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Volkswagen submits plan to fix polluting diesel cars

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat is rated at 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.
The 2016 Volkswagen Passat is rated at 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. TNS

Under deadline from California regulators, Volkswagen submitted a plan Friday to fix thousands of diesel cars equipped with “defeat device” software designed to circumvent air pollution limits.

The proposal marks a major new chapter in the pollution scandal that has plagued the German carmaker since September. Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board will review the plan but didn’t divulge any of the details Friday.

Volkswagen handed over its repair plan hours after the EPA and California agency revealed that the diesel scandal is even wider than earlier reported. They said Volkswagen disclosed Thursday that an additional 75,000 of its 3.0-liter-engine diesel cars contained defeat devices, which let VW and its Audi and Porsche subsidiaries cheat on emissions tests.

Company officials reported in September that it had equipped some 480,000 diesel vehicles with rogue software that activates pollution controls when cars are undergoing emissions testing but shuts the system off when customers are driving on the open road. Auto industry experts say the pollution controls can reduce fuel mileage and drag down the vehicles’ performance. All of the cars affected in the initial batch have 2.0-liter engines.

Volkswagen admitted to the problem after Air Resources Board scientists in El Monte, acting on a tip from West Virginia University researchers, determined that the cars were emitting far more pollution on the road than in the lab.

Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board, said the agency has 20 business days to review Volkswagen’s repair proposal, which covers the cars with 2.0-liter engines. Although the deadline was imposed by California officials, the federal EPA is reviewing the plan as well.

“We can ask for changes, we can ask for more information,” Clegern said.

“The remedy proposed in the recall must not only fix the violation in question, it must also address the safety, drivability, vehicle durability and fuel efficiency of the cars involved,” the California agency said in a prepared statement.

Volkswagen has said as many as 11 million cars worldwide could be affected by the case, and it has set aside billions of dollars to cover repair expenses and other costs.

The cost of fixing older models could be so high that Volkswagen may have to buy some of them back from their owners, the German newspaper Handelsblatt reported Friday.

“It is quite likely that they will end up buying back at least some portion of the fleet from the current owners,” California air board Chairwoman Mary Nichols told the newspaper.

The scandal widened in early November, when California and the EPA accused Volkswagen of putting defeat devices on its more powerful 3.0-liter-engine diesels as well. That allegation covered an estimated 10,000 cars sold in the United States since 2014, said EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen.

On Thursday, meeting with officials from the two agencies, the company acknowledged the problem included all 3.0-liter diesels sold since 2009. That takes in an additional 75,000 cars, Allen said.

Jeri Ward, a spokeswoman for Volkswagen’s Audi division, said the company is “working collaboratively and cooperatively” with the two agencies.

Company executives, speaking at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, said 120,000 customers nationally have accepted Volkswagen’s “goodwill package” of $500 in dealer credit and a $500 debit card, according to USA Today. The company has described it as a no-strings-attached offer that wouldn’t undermine customers’ right to sue Volkswagen. Scores of class-action lawsuits have been filed against the company since the scandal erupted in September.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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