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VW admits Audi automatic transmission software can change test behavior

Just when you thought the spectre of Dieselgate was slowly disappearing into the ether...

Adaptive transmissions can work great out on the road, but as this case shows, it may have unintended consequences.


Last week, a German newspaper reported that Audi was hiding emissions-cheating software in its automatic transmissions. I don't know why it took a whole week, but Volkswagen finally came around to admitting as much.

"Adaptive shift programs can lead to incorrect and non-reproducible results" in emissions tests, Volkswagen told Reuters on Sunday. Software in the AL 551 automatic transmission may detect testing conditions and shift in a way that minimizes emissions, only to act "normally" out on the road. Much like Dieselgate's defeat device, that leads to higher-than-imagined pollution, which could be in excess of legal limits.

Audi's AL 551 can be found in both gas and diesel vehicles, including the A6, A8 and Q5.

Volkswagen isn't going full mea culpa here, though. The automaker also told Reuters that its adaptive transmission software is meant to change shift points in order to improve on-road performance. Many automatic transmissions these days learn from driver input and tailor shifting to match a driver's style, which leads to a smoother drive. VW Group did not immediately return a request for comment.

Audi is still stuck in Dieselgate hell as it works with US regulators on its 3.0-liter diesel vehicles. These cars were not covered under the same settlement as Volkswagen Group's 2.0-liter diesels. If a fix cannot be found, a buyback might be necessary, which would cost the company billions of dollars above what it's already spent. A court hearing on the matter is scheduled for November 30 in San Francisco.