Matthias Müller, the chief executive of German car manufacturing giant Volkswagen has announced a $900m deal to build a new SUV model in Tennessee on the eve of the Detroit auto show.
Following last year’s scandal around VW’s cheating of emissions tests – discovered initially by American researchers – Müller also apologised to the company’s American customers and admitted that the firm must rebuild confidence and trust in the U.S.
On his first official US visit to the United States since taking over as head of VW – following last September’s diesel car emissions tests scandal – Müller told the gathered American media, “We know that we have let down customers, authorities, regulators and the general public here in America.”
Speaking in Detroit – as the ‘motor city’ prepares to host one of America’s biggest auto shows – the German car manufacturer’s leading figure went on to add, “I would like to apologise once again for what went wrong at Volkswagen. Our most important task in 2016 is to win back trust. It’s not only our cars we have to fix. We have to repair our credibility, too.”
Last year it was US regulators who had discovered the emissions test falsification software in VW-built vehicles, with the German company forced to admit that
11 million diesel cars were affected worldwide, including models of the Audi, Porsche, SEAT, Skoda and VW brands.
The scandal centred around what have become known as ‘defeat devices’ which activate pollution controls when vehicles are being tested for levels of emissions of the highly toxic nitrogen oxide.
The revelations that this might have been done deliberately led to a global scandal damaging VW’s reputation and causing huge financial repercussions for the manufacturer. The mere fact that the company has thus far been able to ride the stormy post scandal waters highlights the scale of their operations and the financial and political power of the group.
However, the US government was not alone amongst other authorities worldwide to take legal action of the matter. In the US it has been stated that the defeat devices were installed on almost 600,000 VW, Audi and Porsche vehicles sold over the last six years.
Proceedings against Volkswagen allege that the company intentionally cheated pollution regulations and also hijacked investigations into the matter by covering up facts and giving out misleading information to the relevant authorities.
Briefing the press in Detroit Müller told journalists “we are not a criminal brand or group” and said that Volkswagen had not intentionally deceived American consumers or lawmakers, even if significant technical errors had been committed.
The extent of the financial fallout for the firm is not yet fully known. Volkswagen faces an expensive recall and fix process across the US, Europe and other territories, whilst government and civil law cases against the company could cost billions in fines, settlements and compensation.
The company’s executives are meeting regulators to negotiate this process whilst their engineers are working rapidly on technical solutions. In the mean time VW will plough on with plans to develop a new SUV vehicle at their factory in Chattanooga, which Müller announced will create 2,000 jobs.