A Volkswagen engineer has pleaded guilty for his role in developing and implementing a software system that allowed the German automaker’s diesel-powered vehicles to cheat U.S. emissions tests for nearly a decade.
James Robert Liang, 62, of Newburg Park, Calif., pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, to commit wire fraud, and to violate the Clean Air Act for his role in the emissions cheat. If convicted, Mr. Liang faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Mr. Liang worked in VW’s diesel development department in Wolfsburg, Germany, from 1983 through mid-2008. According to federal prosecutors, Mr. Liang admitted that beginning in about 2006, he and his co-conspirators started to design a new “EA 189” diesel engine for sale in the United States.
According to Mr. Liang’s admissions, when he and his co-conspirators realized that they could not design a diesel engine that would meet stricter U.S. emissions standards, they designed and implemented a “defeat device” – essentially, software that enabled the vehicles to recognize whether they were undergoing U.S. emissions testing on a dynamometer or being driven on the road under normal driving conditions.
The defeat device designed by Mr. Liang allowed hundreds of thousands of VW vehicles in the U.S. to drive without any emissions control. But when the same vehicles were tested for emissions, the defeat device would recognize the patterns of the testing and turn emissions controls on, giving the illusion the vehicles contained “clean diesel” engines, which is how VW marketed and sold them.
In May 2008, Liang moved to the U.S. to assist in the launch of VW’s new “clean diesel” vehicles. While working at VW’s testing facility in Oxnard, Calif., he held the title of “Leader of Diesel Competence.”
Once the emissions cheat device was successfully implemented in VW vehicles on the market, Mr. Liang and his co-conspirators continued to misrepresent the vehicle’s compliance with U.S. emissions standards in meetings with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB), federal prosecutors claim.
These misrepresentations continued through the certification processes for each new model year for vehicles made from 2009 through 2015. As a result, hundreds of thousands of vehicles marketed and sold as environmentally friendly were actually the worst polluters in the automotive world, spewing up to 40 times the legally allowed amount of nitrogen oxide.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice