The U.S. Justice Department has started a criminal investigation into whether Volkswagen cheated on emissions standards, reports the Washington Post. The investigation follows a charge by the Environmental Protection Agency that the automaker designed software to let its diesel cars detect when they were being tested for emissions. The company's stock plunged yesterday, wiping out nearly a fifth of its public stock value. At least one class action case has already been filed, and German officials said they would launch their own investigation.
Speaking last night at a Brooklyn event to launch a new model, VW's U.S. chief, Michael Horn, said, “Let's be clear about this: Our company was dishonest with the EPA and the California Air Resources Board and with all of you. In my German words, we have totally screwed up.” In the lab, VW cars met emission standards. On the road, regulators say, they emitted nitrogen oxide at up to 40 times federal standards. The software, known as a “defeat device,” was installed in some 482,000 cars, spanning model years 2009 through 2015, regulators say. The EPA and California regulators began asking questions last year after West Virginia University researchers published a study that found lab results did not match up with road tests.