(Recasts with judge imposing March 24 deadline, adds quotes,
By David Shepardson
Feb 25 A federal judge turned up the heat on
Volkswagen AG on Thursday, setting a March deadline
for the German automaker to state whether it has found an
emissions fix for 600,000 diesel vehicles that is acceptable to
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco said he
wants a definitive answer on the status of a fix by March 24.
Noting that VW had admitted in September that its vehicles
on U.S. roads were using software to emit up to 40 times legally
allowable pollution, Breyer said time was running out.
"Six months is long enough" to determine if this is a
fixable problem, Breyer said. "This is an ongoing problem."
The U.S. Justice Department last month sued Europe's biggest
automaker for up to $46 billion for violating U.S. environmental
laws. VW and its Audi and Porsche brands continue to be barred
from selling any new 2016 diesel models in the United States. VW
also faces more than 500 lawsuits from U.S. owners.
VW lawyer Robert Giuffra told Breyer at the hearing that the
automaker is making progress in trying to reach a settlement
with the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency
and California Air Resources Board.
"We are committed to resolving these matters as quickly as
possible," Giuffra said, adding that the diesel emissions issue
involves up to 11 million vehicles in 100 countries.
Giuffra declined to offer specifics on the settlement talks,
saying the Justice Department had asked VW not to discuss any
aspect of the negotiations.
VW has said previously it was considering buybacks as part
of a settlement, a move that could cost it billions.
Breyer said a settlement may include provisions that are
"not the most advantageous for the company," but he added that
VW has some difficult decisions to make "in the very near
Those decisions will have "serious consequences," he said.
Breyer previously named former FBI director Robert Mueller
as a settlement adviser. Mueller has met with VW officials,
including the senior engineer responsible for the fix. The judge
now wants top VW executives to meet with Mueller as well.
Thursday's hearing came as a VW spokesman in Germany said
its management committee had hired a German law firm to advise
it on liabilities the carmaker could face as a result of the
diesel emissions scandal.
The new firm will advise on the liabilities VW could face
under corporate law, the spokesman said, declining to name the
Earlier this month, VW postponed the publication of its 2015
results and delayed an annual shareholders' meeting due to
difficulties in putting an exact price on the scandal.
(Additional reporting by Andreas Cremer in Berlin; Editing by
Mark Potter and Tom Brown)