Volkswagen scandal findings can be traced back to last year in West Virginia

Originally published at Daily News Autos on Sept. 23, 2015.

Volkswagen and the automotive industry have been consumed by the damning findings that the German automaker was installing software in their diesel cars to obscure emissions outputs when they are being tested. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed the scandal last week leading U.S. dealerships to stop selling the impacted models indefinitely.

While Volkswagen and other automakers begin to come to terms with diesel gate and the fallout, a team of engineers at West Virginia University are a year removed from their groundbreaking discovery. What the EPA and Mountaineer research team have discovered are one in the same.

“The testing we did kind of opened the can of worms, says Daniel Carder, 45, the interim director of West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions. “We actually presented this data in a public forum and were actually questioned by Volkswagen.”

Carder and his small research team undertook a $50,000 study a year ago and their findings would be early evidence in what has come to light in the past week as a practice of cheating on U.S. vehicle emissions tests by Volkswagen AG.

The studies conducted through a public university in Morgantown, 75 miles south of Pittsburgh in the Appalachian foothills, has rocked one of the largest companies in autos to the point where chief executive Martin Winterkorn has been compelled to resign. What has come to light threatens VW’s stature, integrity and finances. The company has already plunged 20% on the market and set aside $7.3 billion provision to cover the costs of the fallout which could include up to $18 billion the EPA could possibly impose for a litany of crimes.

Carder’s team consisted of a research professor, two graduate students and a faculty member and was funded by the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation in late 2012. They performed road tests around Los Angeles and up the West Coast with a VW Passat , VW Jetta, and BMW X5, all with diesel engines. The original results were so far fetched they almost doubted their own research.

“The first thing you do is beat yourself up and say, ‘Did we not do something right?’ You always blame yourself,” Carder told Reuters in an interview. “(We) saw huge discrepancies. There was one vehicle with 15 to 35 times the emissions levels and another vehicle with 10 to 20 times the emissions levels.”

Since the EPA corroborated the study that was completed in May 2013 it has been confirmed that what the studies were illuminating was foul play on the part of Volkswagen. Carder is surprised to so much coverage now, because his team’s findings were made public nearly 18 months ago.

For Carder, his work being so widespread and shaking a major corporation to its foundation is just another day of work. He previously was a part of a 15-person team at WVU that pioneered portable emissions testing in conjunction with a 1998 settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and several heavy duty diesel engine makers.

“Obviously, we don’t want to see something spewing emissions and polluting the environment. But we really have no horse in the race, as they say.”

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