Volkswagen says it will recall a total of 8.5 million diesel vehicles Europe-wide as police raided the carmaker’s office in Italy and those of its sports car unit Lamborghini over a global pollution-cheating scandal.
The massive recall in all 28 of the EU’s member states will begin in January 2016 while for countries outside the bloc, the company is still examining which vehicles were affected, VW said in a statement on Thursday.
The German auto giant was plunged into the biggest crisis in its history after revealing that it had fitted 11 million of its diesel vehicles with software designed to cheat official pollution tests.
The revelations have sparked probes in several countries, and Italian police on Thursday raided the company’s offices in the country and placed six executives under investigation.
According to the Italian news agency AGI, VW Italy’s chief executive Massimo Nordio and Luca De Meo, the marketing and sales chief of the Italian branch of Audi, were among those placed under investigation.
The raids at VW’s Italian headquarters in Verona and Lamborghini’s base in Bologna came after Italian consumer rights group Codacons filed a fraud suit on behalf of 12,000 Italian owners over the VW-made vehicles.
“Our case is that there has been fraud committed at the expense of consumers. If the police establish there has been illegal activity it will further strengthen our suit,” the organisation said in a statement.
Struggling to restore confidence, VW said it would be “pro-active in approaching and informing customers” of the recall operation.
Already from the beginning of October, every VW customer had been able to use the company’s website to check whether their vehicle was affected, simply by typing in the car’s number.
A similar function was also available on the websites of the company’s other brands of Audi, SEAT and Skoda.
“Rectifications of the vehicles will begin from January 2016 and will be free of charge for our customers,” VW said.
The solutions could involve both software and hardware measures. Until the changes could be undertaken, “every vehicle remains technically safe to drive,” VW insisted. Earlier, the German authorities tightened the screws on the embattled carmaker, saying it would monitor the large-scale recall across the country in order to ensure that it is indeed carried out.
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt told journalists in Berlin that the Federal Transport Authority KBA had given VW until the end of October to come up with the technical solution for the two-litre diesel engines, where a simple software change would suffice.
For the 1.2-litre and 1.6-litre engines, the carmaker had until the end of November to present its solutions.