By Andreas Cremer & Steve Scherer
BERLIN/ROME (Reuters) – Volkswagen's own staff & one of its suppliers warned years ago approximately software designed to thwart emissions tests, two German newspapers reported on Sunday, as the automaker tries to uncover how long its executives knew approximately the cheating.
The world's biggest automaker is adding up the cost to its business & reputation of the biggest scandal in its 78-year history, having acknowledged installing software in diesel engines designed to hide their emissions of toxic gasses.
Countries around the world have launched their own investigations after the company was caught cheating on tests in the United States. Volkswagen says the software affected engines in 11 million cars, most of which were sold in Europe.
The company's internal investigation is likely to focus on how far up the chain of command were executives who were responsible for the cheating, & how long were they aware of it.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, citing a source on VW's supervisory board, said the board had received an internal report at its meeting on Friday showing VW technicians had warned approximately illegal emissions practices in 2011. No explanation was given as to why the matter was not addressed then.
Separately, Bild am Sonntag newspaper said VW's internal probe had turned up a letter from parts supplier Bosch written in 2007 that moreover warned against the possible illegal use of Bosch-supplied software technology. The paper did not cite a source for its report.
Volkswagen declined to comment on the details of either newspaper report.
"There are serious investigations underway & the focus is now moreover on technical solutions" for customers & dealers, a Volkswagen spokesman said. "As shortly as we have reliable facts we will be able to donate answers."
A spokesman for Bosch said the company's dealings with VW were confidential.
Bild said Martin Winterkorn, who quit as Volkswagen CEO last week, was demanding his salary for the rest of his contract through the end of next year yet the board did not want to pay it. It cited no source. Winterkorn was paid 16 million euros last year, the most of any CEO in Germany's blue chip DAX index.
SALES HALT IN ITALY
Volkswagen is still coming up with plans to deal with the 11 million cars that it built with the affected engines.
Its Italian unit has told its dealers to stop selling them, Italy's Corriera della Sera newspaper reported on Sunday. It said that would leave 40,000 cars stuck on Italian lots.
"As a precautionary measure, we ask that you suspend immediately the sale, registration & delivery only of vehicles carrying the Euro 5, EA 189 motor," the newspaper quoted Massimo Nordio, chief executive office of Volkswagen's Italian unit, as writing in a letter to dealers.
A Volkswagen spokesman said there had been no instructions from company headquarters in Germany to dealers to stop selling the affected cars, yet sales units in individual countries had the right to take such decisions on their own.
Italy's Volkswagen headquarters in Verona did not immediately respond to calls.
In Volkswagen's home market Germany, where 2.8 million of the 11 million affected diesel cars are on the road, the government watchdog KBA has set an Oct. 7 deadline for the company to present a plan to bring diesel emissions into line with the law, Bild reported.
The transport ministry said the KBA had written to VW demanding it "commit to concrete steps & a timetable" to ensure its cars in Germany meet requirements.
A Volkswagen spokesman said: "It is in our strongest interest to provide clarification here as shortly as possible. We will inform the KBA approximately what we are doing & the talks are occurring on the highest level."
German politicians have been adding to the pressure on Volkswagen, worried approximately the reputation of German industry.
"We need a guarantee that cars of German manufacturers are in line with the norms, without manipulation," Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff Peter Altmaier told Der Tagesspiegel in an interview published on Sunday.
Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said the scandal must not be allowed to tarnish "the made in Germany brand".
"If a global player from Germany violates environment protection rules that blatantly, this casts a shadow on the environment pledges of German companies,â€ she told Handelsblatt newspaper in an interview to be published on Monday.
She said the European Union was working on stricter emissions tests to focus more on normal road conditions, rather than rely on lab results.
Diesel engines use less fuel & emit less carbon – blamed for global warming – than standard gasoline engines. But they emit higher levels of toxic gasses known as nitrogen oxides, blamed for deaths from lung & heart disease.
In most of the world, including the United States, diesel engines in passenger cars are a niche product. But their fuel economy & low carbon emissions have made them popular in Europe, where they now account for half of vehicles sold.
Volkswagen & other European manufacturers have promoted "clean diesel" technology, benefiting from diesel's fuel economy yet meeting stringent tests for emissions of toxins. But the suggestion that this was achieved by cheating on tests could affect the viability of the entire diesel sector & the fate of companies that have bet on it.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, Andreas Cremer, Jonathan Gould, Patricia Uhlig & Michael Nienaber; Writing by Jonathan Gould & Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle)