EMISSIONS SCANDAL: Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn says he's 'deeply sorry' for breaking the trust of customers following the US Environmental Protection Agency's ruling. Image: AP / Mark Baker
Frankfurt - Volkswagen told US dealers to halt sales of some 2015 diesel cars after regulators found software it designed for the affected vehicles gave false emissions data, the automaker said Sunday, announcing it had launched an investigation.
In a statement published by the automaker, VW CEO Martin Winterkorn said: "I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers.
"Volkswagen has ordered an external investigation of this matter."
Billions in fines
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Friday the software deceived regulators measuring toxic emissions, adding that Volkswagen could face fines of up to $18-billion as a result.
The Detroit News reported that VW dealers still had some 2015 diesel Jetta, Passat and Beetle cars for sale.
Read: VW ordered to recall nearly 500 000 cars
A VW representative on Sunday confirmed the partial halt of sales of the affected vehicles but did not give any numbers.
Winterkorn said: "We do not and will not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law."
He gave no details on who would carry out the external investigation.
'Not your usual recall'
Bernstein analysts wrote in a note on Sunday: "This is not your usual recall issue, an error in calibration or even a serious safety flaw. There is no way to put an optimistic spin on this - this is really serious."
Cynthia Giles, an enforcement officer at the EPA, said on Friday the cars in question "contained software that turns off emissions controls when driving normally and turns them on when the car is undergoing an emissions test".
The feature, which the EPA called a "defeat device," masks the true emissions only during testing. When the cars are on the road, they emit as much as 40 times the level of pollutants allowed under clean air rules meant to ensure public health is protected, Giles said.
A Volkswagen spokesman said on Sunday: "We have admitted to it to the regulator. It is true. We are actively cooperating with the regulator."
Volkswagen could face civil penalties of $37 500 for each vehicle not in compliance with federal clean air rules. Some 482 000 four-cylinder VW and Audi diesel cars sold since 2008 are involved in the allegations.
If each car involved is found to be in noncompliance, the penalty could be $18-billion, an EPA official confirmed during the telephone conference on Friday.
Volkswagen peer Daimler, meanwhile, signalled it may not be subject to the same violation.
Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said: "I have a rough idea of what is happening and that it does not apply to us. But it is much too early to make a final statement on this."