A member of a five-person research team at West Virginia University says his initial hope, after winning a grant to fund a $50,000 study comparing US and European diesel cars, was that a few people would read the resulting research papers. Instead, the team's research, specifically on two Volkswagen cars, "brought this global company to its knees," reports NPR. The team led by Dan Carder of the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions just didn't see the low emissions promised while testing a Jetta and Passat with an elaborate device that funneled exhaust into measurement systems (seen here), though emissions from a BMW X5 were at or below certification emission levels. The numbers "were higher than we anticipated," Carder tells the Wall Street Journal. "There was one vehicle with 15 to 35 times the emissions levels and another vehicle with 10 to 20 times the emissions levels," he adds, per Reuters.
Scientists initially thought they'd made an error while driving hundreds of miles along the West Coast, but further tests showed the same results. Eventually, they notified VW, which questioned the results, before turning over the data to the EPA and California Air Resources Board. Though those bodies verified the findings, "the testing we did kind of opened the can of worms," Carder says. Heavy diesel engine manufacturers have been calling to congratulate the researchers, but Carder says he's still somewhat amazed by the dramatic outcome, especially considering that the research, which wrapped in May 2013, was made public a year ago. Volkswagen has since admitted that as many as 11 million cars contained software that altered emissions to defy US air-pollution rules. The company's CEO stepped down yesterday. (More on how Volkswagen cheated here.)