Six years ago engineer Hemanth Kappanna stumbled upon Volkswagen’s diesel emission fraud, which later resulted in the car manufacturer paying a total of $33 billion to settle the charges. Kappanna eventually secured himself a position with G.M. which involved regular communication with the Environmental Protection Agency, but was let go from the company this year during an unexpected round of layoffs. Unable to find a new position within 60-days, Kappanna had to return to India after having lived in the United States for 17 years for his work and research.
Originally, Kappanna was pursuing his doctorate at West Virginia University when he received the opportunity to develop a proposal for a grant for his department of studies. The proposal he helped create involved testing the emissions of German cars equipped with diesel engines. At the time, testing the actual emission results from a moving vehicle was difficult. However, Kappanna and his team invented an innovative and accurate method to gather information about the emissions. It quickly became apparent that the emissions boasted by the German manufacturer, Volkswagen, were very inaccurate.
It was later discovered that Volkswagen had developed a software designed to falsify the results of their emissions, making them appear more favorable than they actually were. However, the real results were not even deemed passable based on environmental standards. Since emissions were not typically tested in real-time, Volkswagen likely never expected their software to be discovered. However, the company eventually admitted to the fraud and investigators later found that 11 million vehicles had been equipped with this software, including 600,000 which were sold in the United States.
Kappanna’s proposal and its findings helped him secure West Virginia University a $70,000 grant, and would later help him land a position at G.M. However, his position with G.M. would come to an end unexpectedly. On February 4th of this year, Kappanna was called into a conference room where he was laid off, given two months pay, and provided a one-way ticket to India. Kappanna is not entirely sure whether or not the layoff was related to his former unveiling of the diesel emissions fraud, however he states that they could have easily viewed him as biased.
In an emailed statement, G.M. stated that the decision to fire Kappanna “was not related to any emissions compliance concerns or related issues.”. Instead, Kappanna was told that his dismissal was “one of those short-sighted decisions taken to meet the numbers.”.
While Kappanna may never be certain about the real reasoning behind the layoff, two former Volkswagen executives are currently serving time in the United States for the fraud he helped to expose.
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