Sunday 22 April 2018

Volkswagen's US boss knew about emissions problems in 2014

Volkswagen Group of America boss Michael Horn will face a grilling by members of the US Congress (AP)
Volkswagen Group of America boss Michael Horn will face a grilling by members of the US Congress (AP)

Associated Press

Volkswagen's top US-based executive is expected to tell Congress that he first learned of emissions problems with the German auto maker's four-cylinder diesel cars in 2014.

In prepared remarks, Volkswagen Group of America chief executive Michael Horn didn't directly address when he was first told his company had developed on-board computer software designed to deceive emissions tests.

Mr Horn is scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which was given an advance copy of the executive's written testimony. It will be the first appearance on Capitol Hill by Mr Horn, a German and veteran VW manager who took over the reins of the brand's American subsidiary last year.

After the written version of Mr Horn's remarks became public, a Volkswagen spokeswoman said that Mr Horn would testify on Thursday that he only learned of the cheating software "over the past several weeks".

In the written testimony, Mr Horn echoed prior statements by the company's global chief executive apologising for the cheating, which hid illegal levels of pollution produced by nearly 500,000 "clean diesel" cars sold in the US since 2008.

"On behalf of our company, and my colleagues in Germany, I would like to offer a sincere apology for Volkswagen's use of a software program that served to defeat the regular emissions testing regime," Mr Horn will say.

"In the spring of 2014 when the West Virginia University study was published, I was told that there was a possible emissions non-compliance that could be remedied. I was informed that EPA regulations included various penalties for non-compliance with the emissions standards and that the agencies can conduct engineering tests which could include “defeat device” testing or analysis. I was also informed that the company engineers would work with the agencies to resolve the issue."

"These events are deeply troubling. I did not think that something like this was possible at the Volkswagen Group. We have broken the trust of our customers, dealerships and employees, as well as the public and regulators."

Mr Horn will also announce that VW is withdrawing applications seeking government emissions certifications for its 2016 model Jettas, Golfs, Passats and Beetles with diesel engines. The vehicles already shipped to the US will remain quarantined in ports and dealers won't be able to sell them. That's a huge loss for VW dealers, who were hoping to put the new models on sale soon. For some, it's 30pc of their business.

Following the delivery of his prepared remarks, Mr Horn is expected to face a blistering round of follow-up questions from members of the committee.

"The American people want to know why these devices were in place, how the decision was made to install them and how they went undetected for so long," the panel's Republican chairman, Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, said. "We will get those answers."

 Also scheduled to testify on Thursday are two officials at the Environmental Protection Agency who oversee emissions testing and compliance with clean air rules.

VW first admitted the deception to US regulators on September 3, more than a year after researchers at West Virginia University first published a study showing the real-world emissions of the company's Jetta and Passat models where far higher than allowed. The same cars had met emissions standards when tested in the lab.

 VW was able to fool the EPA because the agency only tested the cars on treadmill-like devices called dynamometers and didn't use portable test equipment on real roads. The software in the cars' engine-control computers checked the speed, steering wheel position, air pressure and other factors to determine when dynamometer tests were under way. It then turned on pollution controls that reduced the output of nitrogen oxides that contribute to smog and other pollution, the EPA has said.

Only when the EPA and California regulators refused to approve VW's 2016 diesel models for sale did the company admit what it had done. The company now faces billions in environmental fines, numerous class-action suits from angry customers, and a criminal investigation launched by EPA and the Justice Department.

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