Inside the Lab That Smoked Out VW’s Emissions Scheme

At an EPA center in Ann Arbor, Mich., workers measure emissions on 400 vehicles a year. Here, where the tradecraft helped confirm that Volkswagen had cheated on diesel emission tests, Chris Grundler presides. Same guy who bought a pickup in the late ’90s, when automakers insisted trucks couldn't meet car standards, and hacked the catalytic converter to prove them wrong. From the mammoth fans that simulate wind resistance to the chains that hold down the 80,000-pounders while their wheels are spun at 90 mph, photographer Cole Wilson offers a tour.

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    After locking vehicles in place in between these vertical shields, the EPA removes the yellow and black shields on the floor to uncover the mechanical rollers that spin the car’s wheels.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg

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    The EPA tests cars while they’re being designed, when they’re in the showroom, and during real-world driving using portable equipment shown here.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg

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    The vertical stack contains sensors that measure air temperature and barometric pressure during real-world driving tests. A hose connects the tailpipe to diagnostic equipment in the back seat.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg

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    During some emission tests, the EPA uses these small fans to cool a vehicle’s engine compartment.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg

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    During on-road driving tests, the EPA uses this blue box to measure the amount of exhaust a vehicle is emitting.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg

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    The EPA chains 80,000-pound freight trucks in place and spins their wheels at 90 miles an hour to measure the exhaust for pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and CO2.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg

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    Fans placed in front of cars and trucks during emission testing simulate the wind resistance they encounter while driving on the open road.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg

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    The EPA uses Portable Emissions Measurement Systems to test emissions during real-world driving, sometimes in ways automakers can’t anticipate.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg

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    The EPA uses this device to measure the pollutants contained in the vehicle exhaust collected during real-world driving tests.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg

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    Technicians use laptop computers to monitor emission tests inside the EPA’s Ann Arbor laboratory.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg

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    The inside of this hose is lined with a stainless steel tube that transfers vehicle exhausts to diagnostic equipment that analyzes them while they’re still hot.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg

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    To fight climate change, the U.S. will need more zero and near-zero emission technologies such as electric and fuel cell-powered cars after 2025, says Chris Grundler, head of the EPA’s air quality and transportation office.

    Photographer: Cole Wilson/Bloomberg