VW draws up refit plan for cars in pollution scam

29th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Volkswagen revealed Tuesday it has drawn up a plan to refit millions of vehicles in a worldwide pollution-cheating scam, as its new chief vowed to act ruthlessly to overcome the "severest test" in the car giant's history.

The German government has given VW until October 7 to explain how it will resolve the scandal, which has rocked the industry and wiped 29 billion euros ($33 billion), or 38 percent, off VW's market value in 10 days.

Chief executive Matthias Mueller, who took over the Volkswagen steering wheel on Friday, told senior management that technical solutions would be submitted in October.

Once approved by the German authorities, Volkswagen will inform customers and arrange for the cars to be refitted, he told managers late Monday, according to remarks released by the firm.

Volkswagen, the world's biggest carmaker by sales, has admitted that up to 11 million diesel cars worldwide are fitted with devices that can switch on pollution controls when they detect the car is undergoing testing.

They then switch off the controls when the car is on the road, allowing it to spew out harmful levels of emissions.

CEO Mueller insisted that the software was not activated in all 11 million vehicles, however, and the number of vehicles actually needing a refit would be fewer than that.

Nevertheless, with the embattled auto maker facing incalculable costs and a potential tidal wave of litigation, CEO Mueller described the crisis as "the severest test in (VW's) history."

"There is no justification for deception and manipulation," the 62-year-old manager said.

"The inconceivable misconduct that has come to light in Volkswagen over the past days pains me and angers me immensely," Mueller said.

VW's upmarket subsidiary Audi and its Czech arm Skoda have admitted that more than three million of their vehicles were fitted with the suspect devices. Spanish unit Seat has said 700,000 of its cars were also equipped with the technology.

A spokesman for VW's trucks division said that 1.8 million light commercial vehicles were involved.

- Setbacks expected -

The carmaker, which in the first six months of this year overtook Toyota to become the world leader in terms of sales, needed to win back the trust it has lost, he said.

A YouGov opinion poll revealed that VW's image among German consumers has taken a severe hit and is now no better than Daimler's city runaround, the Smart.

The affair "needs to be cleared up ruthlessly. We need courage and fighting spirit. It will be difficult and... there will be setbacks. But we can and will do it," Mueller said.

"Together, we can overcome this crisis and make Volkswagen an even better company."

On Monday, German prosecutors said they were looking to establish the exact chain of responsibility in the scam, opening an inquiry against the former CEO Martin Winterkorn, who insisted that he had not been personally aware of any wrongdoing on his part.

In addition to Germany, national authorities in several other countries have announced probes. Japan on Tuesday joined a long list of countries in ordering some of the country's biggest automakers to report on whether their diesel vehicles meet Japanese standards.

Lawsuits are also being filed, including class-action litigation in the United States.

VW has already said it will set aside 6.5 billion euros in provisions in the third quarter. But analysts suggest one to three billion euros more could be needed.

On top of that, VW also faces onerous regulatory fines, including up to $18 billion in the United States, and the fallout on customer purchases cannot yet be estimated.

- Hometown hit -

The scandal is also having repercussions in VW's hometown of Wolfsburg, in northern Germany, which has imposed an immediate freeze on spending and hiring in the public administration in case its finances are adversely affected.

The business tax VW has to pay, calculated on the basis of its annual turnover, is a significant source of revenue for the town's coffers.

Wolfsburg, located around 200 kilometres (120 miles) west of Berlin, was founded in 1938 with the construction of the first factory to build the carmaker's iconic Beetle model.

It has a population of around 124,000, more than half of whom work for VW. And the town's skyline is dominated by the sprawling manufacturing plant and a massive version of the group's blue-and-white circular logo.

Volkswagen also sponsors and finances a long list of sporting and cultural activities in the town, including its premiere league football club, VfL Wolfsburg.

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© 2015 AFP

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