel engines in “some 11 million vehicles worldwide".

The German government has launched an investigation into the allegations.

According to a second government official, Arai will determine if Volkswagen models recalled in the US and Europe are also sold in India. Secondly, it wants the testing agency to check if VW uses the same “defeat device", the software which was manipulated by VW in the US to fudge emissions data in India.

Both the officials requested anonymity.

This device allowed cars to pass emission control tests by showing much lower levels of pollution than in ordinary use.

It hid the fact that the emission levels of diesel cars were 40 times higher than the level of pollutants allowed in the US.

“In case VW uses the same software here in India, government wants Arai to ascertain whether their cars are meeting emission norms here," said this person.

Arai is expected to submit its report in a week.

Probability of VW being guilty in India is minimal, this person said. “Unlike the US (which has Euro VI emission norms), we are still at Euro III and Euro IV norms," this person added.

India also does not have a system to check such issues.

The transport ministry can ask the independent agencies, such as Arai, to carry out checks like it did on Thursday, but that is not mandatory.

In the US, vehicle manufacturers follow a self-certification process where no third-party approval is required in terms of homologation or independent checks. The vehicles are tested in-house by the manufacturer, and they come to the market with the declaration that they meet all the norms.

In such a situation, the manufacturer is far more responsible than third-party certifiers.

Also, Indian federal laws are designed in a way where vehicle safety is a state subject, while centre is only responsible for the technologies that go into a vehicle. The centre does not have authority to penalize any company; they will have to direct state governments to act upon the matter.

“Currently, Indian laws are not very clear on the issue," said Abdul Majeed, partner and auto practice leader at consulting firn PricewaterhouseCoopers. “In my opinion, the government must be looking at it (VW) in a precautionary manner. It is a routine check-up before we jump on to any conclusion," he added.

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