BERLIN -- General Motors' Opel division has admitted that its Zafira minivan has engine software that switches off exhaust treatment systems under certain circumstances but says this is legal, German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said.
A German investigating committee that met Opel officials asked them to provide it with more information to help with their investigations into emissions from its cars, Dobrindt said after the meeting on Wednesday.
Opel confirmed during the meeting that the exhaust treatment systems shut down under certain speed and air pressure conditions to protect the engine, Dobrindt said.
"Shut-off devices are fundamentally illegal unless it is truly necessary to safeguard the engine," Dobrindt said. "The investigating committee has doubts about whether this practice is completely justified by the protection of the engine."
Dobrindt said the accusations concern control of the emissions treatment with the Zafira relating to the revolutions, the air pressure and the speed. Opel acknowledged that software shut off emissions controls at high speeds, although the automaker insisted it did so only to protect the car's engine and that everything it's done is within the law, he said.
"Opel promised complete cooperation at today's talks," he added, saying this would include access to the relevant software. The committee gave Opel 14 days to provide it with appropriate technical information.
"We also asked whether there were similar measures or elements with the Astra as we discussed with the Zafira," Dobrindt said. Opel been unable to provide detailed information on the Astra but would do so subsequently, he said.
Opel was summoned to appear before the investigative committee following media reports this month about suspected emissions rigging.
Opel said it was fully cooperating with the checks. "I reiterate that our engines conform to the law and do not use illegal software," Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann said.
Differences over law
Dobrindt said Wednesday's meeting began with Opel telling the investigators how it interpreted the relevant law. "We then presented our legal analysis," he said. "Differences were apparent."
Opel has disputed results of a joint investigation by Spiegel magazine, ARD television's Monitor program and the Deutsche Umwelthilfe environmentalist group that found software in Zafira vans and Insignia sedans cut off emission controls under certain conditions, such as speeds exceeding 145 kph (90 mph).
The case is distinct from the emissions scandal involving Volkswagen, which concerned the rigging of exhaust emissions tests as opposed to exhaust treatment systems being shut down under certain conditions.
The auto industry's credibility has been strained following VW's September admission that it rigged diesel-engine software to pass official tests, prompting Germany to set up an investigating commission.
Last month, Opel was among auto manufacturers that agreed with German authorities to voluntarily upgrade 630,000 vehicles in Europe to fix temperature-control setups that pushed the boundaries of regulation.
At the time, Dobrindt said a review hadn't found that other car models used a defeat device similar to Volkswagen's program.
FCA under scrutiny
The minister said on Friday that the commission is also looking into reported emissions irregularities at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles after claims that the Fiat 500X 2.0-liter diesel variant had NOx emissions far above legal norms.
Dobrindt said Wednesday that investigation will continue and that he will also ask other automakers if they used devices similar to Opel.
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report