WASHINGTON -- In the wake of accusations that Volkswagen used software to get around emissions standards, the federal government is putting other car companies on notice that it will be stepping up compliance testing.
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a violation notice and launched an investigation into the German automaker, charging that it had installed a "defeat device" in vehicles that allowed them to evade emissions requirements. Essentially, vehicles with the device sense when they are being tested and meet emissions requirements during the tests -- but during normal operation, they emit up to 40 times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxide, a harmful pollutant.
The EPA issued a letter to other automakers on Friday, letting them know that they will be adding additional testing for all vehicles "for the purposes of investigating a potential defeat device." These tests will go beyond the already-standard testing that new vehicles receive, the agency said.
"We won't tell them what these tests are -- they don't need to know," said Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality, in a call with reporters on Friday. "We will tell them we'll be keeping the vehicles a little longer and driving them a little more."
The additional tests will adopt "a wider variety of real-world use conditions," he said. He also said that the agency's current tests for new cars are "demanding and adequate … assuming the automaker isn't cheating."
Grundler said that all automakers would "face severe penalties if they are found to have misled the agencies."
The agency said it is still working on a plan for recalling the affected Volkswagen and Audi vehicles. It has not issued a recall at this point, but expects to once it determines what needs to be done to bring the vehicles into compliance.