Today was supposed to be D-Day for VW. A federal judge set a March 24th deadline for the auto maker to present a plan to fix the some 600,000 diesel-powered cars it sold in the US with so-called defeat devices.
Last fall, Volkswagen admitted it had used a software cheat that only kicked in pollution controls when vehicles were in test situations. Out on the open road, cars powered by VW's TDI diesel actually produced up to 40 times the allowable level of some pollutants.
This morning, lawyers for the company met with US District Judge Charles Bryer. He's handling a consolidated case that includes hundreds of plantiffs suing Volkswagen, as well as suits filed by the government. Bryer gave the automaker one more month to craft a solution. He said there was evidence VW had made progress, but he tempered his patience with a threat – have a concrete plan in place by April 21, or he would order the case to trial.
Both the US Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board have rejected previous fixes offered by Volkswagen. And legal and technical observers differ on how, and even if VW can modify its diesels to comply with US pollution standards. Some believe the company will have to buy back some or all of the vehicles. Others say fixes could be achieved, but that they will come at the price of a cut in performance, fuel efficiency or both.
Most agree whatever the outcome, the dollar cost to Volkswagen will be in the billions. Meanwhile, most of the 600,000 cars with defeat devices are still tooling around on US roads, belching pollutants and occupied by owners who are very likely very unhappy with their cars, and with Volkswagen.