Volkswagen’s US CEO gets grilled by Congress

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Image: AP Photo/Cliff Owen
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Volkswagen Group of America CEO Michael Horn was grilled by an inflamed US House subcommittee today (Oct. 8) over the emissions-cheating device that the company used to defraud the public and how the automaker plans to make it right.

The representatives, a few of whom were current or former Volkswagen owners, were not softened by Horn’s apologies during his opening remarks.  

“There seems to be a pervasive culture of deception in the auto industry and it has to stop now,” said Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey, citing the subcommittees past investigations into Toyota and other automakers. “The American public are not crash test dummies and cannot be treated as such.”

During the hearing, the subcommittee fixated on establishing a timeline for when Volkswagen’s leadership learned about the defeat device that affected 11 million vehicles worldwide and when it will make consumers and dealers, who now have worthless cars sitting on their lots, whole again.

Horn was asked repeatedly throughout the hearing when he and Volkswagen’s top brass first discovered the emissions-cheating devices. He said it was around the company’s Sept. 3 meeting with regulators.

When pressed by Texas Republican Joe Barton on whether he truly believed that the automaker’s bosses had no idea that cars dating back to 2009 were cheating emissions tests, Horn replied: “I agree. It’s very hard to believe and personally I struggle [with it] as well.”

The committee also sought to understand exactly how the defeat device worked, how it could be fixed, and why it was created to begin with, but none of Horn’s answers seemed to satisfy them. He said he expects it to take one to two years minimum to fix all of the 500,000 affected vehicles on US roads today, once a solution is approved, and could not outline precisely when that would occur.

In what was perhaps one of the most heated moments of the hearing, Representative Peter Welch read aloud questions from Vermont citizens that underscore the “white heat anger” Americans have about the deception, rhetorically asking: “What will you, VW, be reading while you’re in jail?” and “How do you sleep at night?