U.S. judge sets April 21 deadline for VW diesel fix

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday gave Volkswagen AG VOWG_p.DE and U.S. regulators until April 21 to agree on a fix for the nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles on U.S. roadways caught up in VW's massive emissions cheating scandal.

A flag of a Volkswagen VW car dealer is seen in Bochum, Germany March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer had earlier set a March 24 deadline for Europe’s biggest automaker to explain where it stood on remediation efforts, after months of talks with the U.S. Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board.

Breyer, VW and regulators all said at Thursday’s hearing in San Francisco that progress has been made in intensive negotiations, but issues remain and no settlement has been reached yet.

The remedy could involve fixing the roughly 580,000 U.S. vehicles or buybacks and other options, Breyer said.

He did not elaborate, but one central issue is whether the EPA would accept a fix that does not completely address excess on-road emissions.

Earlier this month, a California official said the state may allow partially repaired VW diesel cars to continue operating on its roads because a full fix may be impossible.

The cars are equipped with “defeat devices” that allow them to pass laboratory emissions tests despite exceeding federal standards by up to 40 times when they are driven on roads.

If no deal is reached by the April 21 deadline, Breyer said he would consider holding a trial on the issue this summer to address the vehicles that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says emit up to 40 times legally allowable pollution in real world driving.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller, who is Breyer’s court appointment settlement master, briefed the judge on the status of the talks on Wednesday.

The U.S. Justice Department in February sued VW for up to $46 billion for violating U.S. environmental laws. VW and its Audi and Porsche brands remain barred from selling any new 2016 diesel models in the United States. It faces more than 500 U.S. civil lawsuits that have been consolidated in front of Breyer.

Additional reporting by David Shepardson in New York; Editing by Tom Brown