When Volkswagen’s recent emissions scandal hit the airwaves, the reaction was a mix of shock, disappointment, and anger. The so-called “defeat device” the brand installed in nearly 500,000 U.S.-bound diesel vehicles allowed them to emit up to 40 times more nitrogen oxide than the law permits, and the pollutant has been linked to a wide variety of health issues such as asthma and bronchitis.
To make matters worse, it appears that Volkswagen was warned about the illegality of the software as far back as 2007. According to a report by Automotive News — which features information from German newspapers Bild am Sonntag and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung — the German brand was notified by none other than Robert Bosch about the repercussions of the defeat device some eight years ago.
The Bosch name is particularly important because the company — one of the largest engineering and electronics firms in the world — supplied Volkswagen with certain components that are at the center of the current scandal, but it did so for testing purposes only. Bild am Sonntag claims that Bosch told the carmaker that using the technology in a production vehicle was unlawful, but it appears the manufacturer did not heed the advice. Additionally, an engineer inside Volkswagen reportedly warned company brass about the risks back in 2011.
The origins of the scandal can be traced back to 2005, when former Volkswagen CEO Wolfgang Bernhard commissioned the development of a new diesel engine for the U.S. market. A prototype was developed in 2006, but it did not meet the United States’ strict emissions standards.
Some manufacturers, such as Mercedes-Benz, use a selective catalytic reduction system involving high-purity urea to reduce the concentration of nitrogen oxide in diesel exhaust fumes. The application was apparently deemed too expensive for Volkswagen at the time, who was going through a companywide cost-cutting exercise. The defeat device was then installed to fool the EPA’s emissions tests, which could eventually cost Volkswagen up to $18 billion in fines.