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Volkswagen under fire for cars designed to evade US pollution controls

Scott Olson, Getty Images/AFP | A Volkswagen dealership in Chicago shows off its array of Passat models on September 18, 2015

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn on Sunday said he was “deeply sorry” for his company’s violation of US environmental law after US regulators charged the automaker with outfitting diesel vehicles with software that transmitted false emissions data.


The German auto giant will conduct an external investigation into the matter, Winterkorn said in a statement, following revelations that could cost his group up to $18 billion in fines.

“I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public,” Winterkorn said. “We do not and will not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday charged Volkswagen with manufacturing vehicles designed to evade government pollution controls.

The agency said built-in software deceived regulators measuring smog-causing toxins, ordering Volkswagen to come up with a plan to recall and repair around 500,000 cars with the “defect”.

Both the EPA and the California Air Resources Board have launched investigations into the illegal actions.

Earlier this week Volkswagen said it was cooperating with the investigations, but would not comment further on the controversy. On Sunday, Winterkorn repeated his company was fully cooperating with the relevant agencies.

Standards-dodging cars

Volkswagen designed software to meet clean-air standards during official emissions testing, but that turned off during normal operations, according to federal and local regulators.

As a result, the diesel cars emit greater-than-allowed quantities of pollution linked to smog and various health ills.

“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 US Environmental Protection Agency.

The cars employed a sophisticated software algorithm to detect when the car was undergoing official emissions testing and turn on full emissions controls at that time.

The mechanism meant that during normal operations, the cars could emit as much as 40 times the legal standard of nitrogen oxide, regulators said.

When EPA and California demanded an explanation this month, Volkswagen admitted that cars contained “defeat devices” meant to trick official tests, the EPA said.

“Our goal now is to ensure that the affected cars are brought into compliance, to dig more deeply into the extent and implications of Volkswagen’s efforts to cheat on clean air rules, and to take appropriate further action,” said Richard Corey, executive officer at the California Air Resources Board.

The allegations cover almost half a million diesel models of Volkswagen Jetta, Beetle and Golf for 2009-2015, as well as the Audi A3 for the same years.

The potential fine for the offense is $37,500 per vehicle under the Clean Air Act, yielding a potential fine of as much as $18 billion, according to US media reports



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