Volkswagen has disclosed to U.S. regulators that there is additional suspect software in its 2016 diesel models that would potentially help their exhaust systems run cleaner during government tests.
The news comes as a German magazine reported at least 30 managers were involved in the emissions scandal despite the company's U.S. chief executive saying last week only “a couple of software engineers” were responsible.
Volkswagen confirmed to The Associated Press that the “auxiliary emissions control device” at issue in the 2016 models operates differently from the so-called “defeat” device software included in the company's 2009 to 2015 models. The disclosure has triggered a worldwide cheating scandal that has engulfed the world's largest automaker.
The newly revealed software makes a pollution control catalyst heat up faster, improving performance of the device that separates smog-causing nitrogen oxide into harmless nitrogen and oxygen gases.
VW spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said the new issue with the 2016 vehicles was first revealed last week to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California regulators.
“Volkswagen has disclosed, in the application process for the model year 2016 2.0 TDI models, an auxiliary emissions control device,” Ginivan said. “This has the function of a warm-up strategy which is subject to approval by the agencies. The agencies are currently evaluating this and Volkswagen is submitting additional information.”
Regulators have not yet determined whether the software is a defeat device installed specifically to cheat on emissions tests, said Janet McCabe, acting assistant EPA administrator for air quality.
“We have a long list of questions for VW about this,” she said Tuesday at a dedication ceremony for a new heavy-duty truck testing lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “We're getting some answers from them, but we do not have all the answers yet.”
Volkswagen already faces an ongoing criminal investigation and billions in fines for violating the Clean Air Act for its earlier emissions cheat, as well as a raft of state investigations and class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of customers.
If it is determined the new issue is a second defeat device, that would call into question recent assertions by top VW executives that responsibility for the cheating scheme lay with a handful of rogue software developers who wrote the original code installed with the company's diesel engines starting with the 2009 model year.
Meanwhile, the German magazine Spiegel, citing internal and external investigations, reported on Wednesday that at least 30 managers were involved in Volkswagen's emissions test cheating.
The report comes after VW's U.S. Chief Executive Michael Horn last week blamed “a couple of software engineers” for installing the software that defeated emissions tests and said it was not a corporate decision.
Volkswagen declined to comment on the Spiegel report. Spiegel, citing preliminary results of probes by law firm Jones Day and Volkswagen itself, said the dozens of managers would be suspended. It cited a person familiar with the matter as saying the circle of those found to have been involved and who knew about the cheating could widen further.
Also on Wednesday, German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks called for tougher emissions regulations and tests to be implemented urgently due to the VW scandal.
Hendricks said the details of implementation, especially emission limits, needed to be agreed upon as soon as possible.
“And they need to be so exacting that diesel will really be cleaner due to them,” she said.
She said independent tests should be conducted by authorities but manufacturers would have to pay for them. The car industry is resisting the European Commission's attempt to crack down on emissions that are as much as seven times the legal limit on average.
Al Jazeera and wire services