Volkswagen's rigging of its diesel cars to cheat on emissions tests could cause around 60 deaths in the US by the end of next year, according to research by scientists at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
By installing sophisticated software known as "defeat devices" in its diesel vehicles, Volkswagen's cars have emitted 40 times the amount of noxious nitrogen oxide (NOx) than the limit proscribed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the report published Thursday said.
"We all have risk factors in our lives, and [excess emissions] is another small risk factor," said Steven Barrett of MIT, one of the authors of the report, in a statement. "If you take into account the additional risk due to the excess Volkswagen emissions, then roughly 60 people have died or will die early, and on average, a decade or more early."
The healthcare sector will also be impacted, according to the study, with "approximately 31 cases of chronic bronchitis, 34 hospital admissions, 120,000 minor restricted activity days, 21,000 lower respiratory symptom days, and 33,000 days of increased bronchodilator usage".
The study also estimated that the cost of these deaths to the economy was about $450 million, an amount that would increase to $910 million if there was no recall of the offending vehicles.
VW's US division had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.
The German automaker was forced to take its first quarterly loss in 15 year, some 3.5 billion euros ($3.84 billion), as it anticipated hefty payouts to consumers around the world over the deceptive data, as well as the potential recall of 11 million cars. The third-quarter results, released Wednesday, factored in a 6.7 billion-euro writedown related to the scandal.
Also Wednesday VW's new chief executive, Herbert Diess, apologized at the Tokyo Auto Show for the cheating scandal, promising to win back customer trust.
"On behalf of my entire company, I'd like to apologize," said Diess, a recent hire from BMW. "We are doing everything we can to bring back this trust in our brand."
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CLARIFICATION: Rigging of diesel cars could cause around 60 deaths in the US by the end of next year, according to research by Harvard and MIT. The timing was not clear in an earlier version of this article.