According to people familiar with the matter, U.S. regulators found a special type of software on some of Volkswagen’s Audi cars designed to mask carbon-dioxide emissions. VW had originally said that the software masked just smog-causing emissions.
Sources said California Air Resources Board spotted the new type of software four months ago during laboratory tests. But CARB and VW declined to confirm the discovery. CARB has been involved in an ongoing investigation into the car maker’s emissions-cheating scandal since last fall.
VW Didn’t Confirm the Findings
Audi, which represents the company’s luxury-car unit, refused to comment on the findings. It cited an ongoing investigation which started last year when U.S. officials found illegal software on the car maker’s diesel engine vehicles. The app enabled VW cars cheat regulatory testing for nitrogen oxide emissions.
Analysts cannot say how the new discovery would impact Volkswagen’s image both in the U.S. and overseas. The Wolfsburg-based company faces a series of trials and official probes across the world.
Nevertheless, the revelations could spur a new wave of criticism from U.S. regulators, shareholders, and drivers. The company already agreed to pay billions of dollars to settle the issue worldwide. Plus, it voluntarily recalled nine million units just in Europe.
The automaker planted the “defeat device” onto its diesel and gasoline models to pass emission standards for nitrogen oxides. But the newly-found software did the same thing to bypass CO2 emissions standards, as well.
Sources said CARB experts identified the software by using what they have learned in a previous probe into the issue. They conducted lab tests of cars but moved the steering wheel to create the conditions for the vehicles to react as if they were on a road. When cars were on the road, the level of carbon dioxide emissions jumped dramatically.
Company’s Chairman in Hot Water
The recent find could be another hard blow to the company. On Sunday, the company said German prosecutors targeted its chairman in a criminal investigation related to the emissions scandal.
German prosecutors included in the investigation chairman Dieter Pötsch. The probe had only targeted two top executives: Herbert Diess and CEO Martin Winterkorn. Investigators believe the third executive willfully hid the U.S. investigation from investors. Volkswagen said it found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Pötsch joined Volkswagen in 2015 as finance chief. After the emission scandal, the company appointed him chairman. The scandal broke on Sept. 18, 2015, when U.S. regulators found “defeat devices” on 500,000 diesel cars.
In the wake of the scandal, the car maker admitted it had installed the software on 11 million vehicles across the world. In June, it agreed to pay authorities and affected drivers in the U.S. $14.7 billion. This settlement covers just two-liter diesel cars. The company is still in talks with authorities on a settlement for three-liter diesel engines.
Sources said the company discussed the CO2 emissions-cheating device in early 2013 during a “Summer Drive” edition in South Africa. At the time, Audi’s powertrain division’s chief Axel Eiser explained that the device should “run at 100%” in laboratory conditions and only “0.01% with the customer.” Eisler couldn’t be reached for comment.
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