How can VW make things right with American authorities?

Volkswagen is still reeling from its emissions scandal this fall.  CEO Matthias Müller is scheduled to meet with EPA chief Gina McCarthy on Wednesday, just one day after the California Air Resources Board's rejection of VW's recall plan.

Mark Blinch/REUTERS/File
Detail view of a Volkswagen logo at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, January, 2016. Volkswagen shares rose ahead of a crucial meeting in January, at which its chief executive will try to persuade US authorities to accept a fix for hundreds of thousands of cars rigged to cheat diesel emissions tests.

Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy are scheduled to meet today to discuss possible reparations for an emissions scandal that shook the company early this fall.  

The EPA issued two notices of violation of the Clean Air Act to Volkswagen this fall, with allegations that Volkswagen light-duty diesel vehicles in model years 2014 through 2016 included a defeat device that allowed vehicles to produce diesel emissions in excess of the EPA's standards. It was later revealed that the scandal was not limited to diesel powered vehicles, and affected model years from 2009 onward. Both the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) investigated the scandal. 

CARB chairman Mary Nichols captured the betrayal felt by American consumers since September. She said, “Volkswagen made a decision to cheat on emissions tests and then tried to cover it up. They continued and compounded the lie and when they were caught they tried to deny it. The result is thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide that have harmed the health of Californians. They need to make it right.”

VW has apologized many times since the scandal broke in 2015, yet many feel that these apologies are insufficient. Contradictory statements from Volkswagen's leadership, at times condemning their own behavior, and at others claiming that the company had never lied to its customers, have led critics to call such attempts insincere

Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn issued an apology prior to his resignation this fall. “Millions of people in the world trust our brand, our cars, and our technology,” said Mr. Winterkorn. “I am endlessly sorry that we have betrayed that trust.” 

Despite Winterkorn's pre-resignation apology, his successor equivocated in an interview with NPR in January. While Mr. Müller apologized for betraying the public's trust, he maintained that VW merely did not understand emissions regulation law in the United States. Müller later attempted to clarify his position in a follow-up interview with NPR and appeared to take full responsibility for the mistake. 

Now, months after the scandal broke in September, VW is seeking a solution. The company initially attempted to placate consumers by offering discounts on new VW vehicles, as well as cash payouts to autodealers who lost money due to the scandal.

VW also submitted a recall plan to the CARB. The CARB rejected Volkswagen's plan this week, calling it incomplete and vague. A rejection letter written by CARB executive officer Richard Corey cited the plan's inability to correct the problem in a timely manner. The CARB's letter to the auto manufacturer did note that, "today's actions do not preclude a recall or other remedy."

On Tuesday, Müller met with Pennsylvania Representative Tim Murphy. Rep. Murphy is the chair of the Subcommittee on Oversights and Investigations, which is currently investigating September's scandal. Müller is scheduled to meet with EPA chief McCarthy on Wednesday to discuss the future of VW's recall efforts. 

Although Volkswagen settled its European recall plan in December, the United States is a tougher nut to crack due to its heightened emissions standards. After months of waffling apologies, American consumers may require solutions before they can forgive. 

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