Shares in Volkswagen have suffered their biggest fall in almost six years as investors responded to accusations in the US that the German carmaker falsified emissions data – an action that could attract penalties of up to $18bn (£11.6bn).
The Environmental Protection Agency in the US said on Friday that VW had installed illegal “defeat device” software to cheat emission tests, allowing its cars to produce up to 40 times more pollution than allowed. The US government ordered VW to recall 482,000 VW and Audi cars produced since 2009.
VW shares dropped 13% to €140.95 on the DAX index in Frankfurt, the biggest one-day fall since November 2009.
“I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public,” Martin Winterkorn, VW’s chief executive, said in a statement on Sunday. “Volkswagen has ordered an external investigation of this matter.”
Volkswagen suspended sales of cars containing the company’s four-cylinder turbo direct injection (TDI) engine on Friday after the investigation. The “clean diesel” engine is commonly used in models including VW’s Beetle, Golf, Jetta, Passat and the A3 luxury compact made by VW-owned Audi.
Europe’s biggest carmaker could face penalties of $37,500 for each car not in compliance with clean air rules.
“This disaster is beyond all expectations,” Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, head of the Center of Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, told Reuters.
The accusations by the agency emerged as VW was seeking to shake off doubts about its leadership at a supervisory board meeting on Friday. Former chairman Ferdinand Piech quit in a power struggle with Winterkorn over strategy five months ago.
The company is also grappling with falling sales in China and efforts to boost profitability.
This article was written by Sean Farrell, for theguardian.com on Monday 21st September 2015 09.43 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010