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More scandal for VW

If you thought it couldn’t get worse, think again

I was not anticipating the need to write much more about the Volkswagen emissions scandal this month. Sure, there would have been further developments, further revelations in fact, that would by now be helping to quantify the size of the task ahead before VW can rebuild its reputation. But a brand new and completely different scandal altogether? That, I must confess, I did not see coming.

But it arrived all the same. This might sound similar or at least related to the so-called ‘emissions’ scandal, but it is not, in anything other than the loosest sense.

So, and at the risk of telling at least some of you what you already know (and accepting the occupational hazard that the story may have moved on some distance between me writing and you reading this), allow me to briefly explain. Volkswagen has admitted that some 800,000 of its cars were issued with figures “set too low during the CO² certification process”. ‘False’ would be a more honest way to describe the numbers. And because CO² and mpg are inextricably interlinked, it also means the fuel consumption claimed for every one of those cars is lower – as in better – than it should have been.

Why should this matter when everyone now knows the official figures are a joke and that no car gets anywhere near them in any case? The reason is that while the certification process is absurd, the very fact every car undergoes the same stupid procedure does at least mean that while the numbers generated have very little relevance on their own, they are at least directly and reliably comparable to those generated by other cars. And it follows that if, whether through innocent omission or simply cheating, one car company gains an unfair competitive advantage over another because its fuel consumption and CO² figures are better than they should be, those other companies may take a decidedly dim view of this, particularly as the offending party is the largest car company in the world.

But that’s just part of the problem. What about all those governments that raise revenue through either company car tax or vehicle excise duty based on the CO² outputs? They are out of pocket too, and it doesn’t take a genius to realise that they’ll go after VW rather than the customer who’s been entirely innocently paying less tax than he or she should. The bill for that alone could be phenomenal, and that’s presuming it really is ‘only’ 800,000 cars that are affected. Remember that when the original NOx scandal blew up, initial reports suggested that fewer than 500,000 cars were affected, all in the US – that figure is now 11 million, and includes cars from every corner of the planet. And, while I’m here, what about those customers who bought Volkswagens on the basis of claimed fuel consumption that simply wasn’t true? What kind of restitution should they be allowed for the extra fuel costs incurred?

The other significant revelation of this new issue is that, according to VW “most of the affected cars have diesel engines”. Or, to put it another way, some of them don’t. So, and for the first time, petrol-powered VW motors have been implicated. This is important, for while in Europe diesel cars have historically outsold those powered by petrol, in the other major markets like the US, China and Japan, diesel is a minority interest at best. If this scandal spreads like the last, Volkswagen might come to regard its present difficulties with diesel as a minor inconvenience.

For now, however, and regardless of what you might have read or seen on television, there is not enough strong evidence to credibly suggest VW sales have been badly hit by the scandal. Yes, its UK sales in October were down by nearly 10 per cent – a fact leapt upon by any number of hacks sniffing a story – while conveniently ignoring the fact that those of Ford and Vauxhall were down by even more. However if VW is shown to have been significantly falsifying its CO² outputs and if its cars seem to be about to get quite a lot more expensive to run, that may well hit sales. Ultimately and however they might protest in public, privately most customers care far more about what comes out of their wallets than their tailpipes.

Where will it end? Until the size of the issue is quantified, it seems pointless to speculate. But to me at least these most recent revelations paint a rather different complexion on the whole affair. Until now I have been prepared to accept that it was at least possible that, as has been suggested, as few as 10 rogue engineers were responsible for the emissions fix and that those further up the executive ladder really were in the dark – although whether they should have known is a different matter.

But this is starting to look different and rightly or wrongly like the actions of a company grown too big for its boots, acting as if the rules by which everyone else must abide somehow do not apply to it. A month ago I regarded all talk of the breaking up of the VW empire as fanciful. I still don’t think it’s going to happen, but I no longer discount it altogether.

Landie’s soft-top

Land Rover has unveiled its boldest car yet and set foot in one of the least populated corners of the market. A convertible SUV may seem no smaller or more plausible an automotive oxymoron than a supercar MPV, but that is exactly what the new Range Rover Evoque Convertible is: a four-wheel-drive Land Rover with a wading depth of half a metre and a fully convertible soft-top that will raise or lower in 18 seconds at speeds of up to 30mph.

Unsurprisingly more than a little work was required to ensure the car retained adequate structural rigidity after ripping such a large hole in its structure, which is why, despite the massive amount of metal that’s been lost, the overall weight of the convertible exceeds that of the SUV upon which it’s based by a vast 270kg. By my calculations, this will make the base-spec Evoque convertible weigh just a fraction less than two tonnes, or more than the long-wheelbase Jaguar XJ limo powered by a 542bhp, supercharged 5-litre V8 engine made by the same company.

The Evoque will be sold with both 2-litre diesel and petrol engines and only with four-wheel drive, a curious choice as front-drive Evoques are as old as the Evoque itself, no owner would seem likely to use the convertible off road, and the weight saving would amount to over 100kg. That said, Land Rover is aiming the car at the premium end of the market, the cheapest model costing over £47,000, or just £4000 less than its sister Jaguar asks for an F-type with a 340bhp, supercharged V6 engine.

Even faster Audis

Audi has announced a new ‘performance’ version of the already hardly slow RS6 estate and RS7 Sportback. Thanks to new electronics, a higher rev limit and additional turbo boost pressure, the output of their shared 4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine is raised by 44bhp to a better than adequate 597bhp, backed by a wall of torque 553lb ft high. As a result the capacious five-seat estate RS6 will reach 62mph in 3.7sec and 124mph in a truly breathtaking 12.1sec. To put this in perspective the high performance ‘S’ version of the new turbocharged 911 reviewed elsewhere on these pages needs 4.3sec and 13.7sec to do no more. Even when loaded with expensive Sport Plus and PDK options, Porsche’s latest is still no match for the Audi estate. It should be remembered too that while Bentley uses the same engine in its Continental range, the most powerful available from Crewe offers just 521bhp.

The new RS6 and RS7 Performance models are on sale now for delivery in February, priced at £86,000 and £91,600 respectively.

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