DETROIT -- The timetable for Volkswagen to deploy fixes for seven years’ worth of diesel vehicles and resume sales of new ones remains unknown after California regulators on Tuesday rejected the automaker’s initial repair proposals, and a top EPA official indicated that the ultimate plan would have to meet a stiff test before it’s approved.
Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, said at the Automotive News World Congress today that his team agreed with the thumbs-down from the California Air Resources Board and that he didn’t know how long it would take for VW to submit a new plan that was acceptable to the regulators.
“Both ARB and EPA continue to insist on an expeditious fix that will not only bring these vehicles into compliance but also do so in a way that doesn’t create any adverse impacts for owners,” Grundler said. “We’re not there yet.”
Grundler’s remarks came just before VW AG CEO Matthias Mueller and VW brand chief Herbert Diess emerged from a critical meeting with EPA Adiministrator Gina McCarthy today without a deal on the repairs. Both the EPA and VW expressed appreciation for the conversation and said work towards a fix plan would continue.
CARB said Tuesday that the fix plans VW submitted to the agency and the EPA in November, and updated with additional submissions since, were “incomplete, substantially deficient and fall far short of meeting the legal requirements to return these vehicles” to compliance.
VW now faces a prolonging of its nearly four-month battle with U.S. regulators over resolving the diesel violations, and a dimming of hopes that it could resuming U.S. sales of new diesel cars in the near future.
The meeting between Mueller, Diess and McCarthy marked an escalation in the talks between regulators and VW that have happening since the EPA made the emissions violations public in September.
Volkswagen Group of America CEO Michael Horn told reporters at a VW event Sunday night that the talks were “political” in nature rather than technical, describing them as a discussion about “the process so far and what do we need to do in order to finalize the process on a political level.”
Grundler said the VW’s fix proposal fell short in a number of significant areas, suggesting much more work and time remains before U.S. cars can be repaired.
“I do want to say that this is not a political matter,” Grundler said. “It’s a serious mater, the deficiencies cover a range of areas. I would not characterize it as dotting i’s or crossing t’s. We agreed with CARB’s assessment … but we’re going to keep talking.”
Volkswagen diesels have carried the illegal emissions software since the 2009 model year, when VW launched the Jetta TDI “clean diesel” in the U.S. market. Grundler said the agency failed to catch the illegal software earlier because agency audits using on-road testing equipment were focused on heavy-duty diesel vehicles.
“We tested this 2009 TDI before it went to market. We tested it on our test cycles and it passed, and now we know why,” Grundler said. “Had we tested it using one of our on-road measurement devices or had we tested in different kinds of configurations, we would have found it.”