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FT: How Volkswagen first cheated on emissions tests

FT: How Volkswagen first cheated on emissions testsVolkswagen’s most senior US executive revealed on Thursday how the carmaker first cheated on emissions tests to get around problems in meeting tough new standards, at a Washington hearing marked by point-scoring and flashes of emotion.

Michael Horn, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America, was the first senior VW executive to give sworn, public evidence about the scandal over a “defeat device” it installed in the software controlling 11m diesel vehicles worldwide. The device detects when a vehicle is undergoing an emissions test and turns on emissions controls then, and at no other time.

Members of the investigations subcommittee of the House committee on energy and commerce expressed astonishment at VW’s behaviour as they strove to outdo each other in their condemnation.

Mr Horn seemed to struggle to contain his own anger over the deceit, which he said he had discovered only days before VW formally admitted its behaviour to US regulators on September 3.

“This company has to bloody learn and use this process to get its act together,” Mr Horn said, in response to a question from Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts about the scandal’s organisational implications.

Read also: Germany investigates VW's ex-boss over fraud allegations

Mr Horn — who asked for several questions to be repeated because of the noise from the cameras clicking and the volume of people behind him — stuck throughout to blaming the introduction of the defeat device on a handful of engineers in Volkswagen’s German headquarters.

“To my understanding, this was not a corporate decision,” Mr Horn said.

He was speaking shortly after German prosecutors carried out raids at VW’s headquarters in Wolfsburg and other locations in connection with their investigation.

However, even Mr Horn acknowledged that his explanation that the deceit stemmed from the actions of a small group of engineers was problematic.

“I agree it’s very hard to believe,” he said. “Personally, I struggle too.”

The main revelation in his testimony came during questioning about the process of fixing the affected vehicles, when he gave the clearest confirmation so far that the deception started because VW’s distinctive emissions-cleaning technology for smaller diesel vehicles would not work.

VW devised a system — known as a Lean NOx Trap (LNT) — meant to break down dangerous Nitrogen Oxides without using the chemical urea. The technology is fitted to 430,000 of the 482,000 US vehicles which included the defeat device in the control software.

Read also: VW manipulated diesel emissions tests in Europe

Other carmakers have said they could never understand how VW hoped to meet strict US emissions standards with the technology.

Mr Horn told members that it would take far longer to repair LNT vehicles because they would require not only software updates but also work to install urea tanks.

“For those cars, we believe that a software-only solution will not be possible because, frankly, if it were possible they would have done it in the first place,” Mr Horn said.

The committee also heard evidence from Chris Grundler, the Environmental Protection Agency’s director of transportation and air quality, on his agency’s role in detecting VW’s deception.

He denied that the agency had lost faith in diesel engines generally, even though it has said it is stepping up examination of other manufacturers’ vehicles.

“I don’t expect to find widespread problems,” Mr Grundler said. “But we’re taking a very close look.”

Source: Financial Times
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