Volkswagen CEO: 'We didn't lie' to US about auto emissions

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Volkswagen CEO Matthias Muller says his company "didn't lie" to federal regulators about its efforts to circumvent federal air pollution emission standards. 

The German automaker has admitted to selling diesel models of its cars that had software installed that violated the Clean Air Act by activating required air pollution protections only during emissions tests. 

Muller said in an interview with NPR that aired on Monday that the mixup up was "a technical problem," not an intentional coverup. 

"We made a default, we had ... not the right interpretation of the American law," he said. "And we had some targets for our technical engineers, and they solved this problem and reached targets with some software solutions which haven't been compatible to the American law. That is the thing.

"We didn't lie," Muller continued. "We didn't understand the question first. And then we worked since 2014 to solve the problem. And we did it together and it was a default of VW that it needed such a long time." 

Volkswagen has admitted to installing "defeat devices" on about 482,000 diesel vehicles since 2008. The company has recently been found to have installed the devices on cars marketed under its Audi and Porsche brands.  

The company programmed vehicles to trick emissions testers into believing its diesel cars released a much lower volume of nitrogen oxide than they actually do. In regular driving, the vehicles emitted up to 40 times more pollution.

Muller offered an apology to drivers for the problems that have been caused by the emissions issue. 

"I have to apologize on behalf of Volkswagen," he said. "Second, I have to promise — and we will do the pledge — that we deliver appropriate solutions for our customers. As soon as possible." 

Muller attempted to clean up the remarks about the emissions violations being a technical problem in a follow up interview with NPR. 

"The situation is, first of all we fully accept the violation," he said in the second interview. "There is no doubt about it. Second, we have to apologize on behalf of Volkswagen for that situation we have created in front of customers, in front of dealers and, of course, to the authorities.

"We have to accept that the problem was not created three months ago. It was created, let me say, 10 years ago," Muller continued. "We had the wrong reaction when we got information year by year from the EPA and from the [California Air Resources Board]. ... We have to apologize for that, and we'll do our utmost to do things right for the future."