WASHINGTON -- The chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America faced a skeptical House panel on Thursday, despite his promises that the company is doing its best to get to the bottom of an emissions scandal that has rocked the world's biggest automaker.
CEO Michael Horn appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, where he told members that the company became aware of "possible emissions noncompliance" issues in the spring of 2014. But he said he was not aware until early September that a "defeat device" had been installed in nearly 500,000 VW diesel vehicles in the U.S.
The devices, which were actually code contained within the vehicles' software, allowed the cars to meet emission requirements while they were being tested but far exceed them in regular use.
Horn said that while the company offers its "sincere apology" for the use of the defeat devices, corporate leadership in Germany believes that the installation of these devices was the work of a few rogue engineers. The company is "conducting a worldwide investigation," said Horn, and "responsible parties will be identified and held accountable."
"To my understanding, this was not a corporate decision, this is something individuals did," said Horn. He also said that to his "best knowledge today," no one in company's U.S. operations knew about the defeat device until last month, after a group of scientists at West Virginia University brought the issue to light.
Subcommittee Chair Timothy Murphy (R-Pa.) told Horn he found it "amazing" that the university's testers discovered the defeat device while VW's "army of brilliant engineers and mechanics didn't know something was amiss."
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), pointed out that the company is known for being well-run.
"I agree, it's very hard to believe, and personally I struggle as well," said Horn. Earlier in the hearing, Horn said the revelations "do not reflect the company that I know and to which I have dedicated 25 years of my life."
Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told Horn he was also highly skeptical of this claim. "Either your organization is incompetent, or they are complicit," he said.
Members also expressed concern about how long the company expects it to take to fix the problematic automobiles. Horn's best estimate was that it would take more than a year to develop and install fixes for all the affected vehicles.