OTTAWA – The federal government has plans to increase the number of Volkswagen vehicles it runs through safety tests in light of an ongoing scandal into their cars being designed to cheat on emissions tests.
While there have been no major safety issues with Volkswagens in the last seven years, the fact the automaker modified its vehicles to skirt emissions requirements is prompting Transport Canada officials to review its vehicles for safety reasons too, internal Transport Canada documents show.
“While Volkswagen’s recent non-compliance issues are not directly linked to safety, given the potential governance implications, (Transport Canada) plans to review additional elements of Volkswagen Canada’s safety certification information,” reads a briefing note sent to the department’s top bureaucrat in October.
The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the briefing note under the Access to Information Act.
Volkswagen admitted that four-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars had software installed to cheat on emission tests after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publicly revealed the scheme in mid-September. The carmaker has said about 500,000 cars had cheated emissions tests, part of 11 million cars sold worldwide with the software.
About 100,000 of those vehicles were sold in Canada, although there is no evidence of cheating on tests outside the United States.
The company remains under investigation by Environment Canada, which is in charge of testing testing vehicles to ensure they meet Canadian emission standards.
Transport Canada handles safety testing. The briefing note says some 200 tests and 70 inspections are done annually on nearly 70 different brands of vehicles.
Since 2008, 10 different Volkswagen models passed Transport Canada safety tests. The only issue identified during that time had to do with labelling, the briefing note says.
Just before the emission cheating scandal broke in mid-September, a Jetta had passed “crash avoidance” testing, which tests braking among other things, and was to go through more tests before the end of the year, officials wrote.
Given ongoing testing, Transport Canada staff are more likely to have already discovered whether automakers were installing “defeat mechanisms” to get around safety standards, the note said.
Plus, the public would find out very quickly if an automaker’s cars had safety concerns just by seeing collisions and crashes.
“We and the public are more likely to learn of poor vehicle safety performance in the ‘real’ world much quicker than with emissions performance.”
Still, the department planned to “include additional Volkswagen vehicles for compliance testing and inspections.”
Transport Canada spokeswoman Natasha Gauthier said the department was taking a closer look at Volkswagen as a precautionary measure and that the review of past safety history and future test plans was ongoing.