France and Australia have joined other countries in launching investigations into Volkswagen, while an Italian consumer group has filed a class action lawsuit, accusing Volkswagen of deceiving vehicle owners and potentially harming the environment.
It has also exposed inadequate regulations, particularly in Europe where the importance of the auto industry to jobs and exports has given it a powerful voice in policymaking.
Volkswagen shares, which have lost more than $30 billion (£19.8 billion) in value since the crisis began, fell to a new 4-year low of 90.70 euros on Friday.
The suspended vehicles include models across VW’s other brands including Audi, Seat and Skoda.
After a seven-hour meeting late on Wednesday, the German carmaker’s supervisory board said it would take “at least several months” to complete investigations, including an external inquiry by US law firm Jones Day.
Europe’s biggest carmaker has admitted cheating in diesel emissions tests on around 11 million diesel vehicles.
In a sign of the complexity, Belgian vehicle importer D’Ieteren told Reuters it had not heard any technical details about the refit yet, and that Volkswagen had committed only to having a plan set by the end of this month. Based upon those complaints the prosecutors said Monday they had opened an investigation.
Volkswagen declined to comment on whether Winterkorn, whose total compensation package came to 16 million euros past year, can expect a departing bonus or share options. On Thursday, however, they said there had been a “misunderstanding” by a few and said they did not now have any evidence against Winterkorn, but that he had been named in the investigation as the head of Volkswagen. Severance is forfeited if the board decides his employment was ended for a reason for which he was responsible, the company’s annual report says.
VW spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said she did not have any information about whether or not sales of gas-powered models slowed after news broke about the cheating.
“We all want clean air to breathe, but motorists will understandably be anxious about the MPG (miles per gallon) implications of these so-called corrections on the cars many will have bought on the strength of their fuel economy”. “They must take personal responsibility”, supervisory board member Olaf Lies told the BBC.
Karl-Thomas Neumann, a former VW executive who now runs General Motors Co’s Opel brand, said European automakers need diesel engine technology to meet the EU’s 95 grams per kilometer carbon dioxide emissions target for 2021.