A conflict is raging among German states over the political response to Volkswagen's cheating on diesel-engine emissions tests.
In November, environmental ministries in nine states led by North Rhine-Westphalia called for a conference to respond to the impact of the VW emissions scandal, known widely as Dieselgate. Although they still plan to meet on Wednesday, they feel they have been misled, ministry sources told Handelsblatt.
The brunt of the criticism is directed at the city-state of Berlin, which currently holds the presidency of the conference of environmental ministers and is in charge of organizing the event.
Political action must seek transparency and prevent further manipulation at the expense of people and the environment. Johannes Remmel, Environmental minister, North Rhine-Westphalia
The separation of an expert hearing from the conference triggered widespread anger, according to a letter North Rhine-Westphalia environmental minister Johannes Remmel sent to his Berlin-based colleague, Andreas Geisel.
"This separation does not comply with the request for a special meeting," Mr. Remmel wrote in the letter, which Handelsblatt has seen.
According to sources, the hearing is not planned to be held in public, contrary to original agreements. A date has yet to be set.
In the letter, Mr. Remmel aired the concerns of the other eight states. The ministers, he wrote, claim they have not been adequately informed by Volkswagen about the extent of the diesel emissions scandal, and are upset with having to sit back and observe how regulations were ignored, he wrote.
At the planned conference, the environmental ministers will discuss whether the announced measures go far enough and the scandal's impact on VW customers. For example, whether individuals will be hit by a slump in the value of their cars, or by the cost of higher diesel usage.
"Political action must seek transparency and prevent further manipulation at the expense of people and the environment," Mr. Remmel noted in the letter.
The involved parties wouldn’t comment.
Among other topics on the meeting agenda is the role of the Federal Motor Transport Authority, known as the KBA. The agency has faced criticism for not carrying out sufficient tests on Volkswagen cars.
It was revealed in September that Volkswagen for years had been deploying specialized software to cheat on diesel emissions tests. Around 11 million vehicles are affected worldwide.
How Volkswagen plans to resolve the problem in the United States and a number of other countries remains unclear. In Germany, however, a recall is already underway. By the end of the year, the automaker said all affected cars in the country would conform with the legal limits for exhaust fumes.
On Wednesday, a German court in Bochum will hear the first case relating to the exhaust manipulations. A university professor is suing a local VW dealership, claiming his contract was not honored. "My client wants to return his VW Tiguan with its cheat-software," attorney Dietrich Messler said.
The professor, who bought his car around nine months ago, rejected the VW offer to remove the emissions cheating software and has sought a refund. The case in Bochum could be the first of many.
Matthias Müller, the VW chief executive, has not ruled out individual buybacks, at least for the U.S. market.
Opening the auto show on Monday in Switzerland, Mr. Müller promised to turn around and “realign” Volkswagen this year. He said the company needed to “learn from past mistakes” as it tries to recover from its emissions-cheating scandal.
Mr. Müller was criticized in January for calling VW’s emissions rigging scandal a “technical problem” in a nationwide radio interview with NPR in the United States.
Prosecutors in Germany and the United States are investigating whether top executives at VW knew of and ordered the fraud, which has affected millions of cars worldwide.
Volkswagen has consistently denied that senior managers knew of the software trick that helped falsify emissions tests around the world. Class action lawsuits filed in the United States accuse VW top officials of ordering or condoning the fraud, which the company vehemently denies.
Martin Murphy is an editor with Handelsblatt and specializes in the automotive, defense and steel industries. To contact the author: [email protected]