VW orders probe into breach of U.S. emissions rules
FRANKFURT -- Volkswagen ordered an external investigation after U.S. regulators found that software the carmaker designed for diesel cars gave false emissions data.
VW CEO Martin Winterkorn said Sunday, adding he was "deeply sorry" for the violation of U.S. clean-air rules.
"I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public," Winterkorn said in a statement. "Volkswagen has ordered an external investigation of this matter. We will do everything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Friday the software deceived regulators measuring toxic emissions, adding Volkswagen could face fines of up to $18 billion as a result.
"We do not and will not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law," Winterkorn said, adding the company was fully cooperating with U.S. government agencies. He gave no details on who would carry out the external investigation.
Analysts said the issue is a serious setback for VW. "This is not your usual recall issue, an error in calibration or even a serious safety flaw," Bernstein analysts wrote in a note on Sunday. "There is no way to put an optimistic spin on this - this is really serious."
Cynthia Giles, an enforcement officer at the EPA, said 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 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, EPA officials say.
Volkswagen told U.S. dealers to halt sales of some 2015 diesel cars after regulators found software it designed for the affected vehicles gave false emissions data, the company said Sunday.
Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation of Air Quality, told the News in an interview that the government has also refused to grant VW a “certificate of conformity” to sell 2016 model diesel cars with 2.0-liter diesel engines.
VW is barred from selling 2016 model vehicles with the 2.0 liter diesel engine until “they get answers to the questions of how these vehicles are being operated. Volkswagen couldn’t explain why we’re getting these excess emissions,” Grundler told the paper.
VW has also removed many videos and content from YouTube and other social media channels touting its clean diesel efforts, the Detroit News said.
Because diesel models can account for 20 to 25 percent of the VW brand's U.S. sales each month, the ban is expected to put a major dent in the company's volume and slow its turnaround efforts in coming months.
The company said it has also heard from the Justice Department, which the EPA said could pursue criminal prosecution.
Volkswagen peer Daimler said its Mercedes-Benz Cars business was not affected by accusations. "We heard of the EPA's accusations against VW from the press. The issue described by the press does not apply to Mercedes-Benz Cars," Daimler said in a statement, adding it was not aware of any investigation of Mercedes.
Bloomberg, Reuters and David Phillips contributed to this report.