The Environmental Protection Agency accused the German automaker of using software to detect when the car is undergoing its periodic state emissions testing. When the software is switched off the cars chuck out 40 times more pollution.
Cynthia Giles, the E.P.A.’s assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance said she expected more from a company which became famous for a car which was designed by the Nazis.
Agency officials issued the car company a notice of violation and said it had admitted to the use of a so-called defeat device. The recall involves 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from model years 2009-15.
A spokeswoman for Volkswagen confirmed that the company had received the notice and said the automaker was cooperating with the investigation. She declined to comment further on the case.
Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation, first noticed the discrepancy between Volkswagen’s emissions in testing laboratories and on the road. They brought the issue to the attention of the E.P.A., which conducted further tests on the cars, and ultimately discovered the use of the defeat device software.
Under the terms of the Clean Air Act, the Justice Department could impose fines of as much as $37,500 for each recalled vehicle, for a possible total penalty of as much as $18 billion.