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Authorities pushing VW Australia on emissions scandal

Heads roll: Unconfirmed reports suggest that high-level Volkswagen Group management roles, including board member for technical development Ulrich Hackenberg, that are starting to fall amid the emerging emissions scandal.

High-level sacking reports emerge as Volkswagen Australia comes into the picture

25 Sep 2015

THE emissions scandal that has engulfed Volkswagen in the United States is starting to spill Down Under, with the first Australian government agencies pressing the German car-maker for details regarding potentially law-violating vehicles sold here.

Volkswagen has confirmed that as many as 11 million diesel-powered cars with emissions test-cheating programming have been distributed worldwide, with local distribution a possibility.

Following an admission by the Volkswagen Group that it had deliberately used a “defeat device,” Australia's fair trade and consumer protection organisations are starting to weigh in to establish what the impact will be for local VW customers.

The department of infrastructure and regional development told GoAuto it had requested information from Volkswagen Group Australia to determine if the US scandal would be duplicated on home soil.

“We are monitoring developments in the US and their implications for VW vehicles sold in Australia,” said a spokesperson.

“The Department is seeking urgent clarification from Volkswagen Group Australia, as to whether vehicles supplied to the Australian market use similar software to that used in the US.” The software in question was deliberately developed to detect if the vehicle was under test conditions, when it would activate full emissions minimising measures, but would allow up to 40 times the legal nitrogen oxide levels when under normal driving conditions.

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency and Californian Air Resources Board are scrutinising the actions of Volkswagen and may impose hefty fines of about $52,000 per offending vehicle, but the implications of the same emissions are yet to be established in Australia.

While California has among the world's strictest air quality measures with Euro 6 standards in place, Australian diesels must only conform to the older Euro 5 regulation.

Those more relaxed emissions standards could give offending Volkswagen engines the wriggle room they need to avoid the implications of misleading test results, if they are found to be circulating here.

If Volkswagen products are found to be contravening local legislation, customer's rights will be closely observed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which has also made an official statement.

“The ACCC is aware of the issues arising with VW in relation to emission representations,” it said. “It is not yet clear to the ACCC exactly how representations were made to Australian consumers.

“The ACCC is making enquiries to determine if consumers might have been exposed to misleading claims. The ACCC is also considering the rights of consumers under the Australian Consumer Law.” While the picture is only just developing Down Under, overnight reports are starting to emerge, suggesting high-level management and engineering positions are starting to tumble overseas in the wake of the scandal.

The company's head Michael Winterkorn was the first to fall on his sword, but British publication Autocar is reporting Audi R&D boss Ulrich Hackenberg, Porsche board member Wolfgang Hatz and VW brand development boss Heinz-Jakob Neusser have all either jumped or been pushed.

Volkswagen Group Australia is still in the process of establishing the impact, if any, of affected vehicles and has no significant update to offer in addition to its early response on Tuesday.

“With regards to the Australian market, we are seeking clarification on this topic from our head office in Germany, and we will be providing further information once we have more details,” said VW Group Australia public relations manager Kurt McGuiness.

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