Volkswagen's 2016 models of its diesel vehicles are equipped with software that could skew the results of government emissions tests, making the company's engines appear cleaner than they are, according to an admission by the company to regulators.
It is the latest development in a saga that has unfolded since the automaker's diesel vehicles were found to have "defeat devices" installed that are aimed at hiding emissions.
After a study on emissions discrepancies uncovered suspicious data on Volkswagen diesel vehicles, the EPA issued a notice of violation against the company in September. The company subsequently admitted that illegal software had been installed on its 2009-2015 diesel models, which enabled the cars to pass US emissions tests but dump excessive nitrogen oxide emissions during real-world driving. Such emissions can damage human health; the vehicles in question were emitting them at a rate up to 40 percent higher than was legally permitted.
Jeanine Ginivan, a Volkswagen spokesperson, told the Associated Press that the use of this "auxiliary emissions control device" differs in function from the cheating software that sparked a major scandal last month, though it could potentially be used inappropriately. Volkswagen informed the US Environmental Protection Agency and regulators in California that the software in newer models might have the same effect of the other defeat devices in making the car run cleaner during emissions testing.
"The agencies are currently evaluating this and Volkswagen is submitting additional information," Ginivan said.
The existence of the new software was made public last week by Volkswagen Group of America president and CEO Michael Horn in testimony he gave to a congressional subcommittee investigating the scandal. Such devices are not illegal if they function properly, but carmakers must notify the EPA of them when seeking certification for new vehicles.
The disclosure became public shortly before Winfried Vahland, the man Volkswagen had tapped less than three weeks ago to lead the company's reorganized North American division, announced his resignation on Wednesday. Vahland reportedly disagreed with management over the direction of the company's North American operations. Clean-emitting diesel vehicles had been a primary focus of the company's strategy to expand within the US market.
On Tuesday, EPA Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe said that American regulators had not yet determined if the device's use in Volkswagen's 2016 diesel models is legal. The EPA has not yet certified those models for sale in the US.
"We have a long list of questions for VW," McCabe remarked at a media briefing. "When we have all of the answers, we will be able to make a determination" on the whether the device is legal or considered to be a "defeat device" designed to cheat US emission rules.
Meanwhile, the US Federal Trade Commission, which probes companies accused of deceptive advertising, has joined the EPA and the Justice Department in investigating Volkswagen. The FTC is coordinating with EPA and Justice, agency spokesman Justin Cole said.
Volkswagen's market value has dropped sharply since news first broke about its use of defeat devices.