The scandal engulfing Volkswagen AG (VW), which has admitted cheating diesel vehicle emissions tests in the US, has spread east as South Korea said it would investigate three of the maker’s diesel models.
Volkswagen shares plunged by 19 percent on Monday after the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Friday that the world’s biggest carmaker by sales used software that deceived regulators measuring toxic emissions and could face penalties of up to US$18 billion.
Media reports say the US Department of Justice has started a criminal probe into the allegations, which cover several Volkswagen and Audi-branded diesel models, including the Audi A3, VW Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat.
The South Korean probe will involve 4,000 to 5,000 Jetta, Golf and Audi A3 vehicles produced last year and this year, Park Pan-kyu, a deputy director at the South Korean Ministry of Environment, said yesterday.
The ministry will consider recalling those vehicles after carrying out an investigation, he said.
“If South Korean authorities find problems in the VW diesel cars, the probe could be expanded to all German diesel cars,” he said.
Volkswagen Korea declined to comment.
German rivals Daimler and BMW have said the accusations against Volkswagen did not apply to them.
The European Commission has said it is in contact with Volkswagen and US regulators, but it was too early to say whether VW vehicles in Europe were also affected.
French Minister of Finance Michel Sapin yesterday called for a “Europe-wide” probe.
Sapin told French radio that to “reassure” the public, it seemed “necessary” to carry out checks on cars manufactured by other European carmakers.
“We are in a European market, with European rules that need to be respected,” Sapin told Europe 1 radio.
“Even if it’s just to reassure people, it seems necessary to me that [checks should be carried out] also on French carmakers,” he said, adding that he had no “particular reason” to suspect wrongdoing.
German authorities have already announced an investigation into whether Volkswagen or other carmakers are doing anything similar in Germany or Europe.
A Volkswagen spokesman in Australia said the company had contacted its head office in Germany asking for advice about how to proceed and whether it expected cars sold in Australia to be affected.
Australia’s Department of Infrastructure, the government agency responsible for the matter, said it is monitoring developments.
“The Department is seeking urgent clarification from Volkswagen Group Australia, as to whether vehicles supplied to the Australian market use similar software to that used in the US,” the department said in an e-mail.
Overnight, Volkswagen’s US head, Michael Horn, who was attending a lavish event in New York to promote the 2016 VW Passat, said the company had “totally screwed up” and vowed to make amends.
It is unclear what will be the ultimate cost of the scandal to Volkswagen, which also faces a class-action lawsuit from buyers, but sales of affected versions of the relevant models have already been suspended in the US and Canada.
A member of Volkwagen’s supervisory board, Olaf Lies, who is also the German Economy Minister for the state of Lower Saxony, said there would also be a cost for those found responsible.
“I am sure that there will be personnel consequences in the end, there is no question about it,” he said.
German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel has expressed concern that the scandal could damage “the justifiably excellent reputation of the German car industry,” and South Korea, where two-thirds of all car imports in the first half were diesel, could be a significant early gauge of customer response.
South Korea’s vehicle imports from Germany rose 18.2 percent to US$4.5 billion in the first eight months of this year, customs data show, following a 42.5 percent increase for all of last year.
Volkswagen and Audi accounted for 28.2 percent of all foreign cars sold the in the first eight months, according to the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association.
Additional reporting by AFP
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