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Dieselgate fix approval "reasonably imminent" says Volkswagen Australia boss

Volkswagen Australia managing director Michael Bartsch has expressed frustration with Australian government authorities.

Local VW chief speaks out over bureaucratic delays to approvals to fix vehicles caught up in diesel emissions scandal.

Volkswagen Australia managing director Michael Bartsch has expressed frustration with Australian government authorities over delays to the approval process for fixes to more than nearly 80,000 Australian-delivered VW passenger and commercial vehicles.

Mr Bartsch, speaking to Australian journalists on the eve of his one-year anniversary as head of the company’s local arm, also reiterated the company’s position that it would pursue a fix for affected customers rather than bow to “entrepreneurial litigation”.

The company is currently in the midst of a recall for Amarok diesels, with 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre diesel-equipped passengers cars like the Golf, Passat and Touareg next in line.

Mr Bartsch, who ran both Porsche and Infiniti in the US before returning to Australia in 2015, claims that approval for those fixes are being delayed at a government level.

“There are 77 countries in the world that homologate their car under the global standardised EU [emissions] protocol,” he said. “Some 47 of those countries have already begun the roll-out of the fixes, 76 have acknowledged and accepted the fixes, and only one country that has not yet approved it, and that's Australia.

“We have those approvals sitting with the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development (DIRD). They most eloquently said the ball is in their court. They acknowledge that.”

Under Australian law, we don't believe there's anything on our car which is illegal.

Mr Bartsch said that the company’s working relationship with the DIRD and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is good, and that approval for reworking the majority of affected cars is “reasonably imminent.”

“Again I want to make the point that all the information, all the data that is required in order for them to approve those fixes lies within [those departments]”, he said.

He was also at pains to stress the differences in emissions regulations between the US, where the diesel emissions scandal broke last September, and Australia.

The discovery by a US university of excessive emissions from VW diesels – disguised by a set of codes in the car’s engine computer that could ‘cheat’ a standard stationary emissions test – was based on nitrous oxide, not carbon dioxide numbers.

US regulations are far stricter around NOx emissions, with Mr Bartsch highlighting the Amarok as an example.

“You can have a look at our [Australian market] homologation papers with that car. It was putting out a NOx level of somewhere between 220 and 230 (grams per kilometre),” he said. “When we reflashed that car and we took the bypass software out that is the issue of contention, it still put out 220 to 230. That motor in the United States requires a NOx output of 30 grams per mile driven (around 20g/km). You can see that you have two very, very different standards.”

He also underlined the legality of Australian-delivered VWs.

“As far as my best knowledge, my best understanding goes, we have brought our products into Australia in the past and currently have all exceeded the environmental standards here in Australia, the legal environmental standards,” he said.

“Under Australian law, we don't believe there's anything on our car which is illegal.”

Mr Bartsch also said that the brace of class action lawsuits against Volkswagen Australia were exacerbated by a ‘me, too’ fear from owners, and the level of knowledge around the actual issue was very low.

“I think one of the things which is important for us to underline is that we think the class actions that are underway, it's a reality that entrepreneurial litigation is a fact,” he said. “It's something that we have to live with.”

“I think you've got to remember that whether it's a class action with Volkswagen or whomever else it is, the entire approach on class actions is not exactly done at a level where there is this high level of understanding and buy-in,” he claimed. “It is a fishing expedition.

“In Australia, class actions are such that, unlike the US, once one person applies, it applies to everybody. I have spoken with lot of people involved in the class action. Their level of knowledge on it is very low. It's simply, "Oh, there's a class action. Here, I'll be in it."

The ultimate solution, he said, was to rectify all affected cars in the shortest timeframe possible.

“It's something that we have to deal with,” he admitted. “We will deal with it though the correct channels. We reiterate that we think the best interest for our customers is served by having these cars fixed. There will be no loss for our customers if we're allowed to get on with this fix. We do not believe that our cars have or will ever have broken any environmental standards in Australia.”

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