WASHINGTON -- Last week was supposed to bring some measure of clarity to Volkswagen's emissions fiasco. Instead, it opened up new areas of uncertainty and conflict between the automaker and regulators.
The latest twist concerned the 3.0-liter engines that are installed in Volkswagen, Porsche and Audi vehicles. Three weeks ago, the EPA jolted VW with allegations that more than 10,000 2014-16 vehicles with these engines had a type of software designed to foil emissions tests. Last Friday, the EPA said its scrutiny had spread to at least 75,000 additional vehicles, going back to the 2009 model year, after VW acknowledged that these vehicles had the same software as the initial batch.
The disclosure came as VW faced a deadline to provide California regulators with a draft plan to fix the 2.0-liter diesels that triggered its emissions compliance crisis more than two months ago. VW provided its draft plan to the EPA and CARB for review on Friday, the EPA said.
The latest disclosures broaden the scope of the EPA and CARB investigations of emissions rigging to cover every new diesel that the Volkswagen Group has sold in the U.S. market for the last seven model years, vastly increasing the potential penalties VW could face.
Meanwhile, more than two months after the EPA's first notice of violation, VW has yet to provide clear answers about a fix for its noncompliant 2.0-liter diesels or about results from its investigation into how the illegal software made its way into the cars.
In an interview with Handelsblatt, a German business newspaper, CARB chief Mary Nichols said agency staff has been frustrated with the pace of communications with Volkswagen about the emissions issues.
"They were showing the company results, and the response they would get was that they have to go talk to someone in Germany, and then it would take weeks to hear back," Nichols told the newspaper, noting that she hasn't been directly involved in the VW talks, which are being handled by technical personnel.
The 3.0-liter V-6 diesels have created a new source of friction. The automaker initially rejected the EPA and CARB's Nov. 2 allegations that the software on these diesels represented a defeat device, saying it had installed no software "to alter emissions characteristics in a forbidden manner."
Nichols told Handelsblatt she neither understood nor accepted that distinction. "We agreed with the EPA that there is a defeat device," she said. "And we think that the company has in effect admitted that. At first they denied it vehemently, but later we showed them the data and there was no other explanation" for the cars' behavior.
The 3.0-liter software at issue recognizes when vehicles are undergoing a U.S. emissions test and in turn activates a "temperature conditioning" mode that turns on pollution-control equipment, according to the EPA. In real-world driving, the controls are inactive, according to the EPA.
Audi of America communications chief Jeri Ward said Audi failed to disclose the software to the agency as required by law, noting that the software complies with European emissions law.
"We are fully cooperating with the environmental authorities and working on concrete measures that will resolve this situation," Ward said. "We'll need some software changes in the future that will ultimately resolve this and there are more discussions that will be needed with the agencies."