Volkswagen's US chief testifies he was unaware of emissions cheat

The head of Volkswagen Group of America told lawmakers on Thursday that he was unaware of the defeat-device software even though he reported hearing about issues with emissions compliance as early as spring 2014 in his written statement.

Kevin Hagen/AP
President and chief executive officre of Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. Michael Horn at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, Sept. 21.

[Update: Update added 2:15 p.m. Eastern time.]

Volkswagen's top US executive told lawmakers he was unaware in 2014 that the automaker was using defeat-device software to cheat emissions tests on diesel-powered cars, speaking before a congressional subcommittee Thursday.

Head of Volkswagen Group of America, Michael Horn added to prepared written testimony at the start of the congressional hearing to emphasize he was not aware of the company’s intentional deception on US regulatory tests even though he reported hearing about issues with emissions compliance as early as spring 2014 in his written statement, The Wall Street Journal reports.

“From my personal feeling, this was pressure in the system to get resolutions and also in conjunction with cost pressure as well,” he said, with emphasis that he was speculating. “It’s … wrong if you put corporate profits before people. I think we have to get to the point that we put people first and not the pressure and corporate profits.” 

[Original story continues below:]

Volkswagen's US-based chief executive is expected to testify before Congress Thursday that he first learned in the spring of 2014 that the German automaker's diesel cars were breaking US rules on emissions tests. 

President and chief executive officer of Volkswagen Group of America, Michael Horn, said in written testimony submitted to a congressional oversight panel, and obtained by Reuters, the a day before Thursday's hearing: "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 individuals who passed along this information to him.

That admission is about 18 months before Volkswagen admitted to US regulators it used software to cheat tests, and may fuel criticism the car company has not acted quickly or honestly enough to remedy its wrongdoing.

The company's new chairman, Hans Dieter Pötsch – previously VW's chief financial officer – said on Wednesday it would take "some time" to get to the bottom of the matter.

In the written testimony published on Wednesday, Mr. Horn said Volkswagen had withdrawn its US 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, designed to make cars perform better on emission tests than those actually sold to consumers.

It was not until Sept. 3, 2015, that Volkswagen told US regulators it had installed so-called "defeat devices" in some diesel engines to hide the actual level of toxic emissions. US regulators made the wrongdoing public on Sept. 18.

Germany's Süddeutsche 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 did not respond to Reuters' request for comment on the Süddeutsche report.

The scandal has created shockwaves: Volkswagen's share price has dropped by more than a third, its long-time chief executive was forced out, and both the global car industry and Germany have been swept into the fallout of the deception.

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

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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