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Volkswagen fallout: Delay in certification keeps carmakers from releasing new cars

[THE INVESTOR] South Korean regulators are scrutinizing new imported vehicles, especially those running on diesel engines, more closely after the revelation that Volkswagen and Audi cheated on emissions and noise level tests.

The certification process used to take about 10 days but it is taking months in the aftermath of Volkswagen’s emissions-rigging scandal that led to a sales ban on some 80 models in August.

It took 11 months for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to get regulatory approval for the launch of the diesel-powered Jeep Cherokee SUV in September. Mercedes-Benz also saw the diesel model of the new E-Class sedan, its best-selling car, delayed for almost two months after the gasoline models were launched earlier in June. 


BMW 330e, the first plug-in hybrid 3 Series sedan, that is still waiting for regulatory approval before its Korean debut
BMW 330e, the first plug-in hybrid 3 Series sedan, that is still waiting for regulatory approval before its Korean debut


Korean authorities say they have toughened the certification process in order to prevent another Volkswagen fiasco.

“We are requesting carmakers to submit detailed documents especially on their diesel cars. If a carmaker does not comply with the request, certification is delayed,” said a researcher at the National Institute of Environmental Research, the state-run agency in charge, declining to be named.

The researcher admitted that the agency was struggling to meet the deadline, citing a lack of facilities and human resources to process the mounting number of files on the table.

At the institute, there are only five researchers that handle about 1,000 new certifications every year -- which also includes registration for various machineries used in construction and agriculture. The NIER has asked the government to assign more personnel to the institute, but nothing has been confirmed on the request as yet.

Kim Pil-soo, an automotive engineering professor at Daelim University, agreed that conducting a thorough examination of all the documents by the automakers was important and should have occurred a long time ago.

“But without pouring more human resources and facility improvements into the institute, the delay is inevitable,” he said.

“For new car launches, timing is critical. Delayed launches in Korea are ultimately hurting the competitiveness of the Korean auto market and are also affecting consumers. 


2017 Audi A4 Diesel. Despite the gasoline model launch in May, the release date for the diesel-powerd model has yet been decided.
2017 Audi A4 Diesel. Despite the gasoline model launch in May, the release date for the diesel-powerd model has yet been decided.


Some of the several cars waiting for approval are BMW’s new plug-in hybrid models. The top-selling foreign car brand has planned to launch its plug-in hybrid vehicles, including the 330e and the four-wheel drive X5 40e, into the market. But the release date is still undecided.

“The authentication process has become more cautious,” said a PR representative of BMW who wished to be unnamed.

According to industry sources, a new diesel-powered Audi A4 has also yet to decide its launch date as the Korean unit is putting priority on resuming the sales of their suspended models. The gasoline model was launched in May. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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