The head of Volkswagenâ€™s American business knew about a potential emissions problem with the companyâ€™s vehicles in spring 2014, earlier than previously acknowledged by top management in the United States.
Michael Horn, the chief executive of the Volkswagen Group of America, said he was informed at the time of â€œa possible emissions noncompliance,â€ but was told that the companyâ€™s engineers would work with the Environmental Protection Agency to resolve the issue, according to testimony prepared for a congressional hearing set for Thursday. Later that year, he said, he was told that Volkswagenâ€™s technical teams had a specific plan for bringing the vehicles into compliance.
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It wasnâ€™t until September 2015 that Volkswagen disclosed at a meeting with regulators that software in certain diesel vehicles contained a so-called defeat device, which effectively lowered emissions for testing purposes. The device could recognize whether a vehicle was being operated in a test laboratory or on the road and emit different levels of pollutants accordingly.
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How Volkswagen Got Away With Diesel Deception
Volkswagen could have saved fuel or improved performance by allowing more pollutants to pass through its carsâ€™ exhaust systems, researchers said.
The company has not provided a fix. Volkswagen faced a German government deadline of Wednesday night to submit a plan to correct the vehicles.
At the hearing, Mr. Horn is expected to apologize for the companyâ€™s trickery and to describe the steps it will take to investigate the episode, including finding remedies for the affected vehicles and adopting measures to prevent this from happening again.
Mr. Horn, in his prepared testimony, said Volkswagen was â€œworking tirelessly to develop remedies for each of the affected groups of vehicles.â€ He explained that there were three groups of vehicles involved, each containing one of the three generations of the two-liter diesel engine, and that each would require a different solution. Volkswagen has indicated that it will fix its 11 million faulty diesel vehicles by the end of 2016.
As Volkswagen works with American officials to address the issues, Mr. Horn indicated that certain features on future models still needed regulatory approval. With that process incomplete, he said the company had withdrawn the application for certification of the 2016 model vehicles.
He also said that the company was examining its internal processes to make sure this kind of deception would not happen again. â€œVolkswagen knows that we will be judged not by words, but by our actions over the coming weeks and months,â€ said Mr. Horn.
A spokeswoman for Volkswagen noted that Mr. Horn in 2014 â€œdid not know, nor was he informed, that Volkswagen vehicles included the defeat device software.â€ That information, said the spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan, was â€œonly revealed to Mr. Horn and to U.S. government agencies over the past several weeks.â€
As the company tries to restore its battered reputation, Volkswagen is trying to limit the culpability.
Volkswagenâ€™s new chief executive, Matthias MÃ¼ller, said in an interview published on Wednesday in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper that only a few employees were involved in the deception. Mr. MÃ¼ller added that he did not believe that his predecessor, Martin Winterkorn, knew of the cheating.
â€œDo you really think that a chief executive had time for the inner functioning of engine software?â€ Mr. MÃ¼ller told the newspaper. He said Mr. Winterkorn was so busy that he visited Porscheâ€™s famed research and development center in Weissach, Germany, only once every three years.
Mr. MÃ¼ller did say that four people â€” one more than previously disclosed â€” had been suspended over the scandal.
While Mr. MÃ¼ller did not name any of the four suspended people, three names are known: Ulrich Hackenberg, Heinz-Jakob Neusser and Wolfgang Hatz. All three held top positions at Volkswagen units and have been involved in engine development.
The fourth person, Mr. MÃ¼ller said, is below the level of top management. Some other employees who may have been involved have already retired, he said.
The notion that the issues stemmed from a small group of managers was met with skepticism outside Volkswagen and raised questions on whether the company was committed to changing a corporate culture that might have led to the scandal. And Volkswagenâ€™s supervisory board, which oversees Mr. MÃ¼ller, appointed an insider as chairman on Wednesday.