The Volkswagen apology tour in the aftermath of the company’s embarrassing emissions scandal is off to a poor start. Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller has flubbed initial interviews, as he has struggled with the pressure of pleasing lawmakers and environmental regulators.
Mueller participated in an interview with National Public Radio at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. During the interview, Mueller said that Volkswagen “didn’t lie” to regulators when they were initially asked about discrepancies between emissions levels during testing and emissions produced when actually on the road.
Mueller claimed that the discrepancies were caused by a technical problem that was the result of a misinterpretation of American law. It seemed that Mueller was trying to downplay the company’s role in deceiving regulators. He went on to question the reasoning behind the ethical issues that have plagued the company.
Mueller has since made another media appearance, in which he apologized for this initial interview. He said that the company fully accepts the violation and that they are doing everything they can to solve the problem.
Mueller has been largely criticized for waiting almost four months to meet with American regulators. This has given many people the impression that the serious crisis is not one of his top priorities. Shortly after taking over as the CEO of Volkswagen, Mueller was photographed holding a bottle of champagne at the Leipzig Opera Ball. A few weeks later, he was pictured in Bahrain enjoying a car race. The CEO also cut short his appearance during the company’s third quarter earnings conference to accompany German Chancellor Angela Merkel to China on a trade trip.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen spokesperson Claus-Peter Tiemann defended the actions of the CEO, saying, “This was a very extreme situation in which this interview took place. Mueller was standing in a crowd of journalists with questions being shouted at him in different languages. One question obviously was misinterpreted, taken out of context maybe, so the interview was redone.”
Mueller is set to meet with lawmakers and representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington DC on Wednesday. He will certainly face questions as to whether or not he is taking the situation seriously.