Volkswagen flouting emissions rules for 7 years: report

Volkswagen diesel engines equipped with defeat devices meant to cheat on emissions tests have been in use since 2008, according to German media reports.

Leaks from internal probe point to 2 top engineers and expensive diesel engine program

Volkswagen diesel engines emit 10 to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides, which could lead to deaths from both smog and soot. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Volkswagen diesel engines equipped with defeat devices meant to cheat on emissions tests have been in use since 2008, according to German media reports.

German newspaper Bild am Sonntag and other media outlets reported that the automaker devised the software cheat after realizing that a new diesel engine, developed at great expense, could not meet pollution standards.

Volkswagen announced in September it had suspended 10 top managers, but their names were not released.

The company will be forced to refit 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide after it was revealed that engine software had been installed that turned on emissions scrubbers during testing, but turned it off during real-world driving.

VW Managers investigated

As the U.S. Congress prepares to question Volkswagen officials about the manipulation of American emissions tests, German media are reporting the company itself is focusing on three development managers who have been suspended.

Bild newspaper reported Sunday that Heinz-Jakob Neusser, head of development at VW, and engineers Ulrich Hackenberg and Wolfgang Hatz had been put on forced vacation in the wake of the scandal. Other newspapers had similar reports.

Hatz declined comment through a spokesman and neither of the other two responded to emails seeking comment. VW spokesman Eric Felber on Monday refused to comment on "various public speculation."

Bild reported that VW's internal investigation had turned up contradictory information on Hackenberg's possible involvement, while Hatz denied knowledge.

From 2002 to January 2007, Hackenberg was in charge of concept development, superstructure development and electronics at VW subsidiary Audi. In 2007 he was appointed a member of the VW brand's board for development, and has been a member of Audi's management board since July 2013. He had responsibility for technical development of all of the VW group's brands.

Hatz joined the VW group in 2001 and served as head of engines and transmissions development at Audi until 2009, while assuming the same function at VW in 2007. In February, 2011 he became a member of Porsche's board of management in charge of research and development and is also head of engines and transmissions development for the Volkswagen group.

VW and Porsche merged in 2012 after years of wrangling.

Neusser was in charge of drivetrain development of Porsche from 2001 to 2011 before joining VW to head powertrain development there, taking over the job for the whole Volkswagen group in 2012. The next year, he was named management board member for the Volkswagen brand in charge of development.

VW's top manager in the US, Michael Horn, is to testify before Congress on Thursday.

7 years of smog and soot

That means that nitrogen oxides from millions of cars were spewing into the air for at least seven years.

The scandal has wiped 36 per cent off the value of Volkswagen stock in the past three weeks.

Finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch, who soon may be appointed chairman of the company, has said the scandal is an "existence-threatening crisis for the company."

The Volkswagen board meets Wednesday and will be under pressure to release more details about its probe and recall plans.

In the meantime, the automaker faces expensive legal bills as well as the prospect of criminal prosecution.

VW diesel cars have been spewing between 10 to 40 times more nitrogen oxides (NOx) than allowed by regulation, according to Janet McCabe, acting air quality chief for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nitrogen oxides mostly form smog — but also contribute to an increase in tiny particles of soot in the atmosphere. This kind of pollution can travel hundreds of miles.

The health effects include heart problems from soot in the air as well as respiratory problems from smog.

Associated Press statistical and computer analysis estimates the amount of pollution caused by the very small number of diesel cars on U.S. roads could have caused somewhere between 16 and 94 deaths over seven years.

The numbers may be larger in Europe, where diesel was more widely adopted.

With files from The Associated Press

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.