Rob Kaczmarek, marketing director, Convergent Science: "We can certainly design processes to reduce the ability to cheat, but I wouldn’t like to say we can prevent it entirely"

Rob Kaczmarek, marketing director, Convergent Science: "We can certainly design processes to reduce the ability to cheat, but I wouldn’t like to say we can prevent it entirely"

Where is this all going to end? That must be the feeling of Volkswagen group executives every morning as they watch the TV news bulletins and study the daily papers in the wake of the Emissionsgate scandal. Each new revelation or confession prompts a fresh set of questions. How many people knew about the defeat device to cheat diesel exhaust emissions tests? Who sanctioned it? And now that VW has owned up to fitting it to European cars as well as those in America, where the storm first blew in, could other group brands which do not sell in the US – such as Seat and Skoda – also become involved?

The story erupted a week ago when VW was found to have fitted two-litre diesel models in the US with a device which can detect whether the car is undergoing an official test procedure or being driven on the road. In the laboratory it ensures the car produces the lowest possible emissions readings: on the road it switches to give better driveability and fuel economy, but with far higher emissions, especially nitrous oxide (NOx). "America’s NOx limits are currently twice as stringent as those in Europe – a maximum of 40g/km compared with 80g/km under the European Union’s NEDC test cycle.)

Tim Cheyne, the director of emissions control with the London-based market research, analysis and consultancy company Integer Research, said VW had been cheating “not through a lack of technology competence” but because it needed to meet the test requirements in the laboratory while ensuring good fuel economy and performance in real-world use.

“VW had the strongest incentive to instal the device because its cars are competing with small- to mid-size vehicles like the Toyota Prius,” he added.

With the inclusion of diesel models sold in Europe, including 1.6-litre TDi versions, VW has now acknowledged that 11m vehicles built between 2009 and this year are implicated.

“Diesel will survive, bruised but intact,” said Cheyne. “Don’t forget that in 1998 almost all truck manufacturers in the United States were found guilty of using defeat devices. But real-world driving emissions regulations are now much more likely.”

But is it possible to devise software to prevent manufacturers from cheating in future? Rob Kaczmarek, the marketing director with Convergent Science, an American company which specialises in computational fluid dynamics simulation software, believes that stronger barriers can be created. His company helps automakers to optimise fuel sprays and combustion in engines, and especially to minimise soot and NOx emissions from diesels.

“High temperatures reduce soot but increase NOx. Lower temperatures reduce NOx but increase soot. We are helping manufacturers to find the optimum temperature,” said Kaczmarek. “We are helping people to design engines to exceed the emissions regulations – gasoline, diesel, on-road, off-road, in fact any type of power generation. We are also involved in marine engines, mopeds and motorcycles, and have recently moved into aircraft. We’re a software company, and the vast majority of vehicle OEMs are our customers. We sell software to the OEMs. That software might have to be a more intrusive process in future. We can certainly design processes to reduce the ability to cheat, but I wouldn’t like to say we can prevent it entirely.”