The head of Volkswagen's U.S. division offered a "sincere apology" to lawmakers on Thursday for his company's efforts to circumvent federal air pollution emission standards.
Volkswagen's CEO for North America, Michael Horn, expressed remorse for cheating the pollution standards during his first testimony before Congress since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accused the German automaker of selling cars that violate the Clean Air Act.
"On behalf of our company, and my colleagues in Germany, I would like to offer a sincere apology for Volkswagen’s use of a software program that served to defeat the regular emissions testing regime," Horn said during a Thursday morning hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight panel.
"These events are deeply troubling," he added. "I did not think that something like this was possible at the Volkswagen Group. We have broken the trust of our customers, dealerships and employees, as well as the public and regulators."
The EPA has accused Volkswagen of selling about 482,000 vehicles since 2008 that violate the Clean Air Act due to software installed on the vehicles that activates required air pollution protections only during emissions tests.
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.
Volkswagen has admitted to the accusations, and Horn said on Thursday that the company is committed to re-earning the trust of drivers and federal regulators.
"Let me be clear, we at Volkswagen take full responsibility for our actions and we are working with all relevant authorities in a cooperative way," he said. "I am here to offer the commitment of Volkswagen AG to work with this committee to understand what happened, and how we will move forward. EPA, CARB, the U.S. Department of Justice, State Attorneys General, as well as other authorities, are fulfilling their duties to investigate this matter.
"We are determined to make things right," Horn added. "This includes accepting the consequences of our acts, providing a remedy, and beginning to restore the trust of our customers, dealerships, employees, the regulators, and the American public. We will rebuild the reputation of a company that more than two million people worldwide, including dealers and suppliers, rely upon for their livelihoods."
Lawmakers on the panel were in an unforgiving mood, despite Horn's apology.
“The very notion of a carmaker intentionally violating our environmental laws is beyond belief," Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOnly two Republicans expected to back censuring Gosar Jarring GOP divisions come back into spotlight Trump allies target Katko over infrastructure vote MORE (R-Mich.), chairman of the full Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement ahead of Thursday's hearing.
"Those of us from Michigan take great pride in having a hand in many of the cars on the road today and we appreciate the challenges automakers face to meet consumer demands year after year,” Upton continued. “But reports of Volkswagen selling cars with devices aimed at skirting the law cannot, and will not be tolerated. Attempting to deceive regulators and customers is a double whammy of betrayal.”
Volkswagen could face up to an $18 billion fine for its pollution violations.
Democrats were equally enraged, saying Volkswagen's emission scandal was symptomatic of a broader safety problem in the U.S. auto industry, citing other recalls at companies such as General Motors and Takata in recent years.
"Over the past five years, the world's three largest automakers have come before this committee to admit they have cheated the system and lied to American consumers," said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), who is the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
"There seems to be a pervasive culture of deception in this industry, and it has to stop now," he continued.
— This report was updated at 11:15 a.m.