Volkswagen admits to rigging emissions tests

Posted at 6:36 AM, Sep 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-22 06:36:10-04

German automaker Volkswagen AG admits that it rigged U.S. emissions tests so it would appear that its diesel-powered cars were emitting fewer nitrogen oxides, which can contribute to ozone buildup and respiratory illness. Here are some questions and answers about the ongoing crisis.

Q. Which vehicles does this affect?

A. Volkswagen installed software in roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the U.S. since 2008, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The software turned on the cars' full emissions control systems when the cars were being tested by the government, and then turned off those systems during normal driving. The Jetta, Beetle, Audi A3 and Golf from the 2009-2015 model years are affected, as well as the Passat from the 2014-2015 model years. Volkswagen has halted the sale of 2015 models and is prohibited from selling 2016 models until they are fixed.

Q. What does Volkswagen say?

A. The EPA Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn issued a statement Sunday saying that the company will fully cooperate with government investigations and has ordered an internal probe. Winterkorn said, "I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public."

Q. Why would Volkswagen do this?

A. Experts think Volkswagen may have wanted to avoid the cost of additional hardware to meet tough U.S. emissions standards, so it came up with a cheaper software fix. The software also would have helped the cars' fuel economy numbers, since they get better gas mileage when the emissions control system is turned off.

Q. What should customers do?

A. Volkswagen will fix the cars for free as soon as it develops a remedy. Owners will be notified when there's a fix. In the meantime, the cars are safe to drive. Car buying site cautions owners against selling the cars right now if they don't have to, since they can expect a lower trade-in value.

Q. Does this affect other diesel vehicles in the U.S.?

A. Not so far. Thirteen brands currently offer diesels in the U.S., including Ram, Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. West Virginia University, which conducted the tests that led to the discovery of Volkswagen's software, said the BMW it tested passed.

Q. What's next?

A. The U.S. government could fine Volkswagen $37,500 per vehicle for the violations, a total of more than $18 billion. The U.S. Justice Department, the California Air Resources Board and German authorities are also investigating. Winterkorn could also face scrutiny from Volkswagen's board, which meets Friday, and investors, who watched the company's shares plunge 17.1 percent Monday to a three-year low.