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Is Opel's "Dieselgate" a European Payback for Volkswagen?

First of all, let me just say that I usually agree with the so-called “Betteridge's law of headlines,” which states that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” That said, I sincerely hope that this editorial's headline follows the same adage.
Second of all, if you have any tin foil nearby and some minimal origami skills, feel free to build me a sea captain's hat from it, I won't mind.

Last week, for the zillionth time since the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal began, a number of journalists accused Opel of rigging some, if not all of its diesel models with emission defeat devices that make “the exhaust treatment in said cars to be severely limited” in certain conditions. This apparently “allowed the emissions of more poisonous NOx than permissible by law.”

The news came after other European carmakers had been continuously put under scrutiny by official and unofficial organizations regarding their diesel engines. In fact, the Opel “Dieselgate” story isn't something new either, since back in January 2016 they were again accused by a journalist of modifying diesel Zafiras to meet emissions.

This time, the accusations are a bit more serious, since Germany's transport minister has apparently summoned Opel to make an appearance in front of an investigative committee. The report came from German magazine Der Spiegel, among others, which claimed that the Opel Astra features an engine software for its diesel engines that switches off the exhaust treatment system when the outside temperature falls bellow a certain threshold or during hard acceleration.

Environmental and consumer protection association Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) claimed that the German certification and testing organization TÜV Nord found at least three cases where Opel diesel cars switch off their exhaust treatment systems.

According to the report, the vehicles pollute many times more than official numbers when the engine runs at higher revolutions than 2,400 rpm, when they go faster than 145 km/h (91 mph) or when the barometric pressure is less than 915 millibar, indicating that the car is traveling at an elevation higher than 850 meters (2,799 feet) from sea level. Now those are some pretty specific numbers if you ask me.

Keep in mind that other European carmakers, including Mercedes-Benz and BMW, were accused of similar shenanigans with their diesel engines, but they replied in pretty clear terms that none of their vehicles featured an emission defeat device or software.

Opel naturally took a similar stance against the accusations, which haven't yet been officially proven. Working closely with the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA), Opel says that it has fully cooperated and offered extensive data in the fall of 2015 to German authorities. As a first conclusion, its software “was never designed to cheat or deceive,” and a field study conducted by the KBA using a number of cars from all German automakers said that “no other vehicle has been found that has an illegal defeat device.” Apart from those already discovered in Volkswagen's backyard, of course.

Opel continues and mentions that the testing methods and protocols used by the peeps at DUH and quoted by the Monitor and Der Spiegel publications were not shared with the carmaker, thus not allowing Opel to evaluate their outcome.

On top of it, the Russelsheim carmaker goes as far as saying that it does not believe that the results of those tests are “objective or scientifically founded,” basing this opinion on other experiments published by DUH before.

This is where my tin foil hat senses started to tingle because this accusation from Opel sounds pretty peculiar. As most of you know, Opel has been a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors since, oh, 1931.

My conspiracy theory is primarily based on two simple facts, and it's probable that this is exactly what makes it so sketchy and sounding so unbelievable. Volkswagen is German. General Motors is American. Volkswagen's Dieselgate started in the United States. Even though only half a million cars with defeat devices were sold there - compared to about 11 million in other parts of the world - it's the U.S. where VW will face the most severe penalties for its wrongdoings.

On the other hand, Volkswagen's biggest direct rival in Germany is Opel, which we already established that it has a very American daddy. Could this be some kind of payback?

Moreover, could a semi-rogue PR/lobbyist inject all sorts of allegations about Volkswagen's competitors to certain media outlets and organizations just to take away some of the heat that VW is currently experiencing? It's possible, not exactly probable, but it does sound like something that a company that used to be run by Ferdinand Piech would do, don't you think?

Another thing that I'm basing my somewhat childish diatribe on is the fact that ever since Volkswagen's world turned upside down in the fall of 2015, no other carmaker has been found using an emission defeat device or software. Keep in mind that just about every official emission testing organization out there has since tested all European carmakers that sell diesel cars.

There have been a lot of allegations, enough to make even BMW's stocks to go down, but no irrefutable proof so far. “If Volkswagen cheated, then everyone else must cheat,” we're getting told by all the naysayers. Maybe, maybe not. I wholeheartedly agree with the fact that diesels are a menace to our health, especially those who must live in European cities, and I fully agree that diesel is bad, and it should feel bad. On the other hand, I also think that Volkswagen was the only culprit in terms of using emission defeat devices, so let's not try and take away some of its blame by pointing the finger in other directions.


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