VW CEO Says He Is Close to an Emissions Fix; EPA Immediately Dissents

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Inside The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show
VW's Herbert Diess, with Budd-e concept van, at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show.Photo: David Paul Morris

Volkswagen CEO Dr. Herbert Diess is still trying to paddle his way out of hot water. On Tuesday night, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, he announced that he is optimistic that U.S. environmental authorities will approve his proposed fixes to some 500,000 vehicles that were engineered to cheat on emissions tests, spewing tons of pollutants beyond permitted levels into the air. Diess said he has been having productive discussions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. The EPA swiftly released a rebuttal to that, noting that the agency’s discussions with VW, “have not produced an acceptable way forward.”

Within the first few minutes of his keynote address, he was also apologizing yet again for the emissions scandal that has left the company’s future in doubt, by some estimates costing it $80 billion. Of course, the current issue with the diesel engines is certainly nothing to be proud of,” Diess said. “We disappointed our customers and the American people, for which I am truly sorry.”

Diess then pivoted the topic of conversation to VW’s new BUDD-e, an all-electric, no-tailpipe concept van whose arrival from the design shop could not have been better timed. A 21st-century reimagining of the Microbus, it was introduced with a hippies-grabbin’-some-surf film montage that evoked VW’s glory years. The BUDD-e will (if it’s ever built) go 300 miles on a single charge, has gesture-activated doors, and surrounds the driver with big screens. It’s full of Internet of Things bells and whistles: Diess demonstrated how BUDD-e could check if he had enough beer in his fridge and, eventually, drive itself. Even as concept cars go, it’s pretty fantastical, especially compared with the grimness of VW’s image problem right now; still, Diess claims that a production BUDD-e could arrive by the end of the decade.

The keynote address comes in a week where the House is set to vote on a bill (H.R. 1927) that requires attorneys to prove that each member of the class in a class-action lawsuit suffered “the same type and scope of injury.” This means there is a new burden of proof on plaintiffs to group themselves by how badly they were wronged. If they don’t class themselves accordingly, their case may get stuck in pretrials. This is significant at a moment when a possible 500,000 U.S. VW customers could be preparing to sue.