VW Diesel Emission Scandal: Five Possible Long-Range Effects

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Thus far, it's a been a quiet start to the third week of the Volkswagen diesel-emission cheating scandal.

Eight years' worth of VW TDI models, both new and used, have been taken off sale at the company's North American dealerships.

We surmise its engineers are working around the clock at their Wolfsburg headquarters to develop modifications to those cars that will let them comply with EPA limits in real-world use.

ALSO SEE: VW Diesel Emissions Recall: What You Need To Know In 10 Questions

But it's not too soon to sit back and consider what could be the longer-term effects of this scandal, which has rocked the auto industry like nothing else in recent years.

Clearly there will be fallout for Volkswagen, but how will the scandal change the industry itself, the cars it builds, and the laws under which they're approved and sold?

Below are five potential effects that will ripple through the makers, the industry, and the cars you can buy in future years.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, 2014 New York Auto Show

2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, 2014 New York Auto Show

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(1) Regulators will toughen testing, revealing real-world emissions (and fuel economy)

This is already happening, and it's not solely due to the diesel-emission problem.

In light of restated fuel-efficiency ratings by Ford, Hyundai, and Kia, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had already announced rule changes for its test procedures.

Gina McCarthy, nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator

Gina McCarthy, nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator

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It had also strongly encouraged carmakers to confirm the lab results with real-word, on-road testing as well.

Emissions tests lead to fuel-economy ratings, and VW's apparent cheating underscores how little relation there is between the outdated and artificial lab tests done on dynamometers ("rolling roads") and what a car consumes and emits in real-world use.

The EPA has already announced it will test every one of the 39 diesel passenger cars on sale in the U.S. in real-world use. It will undoubtedly extend such tests to gasoline vehicles in the future.

Similarly, the EU--which had also been working on revisions to its emission rating tests--will likely focus far more on a vehicle's in-use emissions than its results on lab tests.

DON'T MISS: European Makers: NOx Limits Must Rise For Real-World Emissions Tests

European carmakers have already taken the position that if real-world use is to be tested, the EU must raise its limits on permissible emissions of the various nitrous oxides by a whopping 70 percent from the current levels.

It's too early to tell where it will all shake out.

But it's clear that regulators will become far more aggressive in looking at what vehicles do in real use--and manufacturers will have to comply with emission and fuel-efficiency regulations under those much tougher conditions.

diesel and AdBlue fillers in Audi Q7 TDI

diesel and AdBlue fillers in Audi Q7 TDI

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(2) Volkswagen's U.S. ambitions will falter--for years

The U.S. market has consistently bedeviled the only remaining European mass maker to sell in North America, and the brand's glory days are now four decades in the past.

To put it in context, Subaru outsells the Volkswagen brand in the U.S.--and much of VW Group's North American growth overall has come from surging sales of an expanding range of Audi luxury vehicles.

VW largely sells sedans and hatchbacks in a market that's moved wholesale to SUVs and crossovers, and its hybrid and electric efforts have been both late and half-hearted.

MORE: Why Did Volkswagen Cheat On Diesel Emissions In Its TDI Cars?

Instead, it relied on the now-discredited tactic of promoting its so-called "clean diesel" TDI technology as a cleaner, greener way to get both power and efficiency.

The company had to cheat to make it work, though, as we now apparently know.

Public awareness of the scandal, announced on Friday, September 18, didn't really grow until the last week and a half of last month, and its sales last month weren't notably affected.


 
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