WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Volkswagen Chief Executive Matthias Mueller will meet with the top U.S. environmental regulator next week for the highest-level talks since the German automaker admitted to using software to evade emissions requirements for 580,000 U.S. vehicles.
Mueller will meet with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy on Wednesday in Washington, at the request of Volkswagen, agency spokeswoman Laura Allen said.
McCarthy told reporters at a forum in Washington that EPA has been holding extensive technical discussions with VW, but declined to predict when a fix would be ready.
“At this point, we haven’t identified a satisfactory way forward, but those discussions are going to continue,” McCarthy said. “We are really anxious to find a way for that company to get into compliance - and we’re not there yet.”
The meeting will take place about a week after the U.S. Justice Department filed a civil suit against VW seeking up to $48 billion in damages under the Clean Air Act.
VW declined to comment on the impending meeting. Mueller also plans visits to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers.
EPA and the California Air Resources Board have been pushing VW to do more to fix vehicles and to act faster, and have also been raising more questions about things such as performance of onboard diagnostic sensors.
On Tuesday, VW brand chief Herbert Diess said he was “confident we will find an acceptable solution.”
In an interview with Reuters, Diess said fixing older VW cars equipped with 2.0-liter diesel engines would be more difficult than bringing more recent models into compliance.
Some U.S. regulators and lawmakers have said VW may have to buy back older models. Diess did not say whether VW was considering that, but was optimistic an agreement with U.S. regulators would be reached soon.
Also Thursday, a German newspaper reported that VW would have to buy back about 115,000 cars in the United States as a result of the emissions scandal.
Without citing sources, Germany’s daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung said VW expected it would have to either refund the purchase price of a fifth of the diesel vehicles affected or offer a new car at a significant discount. VW declined to confirm the report.
Two U.S. senators, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, on Thursday called on VW to offer buybacks and also “guarantee owners a speedy fix that minimizes their hassle, and full compensation for the loss of resale value and lost fuel economy.”
VW named Mueller chief executive in September, days after longtime CEO Martin Winterkorn, resigned.
Winterkorn stepped down after the EPA disclosed that the automaker had secretly installed software that allowed some 2009-2015 cars to emit up to 40 times the legally permitted amount of pollutants in real-world driving.
VW said the issue affected up to 11 million vehicles worldwide.
Mueller is making his first trip to the United States since taking over at VW, visiting the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
U.S. prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation. VW has also hired Washington lawyer Ken Feinberg to create a diesel emissions claims programme and faces more than 500 U.S. lawsuits.
Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by David Gregorio and Bernadette Baum