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Volkswagen is staking out an aggressive response to its emissions-testing crisis in Europe, where the vast majority of affected vehicles were sold, by essentially saying: We didn’t cheat here.
The company’s system to trick, or “defeat,” pollution tests, which VW has admitted installing in millions of vehicles globally, “is not a forbidden defeat device” under European rules. The company’s determination, which was made by its board, runs counter to regulatory findings in Europe and the United States. German regulators said last month that VW did use an illegal defeat device. VW executives have already admitted to using the illegal software to cheat on emissions testing in the United States, where regulations are tougher. About 500,000 affected diesel cars were sold in America. But Europe is home to more than 8.5 million affected vehicles, making the risk of litigation and regulatory sanctions potentially costly. Volkswagen’s position sheds light on its view of the scandal as a whole. While it promises to fix affected vehicles wherever they were sold, it is prepared to admit wrongdoing only in the United States.
Its position is unlikely to mollify customers like Stephen Larkin, who has purchased Volkswagens since he bought a used VW Derby in 1988. Several weeks ago, not long after the scandal broke, he sold his 2014 diesel Passat and contacted a law firm about joining a potential suit against the company. “They play a lot on their environmental credentials, but I don’t think they care about the environment,” said Mr. Larkin, a 47-year-old civil engineer from northern England. “I‘m very disillusioned.”
Volkswagen’s claim that it did not cheat in Europe is likely to renew questions about Europe’s porous regulatory system, which allows manufacturers to control and manipulate emissions tests for their own benefit. European states and the European Union’s central government in Brussels are in a contentious battle to overhaul the regulatory system.