Volkswagen CEO: 'We Didn't Lie' About Emissions Volkswagen CEO Mattias Mueller, who was in Detroit earlier this week for the auto show, told NPR that the emissions cheating scandal was a technical problem and not an ethical one.

Volkswagen CEO: 'We Didn't Lie' About Emissions

Volkswagen CEO: 'We Didn't Lie' About Emissions

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Volkswagen CEO Mattias Mueller, who was in Detroit earlier this week for the auto show, told NPR that the emissions cheating scandal was a technical problem and not an ethical one.


Volkswagen has not finished explaining how it cheated on emissions tests. You'll recall the company admitted to fiddling with its diesel cars to make their pollution testing numbers seem far, far more impressive than they actually were. The head of Volkswagen is at the Detroit Auto Show. He talked with NPR's Sonari Glinton for 17 hours. Wait, that's a badly inflated figure. But he did talk with Sonari and said his company just had a technical problem not an ethical one. The broadcast of that interview on this program prompted a lot of reaction. So Sonari is back. Sonari, good morning.


INSKEEP: What kind of reaction?

GLINTON: Well, it has been pretty negative not only here but also in Germany.

INSKEEP: Well, let's listen to how Mattias Mueller describes the diesel scandal which the company had previously admitted to.


MATTIAS MUELLER: Frankly spoken, it was a technical problem. We made a default. We had not the right interpretation of the American law. And the other question you mentioned - it was an ethical problem? I cannot understand why you say that.

GLINTON: Because Volkswagen, in the U.S., intentionally lied to EPA regulators when they asked them about the problem before it came to light.

MUELLER: We didn't lie. We didn't understand the question first. And then we worked since 2014 to solve the problem.

INSKEEP: How does the claim that Volkswagen did not lie compare with Volkswagen's own admissions?

GLINTON: Well, normally the statements from VW have been really brief. But when they get to this part about lying to federal regulators, that was something that Mueller has been loathed to admit. He won't admit criminality. You know, he said multiple times, we are not a criminal company, which, when a company admits to wrongdoing, you would think that the lying part would be a part of it.

INSKEEP: Well, it does sound like a company in denial when he says it that way. People will hear it that way, anyhow. Does Volkswagen stand behind his statements in that interview to you?

GLINTON: Well, as a matter of fact, after the interview aired - and what has to be one of the weirdest developments of my career - they sort of called back and asked to do a do-over like less than a few hours after the first time the interviewed aired.

INSKEEP: Asked for a do-over? Why?

GLINTON: Well, apparently, it had picked up some traction - the interview - and had caused a lot of heat for Mueller. And when he called - when we talked again, he apologized. He admitted to wrongdoing. But that point about lying, he wouldn't go to. Let's have a listen to him at our second meeting.

MUELLER: One reason could be a misunderstanding. One reason - another reason could be that people and employees did their work not in the right way. There are different possible reasons for that.

INSKEEP: OK, so not willing to use the L-word. What does that mean for Volkswagen?

GLINTON: Well, they seem to be threading a needle between the customers and admitting to criminality, which is, you know, opens them up to lawsuits. But part of the problem is for a lot of people that seems disingenuous, especially as he's going into meet with federal regulators today in Washington.

INSKEEP: Sonari, thanks for both interviews.

GLINTON: It's a pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sonari Glinton at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

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