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'Hard to believe' - US Congressman Frank Pallone doubts Volkswagen's explanation

For more than two hours on Thursday, Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn took center stage at a congressional committee of the US Congress. Congressman Frank Pallone tells DW he doubts some of Horn's testimony.

Michael Horn

was the latest in a line of car company bosses to be "grilled" by members of Congress over a succession of scandals - from Toyota's problems with sticky accelerator pedals to General Motors' faulty ignition switches. Horn had to address over who knew about Volkswagen's emissions scam, how consumers and dealers will be remedied and what measures VW will take to fix the problem.

Talking to Deutsche Welle after Horn's testimony, Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone doubted Horn's remarks holding a limited number of software engineers responsible for the scandal, as well as his promises that the problems could be solved.

DW: Mr. Pallone, how do you assess the answers given by Michael Horn?

Frank Pallone: I appreciate his apology, that was certainly a good thing. But it's hard for me to believe that there were a couple of rogue engineers who did this and that it was never brought to the attention of someone at the corporate level, that no corporate executives had any knowledge of this. The other thing that concerns me a great deal is that how they're going to fix this. I wasn't assured in any way that this was fixable in a sense that they are able to change these vehicles so that they still have high performance, meet the emission controls and meet the miles-per-gallon standards. There is also the problem of all the extra emissions emitted into the atmosphere: What are the damages to the health of Americans or others internationally from that? More than anything else, we got more questions raised than answers today, so we're going to continue to follow up.

Mr. Horn said that neither he himself nor anybody from Volkswagen America knew about it until very recently. Is that credible?

I think he is credible, but I find it very hard to believe that no one at the corporate level in the United States, and not even in the Germany, as he suggested, was aware of this. I think it's because they are trying to say that it's not a corporate responsibility at some level.

What main questions remain for you? You talked about the issue of fixing the problem.

He couldn't say for sure that they could fix the emission controls and the cars could still have the performance and the miles per gallon that were promised. He didn't say for sure that this was going to be the case or when it's going to happen. That is a major problem, because people have these cars, dealers have the cars and can't sell them. I have no assurance at this point that these promises are going to be kept.

Which further actions will the Congress take in this scandal?

We're going to demand that the problems are fixed and the promises are kept and there is also the issues of damages that can't be fixed in the interim. But we also have to find out about the corporate responsibility here. We're seeing a whole pattern before our committee over the past five years of what I would call intentional deceit, not only Volkswagen, but other dealers: Toyota, General Motors. The larger question is: Has this been happening with other cars, with other manufacturers? And why is it that we see this pattern within the auto industry in general of intentionally deceiving consumers?

What is the damage for the image of Volkswagen here in the United States?

People bought Volkswagens because of their reputation. People keep these cars for years because of all the different reasons: high performance, high fuel mileage, meeting the emissions standards. I don't know how they can ever recover from that. Volkswagen is probably considered as one of the best performing cars, and now there is no reason to believe that.

Gero Schliess conducted the interview.

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