Audi Sacrificed Pollution Control System For High-End Sound System, US Regulators Allege In New Criminal Complaint

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Why were many of Audi’s diesel models not able to meet the stricter NOx emissions standards that went into effect in the US in 2007 without relying on fraud? Because meeting the new standards would mean reducing the size of the sound system, apparently.

That’s the rather mundane reason for committing the fraud that a former Audi manager has been charged by the US with. Specifically, the manager has been charged with conspiracy to defraud US regulators and customers through the use of “defeat device” software in many thousands of diesel vehicles. The manager has also been charged with wire fraud and violation of the Clean Air Act.

To be clearer here, the Criminal Complaint in question — USA v. Zaccheo Giovanni Pamio — states that the defendants decided that using AdBlue storage tanks large enough to allow the new standards to be met would “interfere with features considered to be attractive to customers, such as a high-end sound system,” and so decided against doing so.

So I guess that clean air is less important than ensuring that wealthy consumers don’t have to make do with a slightly smaller and lower quality sound system.

As some further background here — the lawsuit is against the Italian citizen Giovanni Pamio, 60, formerly the head of Thermodynamics within Audi’s Diesel Engine Development Department in Neckarsulm, Germany (from ~2006 until November 2015). Pamio was the head of a team of engineers in charge of designing emissions control systems to allow diesel vehicles sold in the US to meet emissions standards.

The criminal complaint cites an Audi employee who worked in Audi’s Diesel Engine Development Department — cooperating witness number one (CW1).

Here’s more from the criminal complaint: “According to CW1, and as corroborated by contemporaneous documentation, the proposed Audi 3.0 liter diesel engine employed Selective Catalytic Reduction (‘SCR’) technology to reduce NOx emissions. As part of the SCR technology, exhaust stream emissions were dosed with a mist of a urea substance, commonly known as ‘AdBlue,’ which converted NOx into nitrogen, water, and small amounts of carbon dioxide. The initial SCR design required a certain amount of AdBlue be stored onboard the vehicle to reduce NOx emissions to legal limits and reach a 10,000 mile service interval for refilling. The requisite tank size for onboard storage was believed by certain Audi employees to interfere with features considered to be attractive to customers, such as a high-end sound system.

“According to CW1, and as corroborated by contemporaneous documentation, as a result, Audi employees, acting at the direction of Pamio and his co-conspirators, designed and implemented software functions, described below as a ‘dosing strategy’ and a ‘warm-up function,’ to cheat the standard US emissions tests. These functions constituted defeat devices.”

This “dosing strategy” should sound familiar, as it’s essentially the same approach used by many other auto manufacturers to defraud versions regulators in charge of diesel vehicle emissions testing. The idea is pretty simple — AdBlue injection levels are varied so as to allow laboratory tests to be passed and real-world emissions (and performance) to be much greater.

As one would expect, the existence of the “dosing strategy” and also the “warm-up function” software was never disclosed by Pamio and his co-conspirators to regulators in the US, according to the criminal complaint.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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