Volkswagen to recall 323,000 cars in India

These vehicles suspected to be affected by emissions fraud that the firm is battling globally

Amrit Raj
Updated2 Dec 2015
VW has already admitted that 11 million diesel engine cars worldwide were fitted with the software that helped in manipulating emission tests. Photo: AFP<br />
VW has already admitted that 11 million diesel engine cars worldwide were fitted with the software that helped in manipulating emission tests. Photo: AFP

New Delhi: The government has instructed German auto firm Volkswagen AG to recall 323,000 vehicles, making it the largest such recall in the country.

These vehicles are suspected to be affected by the emissions fraud that the company is battling globally, two people familiar with the development said on condition of anonymity.

The decision was taken after the government held a meeting with various stakeholders, including the firm and the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), the apex testing agency. By forcing Volkswagen to issue a recall, India becomes the third country after the US and South Korea to do so, relying upon its own tests to address the diesel emissions scandal.

The move comes after the government vowed to cut pollution. At the Paris climate change summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a “comprehensive, equitable and durable agreement” at the global level.

“Approximately 323,700 cars of Volkswagen, Skoda and Audi in India are equipped with EA 189 diesel engines,” Volkswagen said in a statement. Cars powered by these engines have the so-called defeat device, or software that can detect when a car is being tested and manipulate performance to improve results.

The defeat device allows cars to pass emission control tests by showing much lower levels of pollution than when they are in ordinary use. In the US, it was found that emission levels of Volkswagen diesel cars were 40 times above permissible levels.

Owners will be informed after required solutions are approved by the competent authorities, the firm said. “Technical measures will be implemented at no cost to the customers,” it said in the statement. “All vehicles in the customers’ hands are technically safe and roadworthy.”

As per the records of Volkswagen Group India, from 2008 to November-end, approximately 198,500 cars from Volkswagen, 88,700 cars from Škoda and 36,500 cars from Audi sold in India were equipped with the EA 189 engine series, which include 1.2-litre, 1.5-litre, 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre diesel engine variants.

“Volkswagen Group India will first present the technical released solution to the Ministry of Heavy Industries and ARAI. Once approved by the competent authorities, the respective brands of the Volkswagen Group in India will carry out necessary actions in a step-wise manner. The existing installed software does not affect the handling, technical safety or roadworthiness of the cars,” it said. Over 300,000 Volkswagen cars were under scrutiny in India, Mint first reported on 5 November.

However, Volkswagen did not agree to ARAI’s findings that said its vehicles are emitting above the permissible levels and that over 300,000 could be fitted with the controversial defeat device.

“We have forced them to recall on the basis of ARAI findings,” said one of the people present at the meeting cited earlier.

On Tuesday, discussions around defeat devices remained inconclusive, the second person present at the meeting said.

“There is no timeline for the recall as Volkswagen will have to import new software, which could reflect correct emission data,” the first person said.

“Volkswagen will replace the software and some potential hardware as well,” the second person said. “Those will have to be imported and hence may take a fair amount of time.”

However, it remained unclear if the government will let Volkswagen sell its products in India.

“If recalls are happening, should the current vehicles continue to be sold? Have they confirmed if those devices have been removed in the vehicles that are being sold?” a passenger vehicle industry executive asked, reacting to the news. He declined to be named.

Ambuj Sharma, additional secretary, department of heavy industries, said Volkswagen has been asked to rectify all affected models in eight months, starting December-end, adding that the ministry of road transport and highways will carry out tests to check whether Volkswagen cars sold in India were fitted with the defeat device. “(The ministry) will also take a call on whether cars being sold until the recall starts will be a part of the overall recall exercise,” Sharma said.

Volkswagen cars sold in the US were built to meet Euro VI norms, which are also followed in the nations that have come forward to initiate a probe against the firm. In India, passenger vehicles comply with Euro IV norms, though suitable fuel is only available in the top 50 cities. The rest of the country gets Euro III fuel.

In September, Volkswagen admitted to irregularities concerning a particular software used in diesel engines in “some 11 million vehicles worldwide”.

New Volkswagen chief executive Matthias Müller said it will start a global recall of affected vehicles in January, and the process will be completed by the end of 2016. Since July 2012, when the Indian auto industry adopted a voluntary recall code, as many as 1.3 million cars and motorcycles have been recalled.

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