Volkswagen's Audi suspends two engineers in emissions probe

 A worker fixes a car emblem as she assembles Audi A8 models in Germany.
A worker fixes a car emblem as she assembles Audi A8 models in Germany.REUTERS

BERLIN (REUTERS) - Volkswagen's luxury flagship Audi has suspended two engineers after its larger diesel engines were found evading emissions limits in the United States, Audi chief executive Rupert Stadler said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday.

Volkswagen and Audi notified US authorities last Thursday that about 85,000 vehicles with 3.0 litre V6 diesel engines were fitted with emissions-control equipment that was not disclosed to US regulators.

The news widened a scandal at parent VW which has led to the ouster of its long-time chief executive and wiped more than €20 billion (S$30 billion) off the group's market value.

Audi is now investigating whether employees in technical development and other departments deliberately manipulated emission-control devices and has suspended two engineers, Stadler said in an interview with the Donaukurier regional newspaper, without giving any further details.

"We are surprised and shocked by the emissions news from the US," Audi's acting chairman, Berthold Huber, said in a joint statement with works council boss Peter Mosch.

"Now the causes for such grave mistakes must be found and eliminated," said Huber, a former head of Germany's IG Metall labour union. "This has utmost priority."

The V6 diesel engine was designed and assembled by Audi at its factory in Neckarsulm, Germany and widely used in premium models sold by the group's VW, Audi and Porsche brands in model years 2009 through 2016, Audi said on Monday.

The Audi suspensions take the number of officials confirmed to have been put on leave across the VW group as a result of its internal investigations to eight, including at least six senior individuals.

Ingolstadt-based Audi has said it failed to notify authorities in the United States of three so-called auxiliary emissions control devices (AECD) in luxury models, one of which is classified there as a banned "defeat device."

The admission from Audi, which contributes about 40 per cent to VW group profit, is raising pressure on Stadler, a 25-year VW group veteran who has led Audi for nine years.

Asked by Donaukurier about potential personal consequences, the 52-year-old Stadler said: "What's at stake now is (to find out) the truth and I will not rest until everything is on the table."

Stadler must push on with the investigation "completely and without regard to individuals," said Mosch, head of Audi's works council and a member of the supervisory board's influential steering committee.

The CEO is scheduled to brief the Audi board at a regular meeting on Dec 3 on the state of negotiations with US authorities and progress in finding technical fixes for the affected vehicles which include the A6 saloon and the Q5 SUV, company sources said.