Mercedes-Benz Targeted in Potential Dieselgate Emissions Investigation

Mercedes (Thomas Niedermueller / Getty)
Thomas Niedermueller / Getty

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Mercedes-Benz for equipping its diesel vehicles with emissions testing “defeat” devices similar to those that cost Volkswagen $32 billion.

Automotive News reported that the Justice Department is working with Stuttgart, Germany prosecutors, and that 11 company sites have been raided for evidence of fraud and misleading advertising about passenger car emissions test results. The investigation is seeking possible evidence of illegal software installed in over 1 million Mercedes-Benz vehicles between 2008 and 2016 to cheat on U.S. and European Union emissions tests.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2015 found that Germany-based Volkswagen had installed devices on its diesel turbocharged direct injection (TDI) engines that manipulated emissions during government tests. The total number of diesel vehicles with “defeat” devices sold between 2009 and 2015 was 500,000 in the U.S, and another 11 million worldwide.

The scandal that became known as “Dieselgate” has forced VW to spend $29.7 billion to fix consumer-owned vehicles, plus pay a $2.8 billion fine to settle U.S. criminal charges. The head of VW’s South Korean Audi unit was convicted and sent to prison for 18 months.

Diesel-powered vehicles from Volvo, Renault, Mercedes, Jeep, Hyundai, Citroen, BMW, Mazda, Fiat, Ford, and Peugeot that had qualified under government testing for sale in Europe were all found to exceed the legal European emission limits for nitrogen oxide (NOx) when tested on the road under normal driving conditions.

It is alleged that various diesel-equipped Mercedes-Benz models were able to continue selling during the height of the 2014 and 2015 VW scandal because company engineers installed layers of custom-made software that defeated various cycles of U.S. emission test center procedures to appear to be ultra-clean running. Vehicles then switched back to “dirty mode” on the road to achieve more power and obtain higher mileage.

According to information obtained by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Mercedes-Benz models were equipped with software programs called “Bit 13” and “Bit 14” to pass the EPA’s sophisticated FTP-75 warm test cycle. Another program, “Bit 15,” was designed to pass the US06 test, which only switches on to test exhaust gases after the equivalent of 16 miles of driving. And a program called “Slipguard” was designed to detect when the car is being tested on a rolling road and to inject more urea-based AdBlue solution to nullify exhaust gases during testing.

The U.S. allegation came shortly after the German Ministry of Transport demanded a domestic recall of all diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz Vito commercial vans, following discrepancies found in European test results. German after-market road tests found that the software automatically reduced injections of AdBlue chemicals used to trap NOx emissions.

The volume of diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz cars involved in the probe is much smaller than the VW number of vehicles. But the VW investigation started out with an estimated $3 billion cost, then skyrocketed as the investigation expanded dramatically.

Mercedes-Benz stated that the company has done nothing wrong and is cooperating with authorities.

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