Volkswagen has admitted to “a mindset” in areas of the German carmaker that tolerated rule breaking, and a “chain of errors” behind its emissions cheating, as it unveiled preliminary results of the company’s investigation into the scandal.
VW said on Thursday an illegal defeat device enabling cheating during emissions tests was installed in diesel vehicles because it was not possible to comply with nitrogen oxides standards in the US “within the required timeframe and budget”.
“We are talking here not about a one-off mistake but a chain of errors,” said Hans Dieter Pötsch, chairman of VW’s supervisory board.
But he did not indicate who was responsible, nor how high up knowledge of the matter went, saying only that a “comparatively small number of employees were involved”. There was no indication that members of VW’s supervisory or management boards knew anything about the deception, added Mr Pötsch.
US environmental regulators said on September 18 they had found software-based defeat devices in VW diesel cars that served to understate NOx emissions in official tests, plunging the carmaker into the worst scandal in its history.
VW subsequently said up to 11m diesel vehicles were affected, and analysts have estimated the scandal could cost the company tens of billions of euros in fines, lawsuits and other expenses.
Jones Day, the US law firm investigating the affair for VW, is not expected to complete its work until well into next year.
Mr Pötsch, who was VW’s finance director from 2003 until October this year, expressed deep regret for the scandal. He said as a result of it, “we have lost trust, the trust of our customers, investors, politicians. Our most important task is to win back that trust.”
“No business transaction justifies overstepping legal and ethical bounds,” he added.
Mr Pötsch said VW was changing many of its processes including how it tests cars and approves software for its engine control devices. All emissions tests in the future will be evaluated externally and independently and the company will introduce random real-life tests on the road for certain models.
VW’s shares closed up 1 per cent on Thursday at €133.25.
The scandal dated back to the 2005 decision to launch a big promotion of diesel vehicles in the US. It proved impossible to meet US nitrogen oxides standards, which are stricter than in Europe, and VW said a small group of employees decided to cheat.
VW said in a statement the “NOx emissions behaviour” was because of several factors, including “misconduct and shortcomings of individual employees” and “a mindset in some areas of the company that tolerated breaches of rules”.
Matthias Müller, VW chief executive, said the crisis was an opportunity for the company to introduce “much-needed structural change”. Since the start of the year, six new directors have joined VW’s executive board and top management has been changed at seven of the company’s brands.
He said VW was not considering selling any units to help it cope with the costs of the scandal.
Mr Pötsch said investigators from Jones Day would need well into next year to finish their work because of the sheer volume of data they had collected. More than 1,500 laptops, phones and other devices had been taken from about 380 employees, and about 102 terabytes of data had been secured: the equivalent, said Mr Pötsch, of 50m books.
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