WASHINGTON U.S. environmental officials said on Wednesday that no agreement with Volkswagen had been reached on how to fix nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles that emit up to 40 times legally allowable limits after a meeting with the company's chief executive officer.
A spokeswoman for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement after the hourlong meeting with VW CEO Matthias Mueller that the agency appreciated the conversation.
"We will continue to work toward a solution," the spokeswoman said.
Mueller said earlier this week that he planned to propose a fix at the meeting, which the German automaker had requested. Neither VW nor the EPA would answer questions about whether the proposal was made or how it may have been received.
The meeting, which also included Herbert Diess, head of the company's VW brand, came one day after California rejected VW's plan submitted in December as "inadequate" and not fast enough - and EPA agreed.
Mueller left the agency headquarters at around 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT) without making any comments.
"We appreciate the time that Administrator McCarthy took to meet with us," the company said in a statement. "Volkswagen will continue to fully cooperate."
In Detroit, Chris Grundler, who heads the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality, said at an Automotive News forum that the agency wanted a fix as soon as possible.
"We are in a hurry," he said but offered no timetable for approving one, or details on why VW's initial proposal fell short.
On his first U.S. visit since the emissions scandal erupted in September, Mueller has been meeting with government officials in Washington since late Monday.
Mueller said on Sunday that he believed a new catalytic converter system could be fitted to most affected U.S. vehicles in a solution he believed might satisfy regulators.
However, he also appeared to play down the seriousness of the cheating by Europe's biggest carmaker during an interview aired by National Public Radio.
Mueller blamed the scandal on a misunderstanding and called it a technical, not an ethical, problem.
The remarks, coupled with the time it has taken Mueller to visit the United States since becoming CEO in September, drew criticism in the United States and raised fresh questions over Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) handling of the crisis.
A union source close to the German company's supervisory board said on Wednesday he was "astonished" by Mueller's remarks.
"Those comments are anything but helpful and should have never been made," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject.
Volkswagen in Wolfsburg later issued a statement acknowledging the "irritation" caused by Mueller's choice of words in English, which is not his native language.
"It is important for him to make clear: Volkswagen's apology for the breach of trust with the American people is meant sincerely and honestly," the company said.
U.S. environmental regulators are unimpressed with VW's efforts so far to make amends for the emission of as much as 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide by its 2.0 litre diesel cars over seven years.
"VW's submissions are incomplete, substantially deficient, and fall far short of meeting the legal requirements to return these vehicles to the claimed certified configuration," the California Air Resources Board wrote in a letter to VW on the eve of the talks with the EPA on Tuesday.
The letter referred to a proposal made in December, which the EPA also rejected.
Barclays analysts said obtaining the good will of U.S. authorities could be crucial in reducing civil or criminal penalties the carmaker is likely to face.
Shares of VW, down about a fifth since it admitted cheating the tests, earlier rose by as much as 3.4 percent on hopes of a deal but closed down 0.4 percent at 120.50 euros.
The California regulators said they would continue to work with the carmaker and the EPA to find a solution but emphasised the danger to public health that VW continued to pose.
(Additional reporting by Anika Ross and Andreas Cremer; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)
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Published Date: Jan 14, 2016 01:00 am | Updated Date: Jan 14, 2016 01:00 am