No U.S. deal reached to fix diesel emissions
WASHINGTON -- U.S. environmental officials said no agreement with Volkswagen had been reached on how to fix nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles that emit up to 40 times legally allowable limits after a meeting with the company's CEO.
A spokeswoman for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement after the hour long meeting with VW CEO Matthias Mueller on Wednesday that the agency appreciated the conversation.
"We will continue to work toward a solution," the spokeswoman said.
The meeting, which also included Herbert Diess, head of the company's VW brand, came one day after California rejected VW's plan submitted in December as "inadequate" and not fast enough -- and EPA agreed.
"We appreciate the time that Administrator McCarthy took to meet with us," the company said in a statement. "Volkswagen will continue to fully cooperate."
The German automaker declined to answer questions about the meeting, which Volkswagen had requested.
In Detroit, Chris Grundler, who heads the agency's Office of Transportation and Air Quality, said at the Automotive News World Congress that the agency wanted a fix as soon as possible.
"We are in a hurry," he said but offered no timetable for approving a fix or offering details on why VW's initial proposal fell short.
On his first U.S. visit since the emissions scandal erupted in September, Mueller has been meeting with government officials in Washington since late Monday
VW had said it would present a reworked plan to the EPA at today's meeting.
VW is in the midst of complex technical talks with the California board and counterparts at the EPA about how to repair the diesel cars.
"The message from the regulators to VW couldn't be clearer -- you need to come up with a better plan," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington environmental group. "VW has mistakenly thought it could resolve this on the cheap."
On its website, California said it determined that there was "no easy and expeditious fix for the affected vehicles."
"Volkswagen made a decision to cheat on emissions tests and then tried to cover it up," Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the state board, said in an emailed statement. "They need to make it right."
Volkswagen responded that it had asked California last month for an extension to submit additional information and data about the turbocharged direct injection, or TDI, diesel engines.
"Since then, Volkswagen has had constructive discussions with CARB, including last week when we discussed a framework to remediate the TDI emissions issue," VW said in an emailed statement.
The California board said it and the EPA will continue to evaluate VW's technical proposals.
The rejection closely followed a bumble by Mueller on Sunday, before the Detroit auto show. During an interview with National Public Radio, the CEO appeared to dismiss the crisis by saying VW "didn't lie" to regulators about what amounts to a "technical problem."
When the interview aired Monday morning, VW asked NPR for a do-over, where Mueller blamed a noisy atmosphere for his earlier comments. He apologized on behalf of the automaker, hewing more closely to comments he had made in a Detroit speech on Sunday night.
On Monday evening, Mueller had dinner with U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. VW has a manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, which is undergoing a major expansion. Corker said VW views the meeting with EPA as "very important."
"They understand fully the order of magnitude of mistakes that have been made and my sense is they are very committed to resolving this in an appropriate way," Corker said in an interview Tuesday, before the California board announced it had rejected VW's recall plan.
Demand for documents
Mueller met Tuesday with U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., the House Republican leading a congressional inquiry into the emissions cheating. Murphy, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's investigations subcommittee, said that he urged Mueller to deliver documents that he said have been tied up by German privacy rules.
"I made it clear I want those documents," Murphy said in an interview, adding that VW has already given the panel a lot of other information. He said he wants to find out what happened and make sure it's corrected. Murphy said he's not pushing for a debilitating fine on Volkswagen. "I don't think anybody wants to see the elimination of the company," he said.
Mueller's appearance in Detroit and in the nation's capital marked his first trip to the U.S. in his new role as CEO. Mueller, the former head of VW's Porsche sports-car unit, was named CEO in September after Martin Winterkorn was forced out as the scandal erupted.
Fixes prescribed for Europe haven't translated into U.S. approval because of the tougher emissions standards in North America, which is the reason why Volkswagen began cheating in the U.S. in the first place.
In Europe, the company's proposed fix for 8.5 million diesel engines was approved a month ago. For most vehicles in Europe, software upgrades will suffice, while others will get a tube with mesh on one end to regulate air flow. VW estimated that repair would take less than an hour to complete. Germany took the lead on signing off on the technical proposal, which encompasses a range of engine sizes including the 2.0-liter variant now contested in the U.S.
In the U.S., beyond developing an effective repair for each of the three types of non-compliant 4-cylinder engines, VW must document any adverse impacts on vehicles and consumers. VW will also have to fix about 85,000 Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche 3.0-liter diesel engines. And because the emissions scandal centers on Volkswagen's use of a sophisticated "defeat device" to skirt regulations, any proposed remedy -- whether that's retrofitting cars with new parts or revising software codes -- will need to be tested by California and EPA technicians before the plan is rolled out to consumers.
Auto dealers and their customers need answers soon, said Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation Inc., the largest U.S. auto dealership group.
"A lot of patience has been extended, but ultimately we need answers," said Jackson, whose company has six VW stores. "We have customers asking us how their vehicles are going to be pulled into compliance, and the sand is running through the hourglass."
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report.