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Volkswagen ordered to recall 500,000 cars due to 'defeat device' software that masks pollution

Published 19/09/2015

United States government investigating Volkswagen for illegally cheating clean-air laws
United States government investigating Volkswagen for illegally cheating clean-air laws
Member of the Board of Management for the Volkswagen brand Heinz-Jakob Neusser presents the VW Tiguan GTE during the Volkswagen group night at the Fraport arena prior to the 66th IAA auto show in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany on September 14, 2015. Volkswagen group showed their latest models and automotive concepts from the brands Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat and Skoda. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to crowd into the massive exhibition halls of Frankfurt's sprawling trade fair grounds later this week to catch a glimpse of the latest models and high tech innovations. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSENODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
WOLFSBURG, GERMANY - MARCH 10: A brand new Volkswagen Passat and Golf 7 car stands stored in a tower at the Volkswagen Autostadt complex near the Volkswagen factory on March 10, 2015 in Wolfsburg, Germany. Volkswagen is Germany's biggest car maker and is scheduled to announce financial results for 2014 later this week. Customers who buy a new Volkswagen in Germany have the option of coming to the Autostadt customer service center in person to pick up their new car. (Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)
SEAT Leon Cross Sport is presented during the Volkswagen group night at the Fraport arena prior to the 66th IAA auto show in Frankfurt am Main, Western Germany, on September 14, 2015. Volkswagen group showed their latest models and automotive concepts from the brands Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat and Skoda. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to crowd into the massive exhibition halls of Frankfurt's sprawling trade fair grounds later this week to catch a glimpse of the latest models and high tech innovations. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSENODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Volkswagen has been ordered to recall almost 500,000 diesel cars by the United States government after it emerged that it had used computer software to cheat clean-air laws.

The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the German car-maker for intentionally using the sophisticated computer program to circumvent nitrogen oxide emissions rules for its diesel cars – making them appear up to 40 times cleaner in tests.

The agency slammed the use of the so-called "defeat device" as "illegal and a threat to public health". It has told the company to fix the cars at its own expense and could impose at least $18 billion in fines, with exact amounts to be determined.

The cars, all built in the last seven years, include the VW Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat models, as well as the Audi A3. The vehicles all contain a device programmed to detect when they are undergoing official emissions testing, the EPA said. The cars only turn on full emissions control systems during that testing. The controls are turned off during normal driving, the EPA said, allowing the cars to emit more than the legal limit of pollutants.

VW, which also owns Audi, said in a statement it is cooperating with the investigation, but declined further comment.

The manufacturer faces fines of up to $37,500 per vehicle for the violations — a total of more than $18 billion. No final total was announced. California issued a separate compliance order to VW, and officials announced an investigation by the California Air Resources Board.

Despite the seriousness of the violation, the EPA said VW will be given "a reasonable amount of time to develop a plan to complete the repairs," including both the repair procedure and manufacture of any needed parts, which could take up to a year.

Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an evrionmental campaign group, said: "The charges here are truly appalling: that Volkswagen knowingly installed software that produced much higher smog-forming emissions from diesel vehicles in the real world than in pre-sale tests."

Mr O'Donnell accused VW of "cheating not just car buyers but the breathing public." He said the charges undercut industry rhetoric about "clean diesel" cars.

The allegations cover roughly 482,000 diesel passenger cars sold in the United States since 2008. Affected models include: Jetta (model years 2009-15); Beetle (model years 2009-15); Audi A3 (model years 2009-15); Golf (model years 2009-15); Passat (model years 2014-15).

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