GERMAN car giant Volkswagen faced worldwide investigations yesterday as a scandal mounted over diesel cars it had secretly programmed to thwart US pollution tests.
France requested a Europe-wide probe, South Korea summoned Volkswagen officials for explanations and the US Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation.
Volkswagen has halted all diesel vehicle sales in the US during the probe, which could lead to fines of more than $18 billion (£11bn).
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin called for a “Europe-wide” probe, telling French radio it was “necessary” to check cars made by other carmakers as well.
“This is not a minor subject, it’s not about speed or the quality of leather,” he said. “What we are dealing with is avoiding people being poisoned by pollution.”
Experts say the cheat devices were likely introduced because pollution controls downgrade the cars’ performance in mileage and speed.
According to the US authorities, VW has admitted that it had equipped about 482,000 cars in the US with sophisticated software that covertly turns off pollution controls when the car is being driven and turns them on only when it detects the vehicle is undergoing emissions testing.
With the so-called “defeat device” deactivated, the car can spew pollutant gases into the air in amounts as much as 40 per cent higher than emissions standards, said the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” said EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Giles.
In Germany, the government has already launched an investigation into whether Volkswagen or other carmakers are doing anything similar.
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt has asked Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority “to immediately have specific and extensive tests conducted on all Volkswagen diesel models.”
VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn incredibly insisted that he and his company were “sorry.”
“The board of management takes these findings very seriously,” he claimed.
“I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public.
“We at Volkswagen will do everything that must be done in order to re-establish that trust.”