As the investigation into the Volkswagen (VW) scandal continues, a news report now claims that the company’s top executives must have known that its cars were not as efficient on fuel as claimed about a year ago. These allegations support other claims that the complexity of the emissions cheating must have involved a number of people as opposed to a select few.
The German Sunday paper Bild am Sonntag claimed this weekend that VW pulled a vehicle from production earlier this year after the company discovered an 18% discrepancy between the car’s stated fuel economy and its actual performance.
VW called the accusation “pure speculation” and noted that investigations are ongoing. The company explained that the model was yanked due to diminished demand. The paper did not cite its sources.
A few months ago, it was reported that according to anonymous sources within the company - VW made several, various versions of the “defeat devices” installed in millions of its vehicles in order to rig diesel emissions tests. The revelations potentially suggest a complex web of deception by the German carmaker.
Specifically, people at VW utilized defeat device software to fool United States emissions tests on diesel cars into “believing” they met certain environmental standards. The defeat devices made sure that the actual emission levels, which were in some cases 40 times the level legally permitted in the United States, were hidden. This hidden software, which switches a vehicle’s engine to a much cleaner mode during testing, may have been installed in over 11 million cars worldwide.
This cheating supposedly went on for seven years and the illegal software was altered to fit four different engine types.
In light of the revelations, the company was asked about the number of people involved in the cheating. A VW spokesperson from the headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany replied that, “We are working intensely to investigate who knew what and when, but it's far too early to tell.”
Some analysts and experts speculate that because several versions of the defeat device were created and used, a number of employees must have been involved. A United States official close to the investigation stated that, “VW would have had to reconfigure the software for each generation of engines.”
The number of people involved is a central issue for investors since it could determine the amount of potential fines and the extent of necessary management change at the company.
Brandon Garrett, a corporate crime expert at the University of Virginia School of Law, believes that, “The more higher-ups that are involved, the more the company is considered blameworthy and deserving of more serious punishment.” He further added that federal prosecution guidelines would require the United States Justice Department to seek harsher penalties if numerous senior executives were involved.