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auto | IST

VW Dieselgate whistleblower highlights exposé impact on India emission norms

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Recounting the Dieselgate episode, Kappana said it started in 2012 when the International Council on Clean Transportation called for testing of diesel vehicles

For Hemanth Kappanna, the 39-year-old Indian who returned to Bengaluru last month from the United States following a lay off from General Motors (GM) in January, the learnings from the Dieselgate scandal that he helped expose in the US in 2014 are also evident in how India is going ahead with its emission norms.
India is set to bring in the Bharat Stage VI in April 2020, which, among other things, will ensure that the emissions recorded by vehicles under laboratory testing will also be the same in real-world driving conditions.
This discrepancy was at the heart of the Volkswagen scandal that Kappanna and his three-member research team from West Virginia University helped expose in 2014.
Based on their research, Volkswagen was found by investigators to be using a cheat device to show emissions within permissible limits under laboratory testing though they were much higher in real-world conditions. "This is the whole outcome of this scandal," Kappanna told CNBC-TV 18 when asked about Bharat Stage VI.
"They (governments) have told corporates we cannot trust you anymore. You’ve breached our trust because it works on the honour system. So that is what I see going on with the Bharath Stage VI," he said.
Recounting the Dieselgate episode, Kappana said it started in 2012 when the International Council on Clean Transportation called for testing of diesel vehicles. Kapanna was part of the West Virginia University team that won the $70,000 project and started testing vehicles in California.
"VW used two technologies for controlling emissions and BMW used one. The tests showed higher emissions, and in one of the seminars, the agencies took a note of it and did their own investigation. Volkswagen itself admitted to using cheat devices," Kappanna said.
"It goes back to Volkswagen, even in India. I heard that India has fast-tracked (the emission norms)," Kappanna said, referring to the jump from Bharat Stage IV to BS VI. "Bharath stage six is a derivative of Euro Six. Europe was going into Euro Six anyway because of Volkswagen and they added more tests," he added.
Volkswagen is also facing a Rs 500 crore fine form the National Green Tribunal in India for the use of its cheat devices here.
Kappanna believes that diesel cars will become more expensive for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) under stricter regulations. Maruti Suzuki has already announced its plans to phase out diesel vehicles by 2020.
"For OEMs, it is difficult to meet these standards and they also have to get randomly tested on the road while the car is doing its regular function. It becomes expensive to meet emissions standards, so that could be one of the reasons why Maruti Suzuki could be pulling out the diesel. Because if it gets expensive, you cannot sell it," he explained.
Kappanna, who is fresh off a lay off from GM, which saw a massive churn of 4,000 employees as part of the company's restructuring, also warned of maintaining a balance between environmental concerns and the auto industry's growth.
"The auto industry employs so many people. And if you kind of go too harsh to keep the environment good, you will lose livelihoods. And at the same time, if there is too much leniency, you’re gonna die of diseases," Kappanna said.
Back in Bengaluru, Kappanna, who worked as an Auxiliary Emission Control Device engineer in his most recent role at GM, says that he would be willing to work in India, given the abundance of tech companies here, especially in Bengaluru, and has also received leads from some employers.
"I had the best of both worlds. I lived there for 17 years and I left India when I was 22. That’s why I say best of both worlds. For me, location is not a criterion. I’m here to work. I would like to call myself a global citizen and do the right thing," Kappanna said.