VW ordered emission test adjustments, Seoul says

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VW ordered emission test adjustments, Seoul says

Audi Volkswagen Korea’s manipulation of local emissions tests for a vehicle was masterminded by its German headquarters, Seoul prosecutors said.

Authorities said Friday that an executive from the Korean unit who was summoned for questioning confessed that Volkswagen AG, the German headquarters, had ordered them to “adjust” the engine control unit (ECU) on the tested cars so that their emissions levels could appear lower than the actual amount.

The ECU refers to an embedded software system that controls an automobile’s exhaust gas recirculation, and modifying this requires a separate certification from the Korean government, which the carmaker failed to achieve.

So far, prosecutors found 1,567 units of this automobile - the seventh generation of the Volkswagen Golf, equipped with a 1.4-liter TSI gasoline engine - have been sold in the local market since March 2015.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said it has acquired emails between Volkswagen AG and the executive from the local unit corroborating his statement.

The case dates back to January 2014 when Audi Volkswagen Korea (AVK) imported 461 units of the Golf model and requested an emissions test from the National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER) the following month. In March, NIER notified the company that it failed the test, and therefore, wasn’t allowed to sell the cars in Korea.

When AVK notified German headquarters, Volkswagen AG told the local branch in late June 2014 to adjust the ECU and retake the test, according to local prosecutors. Following orders, AVK had the cars reassessed to finally receive the green light in March 2015.

Authorities said the NIER wasn’t aware of the maneuver.

Of the 1,567 units that were sold, 461 were imported before the initial test, about 410 were brought here after the carmaker failed the first test, and the rest - all equipped with manipulated ECUs - were shipped after the Korean government allowed sales of the car.

When asked by the JoongAng Ilbo to confirm the prosecution’s recent announcement, AVK said it “cannot acknowledge or deny” it at this point, and that it would give a public statement once the authorities wrap up their probe.

Friday’s latest breakthrough in the ongoing investigation surrounding AVK came four days after the executive became the company’s first official to be summoned by local prosecutors.

Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discovered last September Volkswagen’s rigged emissions tests, the vehicle’s local branch has been at odds with the Ministry of Environment and the scandal has dragged on for months.

Prosecutors last month seized 956 Audi and Volkswagen cars at a port in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, and found 606 of them had been imported without a proper emissions test.

The Korean government rejected this month Volkswagen’s third recall plan, saying the automaker has not yet officially acknowledged its use of so-called defeat devices to cheat emissions and fuel-efficiency tests.

BY LEE YU-JEONG, PARK SUNG-MIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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