The Cable

Volkswagen Cheated U.S. Emission Tests To Sell More Cars in the U.S.

Volkswagen admitted its emissions cheat was a result of the company's corporate culture, a blow to the German brand.


Volkswagen, the iconic German carmaker, admitted Thursday to installing software on its diesel vehicles that allowed them to cheat American emissions test for a simple reason: It wanted to sell more cars in the U.S.

That’s the conclusion VW’s own investigators came to, Volkswagen Group Chairman Hans-Dieter Pötsch told reporters in a press conference in German that was live-streamed in English. He said VW engineers otherwise “quite simply could not find a way to meet the tougher” American limits for nitrogen oxide pollutants.

At the time, VW’s diesel-powered vehicles were looking to break into the American car market, which is fueled almost exclusively by gasoline.

“It proves not to have been a one-time error, but rather a chain of errors that were allowed to happen,” Pötsch said. He admitted that the scam, installed on as many as 11 million vehicles worldwide, including about 480,000 in the United States, dates back to 2005 and continued even after VW engineers figured out how to legally meet U.S. emissions standards.

Pötsch also acknowledged that the cheat, revealed in September, is a result of Volkswagen’s top-down corporate culture, not the work of rogue engineers. That seems to contrast with October testimony by Michael Horn, Volkswagen’s top official in the United States, who told a House committee that engineers were to blame.

Congress and the government in Berlin also are investigating VW for the scam that sparked an Environmental Protection Agency inquiry and could result in billions of dollars in fines.  

Pötsch said the scandal came from “a mind-set in some areas of the company that tolerated breaches of the rules.”

“We have to understand how this came about,” Pötsch added. “That is the only way we can prevent it from happening again.”  He said nine managers involved in the cheat have been suspended.

Volkswagen, and other German companies, have long prided themselves on the quality of their products; “Made in Germany” once stood as a sign of excellence. The VW scandal, as well as an interest rate rigging scandal at Deutsche Bank, have undermined that national pride.

Volkswagen has set aside more than $7 billion to pay possible fines. Since the scandal broke in mid-September, its stock price has fallen from $162.40 on Sept. 18 to $133.25 Thursday.

Photo Credit: Carsten Koall/Getty Images

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