WASHINGTON -- With its diesel car lineup grounded by an emissions-test cheating scandal, Volkswagen now bears the burden of proving that these vehicles comply with federal emissions standards, the EPA’s top auto regulator said.
Until then, said Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation Air Quality, no sales.
Meanwhile, Grundler said, the EPA and California regulators are now probing all light-duty diesel vehicles in the U.S. market from all manufacturers to check for illegal software designed to fool U.S. emissions tests.
U.S. regulators accused VW on Friday of violating the Clean Air Act by selling 482,000 diesel-powered vehicles with such illegal software. The agency said the company admitted to fitting seven model years’ worth of diesel cars with the softwared -- termed a “defeat device” -- that would activate the cars’ emission controls during testing, but deactivate them in real-world driving.
In order to be able to resume sales of diesels, Grundler said, VW has to engineer a fix to bring those vehicles into compliance, and receive EPA approval before a recall can commence. It’s not clear yet whether that fix will consist of a change to the engine’s emission control software or more substantial engineering changes to vehicle hardware, Grundler said.
According to the EPA’s website, it could take up to one year to identify “corrective actions,” develop a recall plan and issue recall notices. But Grundler declined to discuss a specific timetable.
“Until we gather that information and are convinced ... we’re not going to go forward with the recall,” Grundler said. “It will take more work to determine what the appropriate remedy for these vehicles is.”
U.S. lawmakers want more answers, too.
Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today announced plans to hold a hearing on the VW emissions scandal in the near future. The hearing will be held before the panel’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, though no date has been set.
“We will follow the facts. We are also concerned that auto consumers may have been deceived – that what they were purchasing did not come as advertised,” U.S. Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Tim Murphy, R-Pa., chairman of the investigations subcommittee, said in a joint statement.
"The American people deserve answers and assurances that this will not happen again. We intend to get those answers.”
Also in Washington, the White House said today it was "quite concerned" about reports it was seeing concerning VW's conduct in complying with U.S. Clean Air Act requirements.
"It's fair to say that we're quite concerned by some of the reports that we've seen about the conduct of this particular company, but ultimately this is the responsibility of the EPA to take a look at it and that's exactly what they're doing," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
VW will also have to convince the EPA and California’s Air Resources Board that its 2016 model year diesel vehicles will comply with emissions standards and are free of any illegal software, Grundler said. Until then, the agency will continue to withhold the emission certifications needed to begin sales of those models, which are currently being withheld from dealers.
The sales suspensions are a blow to Volkswagen, which counts on diesels for more than one-fifth of the VW brand’s sales volume, and has touted its “clean diesel” technology as a key differentiator in the marketplace.
“We’ve been working with the company for a long time trying to get answers and it wasn’t until very recently that VW admitted that these vehicles contained software designed to defeat the emissions standards,” Grundler said. “We want to make sure that 2016 model vehicles don’t operate the same way.”
Reuters contributed to this report.