Hard NOx: General Motors Accused of Rigging Diesel-Pickup Emissions

2015 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

A class-action lawsuit accuses General Motors of rigging emission-control systems on 2011–2016 Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra HD pickups with GM’s Duramax turbo-diesel 6.6-liter V-8 engine. If the allegations are proved true, the environmental damage from these 705,000 trucks, which the lawsuit said emit two to five times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in typical driving conditions, could easily exceed that of the Volkswagen’s emission-test-cheating TDI engines.

The complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, cites tailpipe emissions for nitrogen oxides (NOx) with these turbo-diesel 6.6-liter V-8 engines that are well beyond the legal limits. The document also frequently mentions Volkswagen and suggests that, to be brought within compliance, these GM trucks are likely to need modifications that could hinder performance as well as fuel economy.

The suit claims that GM used at least three defeat-device tricks in these trucks. The automaker is alleged to have programmed the emissions software to relax or “derate” its emission controls after five to eight minutes of steady highway driving—a use case that isn’t part of an emission test cycle. Such behavior would also likely extend the interval for adding urea-based diesel emissions fluid (DEF), which serves to reduce NOx in the exhaust stream. With second and third defeat-device software hoops, GM also reduced emission controls below an ambient temperature of 68 degrees or above 86 degrees—the specified range in which the EPA emissions test cycle must be run.

The suit names both GM and the German supplier Bosch, with Bosch called “an active and knowing participant in the scheme to evade U.S. emissions requirements.”

It’s important to note that, so far, these are consumer statements. There’s not yet any accusation from regulators or any federal investigation announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

The suit names both GM and the German supplier Bosch, with Bosch called “an active and knowing participant in the scheme to evade U.S. emissions requirements.”

Cheating or Cleverness?

“A defeat device, as defined by the EPA, is any apparatus that unduly reduces the effectiveness of emissions control systems under conditions a vehicle may reasonably be expected to experience,” the complaint notes.

Chevrolet Duramax

At the center of the continued woes for automakers and diesel-emission claims is a disconnect. While emission regulations might be based on legal limits, vehicle compliance is based around measurements during closely defined driving cycles. The EU, for instance, is in the process of adopting new Real Driving Emission (RDE) test procedures. One study, published in Nature this month, said that emissions of U.S. Tier 2 light-diesel vehicles—including but not limited to VW vehicles with defeat devices—are estimated to be about five times actual emission limits.

The firm that filed this suit on behalf of consumers, Hagens Berman, has a full roster of other current automotive-litigation cases, including active lawsuits regarding the Chevrolet Cruze diesel and the Dodge Ram 1500 EcoDiesel and Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s also the firm behind the massive consumer settlement regarding Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche diesels.

GM released a statement flatly denying the claims in the lawsuit, saying they “are baseless, and we will vigorously defend ourselves. The Duramax Diesel Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra comply with all U.S. EPA and CARB emissions regulations.”

The GM case joins other allegations that have been active for some time, including an ongoing federal investigation of Mercedes-Benz diesels and FCA’s effort to make good with EPA and CARB and current status as the subject of a U.S. civil suit,

While the future and merit of accusations toward GM are uncertain at this point, it’s increasingly clear that the VW scandal has cast every automaker’s diesel engines in a new and unflattering light, and it’s equally clear that regulators and law firms now smell blood—or is that diesel fuel?—in the water.

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2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 4MATIC Tested: Inviting You to Spend More

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-Behold the Mercedes-AMG E43, the E-class Mercedes that sits between the four-cylinder Benz E300 and the 603-hp AMG E63 S. This ’tweener comes only as an all-wheel-drive 4MATIC and only as a sedan. It’s another derivative of the new, shapelier E-class delivered last year as part of Benz’s top-to-bottom overhaul of a car lineup being infused with the softer styling heralded by the new S-class a few years ago. READ MORE ››

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2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 4MATIC – Instrumented Test

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2017 Ford C-Max Hybrid Tested: Falling Further Behind the Curve

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Currency in the world of dedicated hybrids—so, gas-electric vehicles sold without a non-electrified equivalent—is measured in mpg. Despite today’s low gasoline prices, this efficiency figure matters more than ever as a marketing beacon to actually move such metal. After all, why pay extra for a fuel-sipping hybrid if it isn’t mind-blowingly efficient compared to a regular, gas-powered car of similar size? Subjected to this reality, the Ford C-Max’s appeal fades. READ MORE ››

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2017 Ford C-Max Hybrid – Instrumented Test

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Pony’s All Done: 40,000 Miles in Our Ford Mustang GT

Pony's All Done: 40,000 Miles in Our Ford Mustang GT

We live in strange times. A former reality-TV star has keys to the White House, the Chicago Cubs are World Series champs, and Ford Mustangs come with independent rear suspensions. But the Blue Oval’s seminal pony car has not lost all sense of ­tradition as it finally enters the modern age and, with it, markets outside the U.S. It’s still a workaday barnstormer, and the Mustang’s evolution is still shadowed, as it was in the ’60s and ’70s, by a hard-charging Chevrolet Camaro. That it shared our long-term garage with a 2016 Camaro SS lent us perspective on what is the most forward-thinking Mustang in half a century. READ MORE ››

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2016 Ford Mustang GT – Long-Term Road Test Wrap-Up

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BMW Concept 8-series: Eight Is Greater than Six

8Seriesplacement

The issue with giving cars numbers rather than names is highlighted by proliferating model count: Automakers are starting to run out of digits. Audi already applies every integer between 1 and 8 to at least one derivative, albeit prefixed by a variety of different letters. Now BMW faces another almost-full house, bringing the 8-series back after what will be, by the time the car goes on sale, a 19-year hiatus. READ MORE ››

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BMW Concept 8-series: Eight Is Greater than Six – Official Photos and Info

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In Ordinary Trash, Volvo Sees Autonomous Treasure

Volvo-garbage-1

Far from the sleek and futuristic concept cars often showcased by automakers, the first iterations of self-driving vehicles to reach the road may be no more glamorous than garbage trucks. That’s because they may literally be garbage trucks.

Volvo has started work on joint research and development with Renova, a waste-disposal company in western Sweden. The project explores how automated garbage trucks can make pickup more efficient and safe in urban environments. Renova is owned by 10 municipalities in western Sweden and operates a fleet of 220 heavy vehicles. The work is expected to continue through the end of 2017.

“There is amazing potential to transform the swift pace of technical developments in automation into practical benefits for customers and more broadly, society in general,” said Lars Stenqvist, chief technology officer of Volvo Group.

The project emerged as an offshoot to the company’s ongoing research into self-driving trucks, which continues in the Kristineberg Mine in northern Sweden. Volvo says the technology used for mining operations is similar to what’s needed for a garbage truck, and it’s easy to see why the company would consider the latter as a potential opportunity.

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Many of the first automated vehicles to first reach public roads, especially in complex environments like cities, will need to operate at low speeds and travel along predefined or pre-mapped routes. Garbage trucks, with their predictable schedules and inchworm pace, fit both parameters. Further, commercial operators could cut the labor costs of two-person crews, electing instead to let the vehicle drive itself while a human handles the trash collection.

Autonomous operations could offer environmental upsides, with the truck optimizing its gearchanges, steering, and speed for the lowest possible consumption. Along with that, there could be other, more unexpected human advantages.

“One important benefit of the new technology is a reduction in the risk of occupational injuries, such as wear in knee joints—otherwise a common ailment among staff working with refuse collection,” Stenqvist said.

Volvo didn’t detail what types of sensors the vehicles are using to detect and navigating through their environment. In pictures of test vehicles, there appear to be lidar units affixed to the four corners of the garbage truck, data from which is likely fused with radar- and camera-based information.

Although it has kept a lower profile than some of its competitors, Volvo has been active in pioneering autonomous technology. It has partnered with Uber, providing autonomous XC90 SUVs that are later outfitted with Uber’s self-driving system. Separately, Volvo has begun efforts to equip approximately 100 ordinary families with self-driving vehicles for use within a geofenced area in and around Gothenburg, Sweden, by the end of 2017. Late last year, Volvo teamed with Autoliv, one of its primary suppliers, to announce the formation of a new company, Zenuity, which houses the development of autonomous-driving software and driver-assistance systems.

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