NHTSA chief: VW deception reason to question everything

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Novi — The admission by Volkswagen AG that it cheated on diesel emissions testing is the most recent example of why the government needs to increase resources and question everything companies report, the top highway safety official says.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Mark Rosekind used the example of the German automaker as well as other recent punishments for General Motors Co., Takata Corp. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to underline that federal officials need to more closely monitor corporations when it comes to safety and regulations.

“We’re questioning everything now,” Rosekind told reporters Tuesday after a speech at an Automotive Industry Action Group conference in Novi. “You have to question all assumptions … you have to question every assumption when information is provided. It’s a very different place to start, and again, it’s part of the reactive part that is very dangerous for all of us.”

VW said Tuesday that 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide may have evaded emissions rules. The company’s admission follows accusations by the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board that the German automaker deliberately evaded federal emissions requirements in nearly a half-million diesel cars sold in the U.S. since 2009 by writing vehicle software that only activates anti-pollution controls during testing.

Rosekind did not dismiss the idea that other automakers might have software that can detect when a vehicle is being tested and manipulate the results.

“Every time we have an individual automaker, OEM or supplier that we find an issue, your first question has to be, ‘How extensive is it through the whole industry?’ You don’t know if it was a unique case or other people doing it.”

Over the last year the EPA has reached 14 settlements or won court orders against manufacturers for not complying with the rules. A number of those cases involved Chinese-made all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles.

Fuel emissions and quality is the EPA’s jurisdiction, but Rosekind said “there are some fuel efficiency aspects” and other possible safety elements that NHTSA may have to investigate.

Rosekind used VW as a parallel to NHTSA’s own experiences with defective ignition switches from General Motors Co., which will pay a $900 million fine as part of a U.S. Department of Justice criminal investigation into GM’s delayed recall into defective ignition switches in 2.6 million cars.

He said the DOJ fine “validated everything” that was found in the NHTSA investigation: “There’s nothing really new out of it. Our part on the safety in this case, pretty much also got most of the other aspects of.”

He said NHTSA’s penalties and authorities are low, and the fine illustrates how the DOJ and other agencies “have different tools” to penalize and fine companies.

Rosekind talked about Takata’s “complicated” recall of nearly 20 million defective air bag inflators and the government’s investigation of Fiat Chrysler’s recall efforts of nearly two dozen recalls covering 11 million vehicles of the auto industry continuing to have “significant safety issues.”

And he cited cyber security and a Jeep vehicle being hacked earlier this year as reasons why auto companies and federal regulators must be proactive instead of reactive.

“There remains some caution in how to go after cyber security,” he said. “We feel, caution to the wind, we need to go after this full-board … We need to apply state-of-the-art to the auto industry now, and if we don’t do that, those vulnerabilities could be very dangerous.”


(313) 418-0887