Thursday

26th Jan 2023

Volkswagen scandal may spill into Europe

  • Advertisement in Berlin for Volkswagen Beetle 2012, one of the models involved in the scandal in the US (Photo: Frank Kehren)

It is becoming increasingly likely that the emissions testing scandal involving Volkswagen cars in the US will spill over into Europe, as calls intensify for an EU-wide probe to ascertain whether car manufacturers cheated here too.

Last Friday, the German car manufacturer was forced by the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recall almost 500,000 vehicles, after it emerged that illegal software in the cars was cheating emissions tests – meaning that the cars were actually dirtier than they “pretended” to be during the test.

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  • France and the UK have called for an EU-wide probe (Photo: Dave Pinter)

But on Tuesday (22 September), the company revealed that “some eleven million vehicles worldwide” are involved.

Given that Volkswagen Group is the largest provider of personal cars in Europe - one in four is made by the company - more and more politicians are calling for an investigation.

Germany has already decided to order tests on all Volkswagen diesel models. Chancellor Angela Merkel called for “complete transparency, clearing up the entire case”.

On Tuesday French finance minister Michel Sapin called for a Europe-wide probe.

“We are in a European market, with European rules that need to be respected and that have been broken in the US”, he said on Europe 1 radio.

“Even if it's just to reassure each other, it seems necessary to carry them out also on French carmakers”, added Sapin.

UK transport minister Patrick McLoughlin also called for an EU-wide investigation on Tuesday.

“It’s vital that the public has confidence in vehicle emissions tests and I am calling for the European Commission to investigate this issue as a matter of urgency”, McLoughlin said in a statement.

But the European Commission said on Tuesday afternoon that it is not yet time to start an EU-wide probe.

“We need to get to the bottom of this”, spokesperson Lucia Caudet told journalists, saying the Commission is in contact with Volkswagen, EPA and the California Air Resources Board “to establish the facts with regard to the recall”.

“It's too early for us to draw any conclusions”, added Caudet.

Meanwhile, the company's leaders have been trying to do as much damage control as possible.

“The irregularities in diesel engines of our group contradict everything which Volkswagen stands for”, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn said in a video statement – he did not address whether he would stay as CEO. He did, however, say that he was very sorry.

A day earlier, Michael Horn, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said Volkswagen “totally screwed up”.

The company said on Tuesday it had set aside some €6.5 billion to “cover the necessary service measures and other efforts to win back the trust of our customers”.

The scandal vindicates those who argue that the EU should introduce stricter rules and close the gap between the level of emissions measured at laboratory tests, and actual driving.

“It has long been an open secret that European carmakers have been ducking the EU's rules to enable them to keep their highly polluting cars on the road. By gaming the test procedure for vehicle emissions, carmakers have kept cars on the road that are multiple factors over the legal pollution limits”, Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout said in a statement.

The European Parliament's environment committee is voting on legislation on Wednesday that aims to reduce pollutant emissions from road vehicles.

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