Damien Meyer / AFP / Getty Images

Germany orders VW to recall 2.4M cars with deceptive software

Recall may last through 2016 because cars with smaller engines will need physical fixes rather than just software update

Germany's transport authority has ordered a mandatory recall of all 2.4 million Volkswagen cars in the country fitted with software that gave them the ability to evade diesel emissions testing, officials said Thursday.

Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said Volkswagen would have to present replacement software this month for certain cars that have a 2.0 liter diesel engine and begin fitting vehicles with them next year.

"The Federal Motor Transport Authority is of the opinion that the software constitutes an unauthorized defeat device," Dobrindt told reporters in Berlin. "VW is ordered ... to remove the software from all vehicles and to take appropriate measures to ensure that the emissions rules are fulfilled."

The DPA news agency reported that the Motor Transport Authority, which answers to Dobrindt's ministry, rejected a Volkswagen proposal for a voluntary recall.

Dobrindt refrained from publicly criticizing Volkswagen, saying cooperation with the German automaker was "extraordinarily good."

He indicated that the recall may last through 2016 because vehicles fitted with smaller 1.6 liter diesel engines will require physical adjustments rather than simply a software update.

Those hardware changes, which may not be ready before September 2016, will determine the timeline, he said.

The company recently disclosed the existence of further suspect software in 2016 diesel models. Dobrindt said additional tests were under way that would include examining emissions outside the lab.

Asked about German media reports that more than two dozen Volkswagen managers had been suspended by the company amid signs that knowledge of the defeat devices was widespread, Dobrindt said his ministry had "no information about who decided where, when at Volkswagen about the use of such software."

Volkswagen has said that some managers had been suspended, but said the report Wednesday that up to 30 managers were involved  "lacks any basis."

Volkswagen has said around 11 million cars with the software were sold worldwide, 2.8 million of them in Germany. Dobrindt said only 2.4 million Volkswagen diesel cars with the software are still registered in Germany.

Volkswagen faces possible fines after U.S. authorities discovered it had equipped 482,000 cars with software that disabled emissions controls except when the cars were being tested. 

New Volkswagen Chief Executive Matthias Mueller is also expected to speak to top management on Thursday about the current state of investigations and its response to the crisis.

On Tuesday, Volkswagen said it would cut investment plans at its core division by $1.1 billion a year through 2019 and step up the development of electric and hybrid vehicles. Company sources told Reuters on Wednesday the premium Audi division, which generates about 40 percent of group profit, was also working on plans to cut spending.

Also on Thursday, German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said higher taxes for diesel vehicles were not on the political agenda, hours after she had suggested Berlin should think about ending tax breaks on diesel cars and promoting electric ones.

"For me, higher taxes for diesel vehicles are not on the political agenda," Hendricks said in a statement, adding that a "demonization of the diesel technology" would be a wrong reaction to the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

Only a few hours earlier, Hendricks had suggested in a television interview that Berlin should think about ending tax breaks for diesel fuel and set more incentives for consumers to buy electric cars.

"That's an idea we should consider," Hendricks told broadcaster ZDF, adding the government could also increase taxes for cars with relatively high fuel usage.

Hendricks said in her later statement: "My comments on ZDF television's morning program ... have led to misunderstanding."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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