31st May 2023

'VW upper management must have known about dieselgate'

  • Daniel Lange told MEPs that VW engineers may have had little incentive to report the cheating. (Photo: Volkswagen)

It is unlikely that a handful of Volkswagen engineers was able to hide emissions cheating from their superiors for years, a technical witness told members of the European Parliament's inquiry committee into the dieselgate scandal.

After Volkswagen Group (VW) admitted in September 2015 that it had cheated on emissions tests, several of its top managers said that the decision to cheat had been taken by a small group of rogue engineers. Last month, VW said that an external review found its senior managers were not to blame.

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But VW officials higher up the food chain must have known about it, said Daniel Lange, a German IT expert.

In his written contribution sent to parliament before the hearing, Lange said that typically "multiple hundred people are involved in engine development".

“The process is documented at minuscule details e.g. every change needs a change request document and various levels of approval, every software release is accompanied by change documentation and test results from automatic and/or manual test runs,” he said in a written statement.

“It is always possible to identify who requested a change, who authorised it, who implemented it and who tested/signed it off.”

At a hearing of the EP's inquiry committee on Thursday (16 June), Lange told MEPs that engineers may have had little incentive to report the cheating.

“There is no protection for whistleblowers,” he said, referring to the case of Edward Snowden, the US intelligence leaker who fled to Russia.

After VW had admitted that it had equipped millions of cars with cheating software, so-called defeat devices, Lange and hacker Felix Domke reverse-engineered one of the car's software and found the defeat device.

“You have to be lucky to find a defeat device,” he noted, adding that you need to know where to look.

When checking a car's software without any clues, it may take three to six months to find the defeat device, he said.

Instead, authorities should check for discrepancies between test laboratory results and on-road emissions. Then if something strange is going on, you know you should look for a defeat device.

German report was 'a joke'

Daniel Lange also flogged a report published in April by the German transport ministry. The Germans had found major discrepancies between emissions while driving on the road, and the official test results, but accepted the car companies' explanations.

Some car companies said the emissions control system had to be switched off or turned down when outside temperature was under 17C.

"It's a joke. It's a complete joke," Lange said about the German report. "I have laughed out loud while reading."

VW will not publish emissions cheat report

Volkswagen said it would keep its preliminary report into the emissions scandal secret because publishing it would “present an unacceptable risk” to the firm.


Porsche told EU not to publish diesel emission result

The EU Commission has kept results of an emissions test of a Porsche diesel vehicle secret for months, at the request of the German car company - which was fined €535m for its role in the Dieselgate scandal.

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