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US chief knew VW could be breaking emissions rules

By Andreas Cremer
October 08, 2015 17:08 IST
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US regulators made public the wrongdoing on September 18

President and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America Michael Horn Volkswagen's top US executive will tell a panel of US lawmakers on Thursday that he knew as long ago as the spring of 2014 that the German carmaker might be breaking rules on US diesel emissions tests.

In written testimony submitted to a congressional oversight panel a day ahead of Thursday's hearing, President and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America Michael Horn said: "In the spring of 2014 . . . I was told that there was a possible emissions non-compliance that could be remedied.

"I was also informed that the company engineers would work with the agencies to resolve the issue," he said, without identifying the people providing him with the information.

That is about 18 months before the company admitted to US regulators it used software to cheat tests, and is likely to add to criticism it has not acted swiftly enough to tackle its wrongdoing.

Almost three weeks after it admitted publicly to rigging US emissions tests, Europe's largest carmaker is under huge pressure to identify those responsible, fix affected vehicles and clarify exactly how and where the cheating happened.

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported on Thursday that Volkswagen's 'cheat' software was switched on in Europe.

The company has previously said that, while the software was installed in around 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide, it was not active in the majority of them.

Volkswagen was not immediately available to comment on the Sueddeutsche report.

It was not until September 3, 2015, that Volkswagen told US regulators it had installed so-called 'defeat devices' in some diesel engines to mask their true level of toxic emissions.

US regulators made public the wrongdoing on September 18.

The biggest business crisis in Volkswagen's 78-year history has wiped more than a third off its share price, forced out its long-time chief executive and sent shockwaves through both the global car industry and the German establishment.

In the written testimony published on Wednesday, Horn said Volkswagen had withdrawn its U.S. certification application for some model year 2016 vehicles over a software feature that should have been disclosed to regulators as an auxiliary emissions control device.

Volkswagen has come under fire from authorities and analysts on both sides of the Atlantic for its handling of the crisis.

The company's new chairman said on Wednesday it would take "some time" to get to the bottom of the matter.

Volkswagen has suspended more than 10 senior managers, including three top engineers, as part of an internal investigation. It has also hired U.S. law firm Jones Day to conduct an external inquiry.

Some analysts and investors have questioned whether company veterans such as new CEO Matthias Mueller and new chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch will introduce the sweeping changes in business practices they think are necessary to restore Volkswagen's reputation.

Image: President and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America Michael Horn attends the 2016 Volkswagon Passat Unveiling at the Duggal Greenhouse on September 21, 2015 in New York City. Photograph: Mike Pont/Getty Images

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Andreas Cremer in Berlin
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