Volkswagen hopes to begin Irish recall in January

VW Ireland CEO accused of a ‘cover my butt’ PR exercise at Oireachtas hearing into scandal

Scandal-hit German car giant Volkswagen plans to begin fixing Irish cars affected by its emission scandal in January.

Volkswagen Group Ireland chief executive Lars Himmer told an Oireachtas Transport Committee yesterday the car firm now estimates 115,917 vehicles in Ireland are affected across the Audi, Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen brands.

Mr Himmer said the firm has presented a remedy to its emissions-cheating software for some of the diesel engines affected to German federal authorities. However, this will still need to undergo validation testing and approval, which may take up to three months.

Speaking before a committee hearing into the scandal, Mr Himmer said: “I would like to express my sincere apologies that our Group has significantly let down our customers, our staff, our dealers and the wider public.”


“As a Group, we accept that we mishandled these tests and we will fix this at our expense and in a way that minimises any disruption to our customers or other stakeholders.”

This didn’t cut muster with committee member Timmy Dooley TD, who accused Mr Himmer of simply taking part in a “cover my butt exercise” and being more concerned with PR spin in restoring the reputation of the firm rather than compensating the “injured parties”.

Committee member Senator Paschal Mooney said Volkswagen should be ashamed of it actions and the deception. He said he found it astonishing when, in the last decade the whole issue of emissions was centre stage there was “some technician or group of technicians beavering away in Wolfsburg trying to defy the whole emissions issue. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Mr Himmer assured the committee the firm’s focus is on winning back the trust of customers and finding the people responsible.

Speaking before the hearing Mr Himmer said he hopes to start recalls of Irish cars in January. It will start with 2-litre diesel models, followed by recalls of 1.6-litre affected engines in mid-summer and 1.2-litre engines after that.

The scandal began on September 18th when the German car giant confirmed it had fitted up to 11 million cars vehicles with software designed to cheat emissions tests. The software featured in diesel engine type EA189, sold in three variants: 1.2-litre, 1.6-litre and 2-litre.

Of the 115,917 vehicles affected in Ireland, 2-litre engines make up 50 per cent, 1.6-litre represents 48 per cent and the remainder are 1.2-litres. Mr Himmer told the committee that the website the firm set up for owners to check if their car is affected had already had over 100,000 users.

The car firm has confirmed it will recall all vehicles affected, totalling over 8 million in Europe. It says it is still working with authorities on a fix that will remove the cheating software but leave fuel economy and emissions unaffected.

Responding to question from Brendan Griffin TD, Mr Himmer said he is assured there will be no impact on vehicle performance.

Owners remains concerned, however, that any changes to the software in the engine management system may increase fuel consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This would mean changes to the tax rating on the vehicles as Irish motor tax and Vehicle Registration Tax are set on emission levels.

According to the Department of the Environment these emissions are taken from the car’s Certificate of Conformity provided by the manufacturer. “Should revised Vehicle Registration Certificates be issued in relation to such vehicles in order to reflect the actual level of emissions relating to them, this would affect the rates of motor tax applicable. The matter will be kept under review.”

Mr Himmer said the fixes being proposed “shouldn’t impact on CO2 emissions” and therefore there should be no tax implications.

Volkswagen admits the software was designed to deceive US tests for Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), which is harmful to the respiratory system and has been linked to deaths.

It went on to heavily market its cars as “clean diesels” at a time when diesel engines made up less than 3 per cent of the US new car market.

Earlier this month Volkswagen's US boss made a "sincere apology" for installing "defeat devices" to cheat emissions tests on its diesel cars. Speaking at a US congressional hearing on the scandal, Michael Horn, chief executive of VW's US operation, said the events were "deeply troubling".

However, he said the decision to use the devices was not one made by the company’s board, but by individuals.

Many of the US committee members were sceptical. New York Congressman Chris Collins said: "VW is trying to get us to believe this is the work of a couple of rogue engineers. I don't believe it."

Following confirmation that cheat software was fitted to cars sold in Europe, Spain has joined the list of countries demanding Volkswagen pay back subsidies it received on its "green" clean diesel models.

While the US$51 million green subsidy payment from California to Volkswagen for its allegedly clean diesels grabbed the initial headlines, Spain is now demanding the company hand back a €1,000-a-car subsidy.

The payments, which started in 2009 and went to buyers of low-emission cars to help keep the car industry buoyant during the worst of the last financial crisis, have become a focal point for political outrage over the VW scandal in Spain.

New tests

The European car industry is feeling a chill wind of concern over the potential for the scandal to affect both diesel car sales and the future costs of making those cars.

The current emissions testing regime in Europe is due for replacement shortly and there is a real-world testing element expected to be included in a new test in 2017. The impact of the VW scandal is likely to force even tighter restrictions on the next test regime.

Car makers, and many of the governments in whose countries there are major car-making operations, have thus far been resisting the implementation of the new testing cycle though.

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer is Motoring Editor, Innovation Editor and an Assistant Business Editor at The Irish Times