Volkswagen CEO apologizes, orders external probe on emissions cheating

20 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Cars recall: Volkswagen to probe emissions allegations.

Volkswagen chief, Martin Winterkorn, promised on Sunday a full investigation into allegations that the vehicle company manipulated emissions testing on its cars in the United States. “I personally deeply regret that we have let down the trust of our customers and the public and I am addressing the issue as an utmost priority,” Winterkorn said.

The US Environmental Protection Agency accused Volkswagen of deliberately dodging air-pollution rules on nearly half a million cars sold since 2008, furthering an Obama administration crackdown on automakers suspected of flouting regulations intended to reduce tailpipe emissions. EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles on Friday said that the cars in question “contained software that turns off emissions controls when driving normally and turns them on when the car is undergoing an emissions test.” The feature, which the EPA called a “defeat device,” masks the true emissions only during periodic state-run emissions testing and therefore when the cars are on the road they emit as much as 40 times the level of pollutants allowed under clean air rules meant to ensure public health is protected, Giles said. The EPA, which on Friday unveiled the allegations with the California Air Resources Board, alleged the German automaker used software in the cars to get around government emissions tests. The Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to disclose design information to receive certification that their products meet federal air-pollution standards. If each car involved is found to be in noncompliance, the penalty could be $18 billion, an EPA official confirmed during the telephone conference on Friday. “I have a rough idea of what is happening and that it does not apply to us,” Daimler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche said on Sunday at an event in Hamburg.

The EPA in November 2014 hit South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia with a record $US100 million penalty for overstating fuel-economy claims and forced the companies to cough up another $US200m in regulatory credits. Officials alleged Volkswagen used software that activates full emissions controls only during testing but then reduces their effectiveness during normal driving.

Diesel-powered cars are a small part of overall US car and light-truck sales. “Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the agency’s enforcement group. An EPA spokeswoman said it would be “premature to speculate on why VW did this.” The cars include so-called clean-diesel vehicles marketed for impressive fuel economy without sacrificing driving performance. The International Council on Clean Transportation, a non-profit research organisation that works with governments to cut air pollution from mobile sources, and West Virginia University researchers uncovered Volkswagen’s alleged use of defeat devices in research and testing over the last couple of years. Drew Kodjak, executive director of the organisation, said he doesn’t know of any other carmakers using such devices, but advances in technology may make it easier to use the software. “Now that vehicles have electronic controls and are far more computerised than in the past, it is certainly possible that manufacturers can take advantage of this by installing defeat devices into their vehicles,” Mr Kodjak said. Matt DeLorenzo, a managing editor at automotive information supplier Kelley Blue Book’s KBB.com, said the EPA’s allegations could hinder automakers’ efforts to the fuel-economy regulations, since diesels deliver mileage gains without the expense of electric motors and battery packs found on hybrids. “From an industry perspective it may set back diesel technology as a means for automakers to reach the requirements for high fuel economy,” he said.

Auto makers are seizing on a coming 2017 review of the standards with regulators, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the hopes of relaxing some requirements. Consumer Reports, an influential magazine when it comes to car reviews, last week suspended its “recommended” ratings on the auto maker’s Jetta and Passat diesel-engine models after the EPA disclosed its allegations. Falling gasoline prices have buyers flocking to gas-guzzling pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles, and are calling into question whether car makers can meet the emissions and fuel-economy targets.

General Motors Co. admitted to criminal wrongdoing and agreed to pay a $900 million penalty in the mishandling of a defective ignition switch linked to more than 100 deaths in a settlement with the Justice Department unveiled Thursday.

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