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VW's top executives plan US visit as diesel woes mount

Volkswagen Chief Executive Matthias Mueller has cast doubt on a report which last week said many managers at the German carmaker knew of, or were involved in, developing emissions test-rigging devices.

[FRANKFURT] Volkswagen AG's highest-ranking executives will visit the US this week and next for the first time since the emissions cheating scandal broke last year, as the carmaker shows few signs of progress in resolving the crisis there.

Herbert Diess, the former BMW executive tasked with restoring the VW brand's tainted image and weak earnings, will speak at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday and appear at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit starting Sunday. Chief Executive Officer Matthias Mueller is also set to travel to the US next week to meet politicians and possibly other officials, though his schedule hasn't been published.

The visits come after the US Justice Department sued Volkswagen Monday for installing illegal devices meant to defeat emissions tests, laying out claims that could push penalties in theory as high as US$80 billion, about four times as much as the maximum some legal experts had previously estimated. Also unresolved are talks between the company and the Environmental Protection Agency about how to deal with vehicles sold with defeat devices.

"The US is playing a key role as VW faces the biggest financial threat there, and the risks elsewhere declined substantially," said Juergen Pieper, a Frankfurt-based analyst for Bankhaus Metzler. "It's important that VW hit the right tone." The shares fell 1.7 per cent to 124.30 euros at 9:13 am in Frankfurt. Volkswagen has lost more than 10 billion euros (S$15.4 billion) in market value since Sept 18, when the EPA first said the company admitted to cheating.

The US situation contrasts with the progress Volkswagen has made in Europe in addressing the scandal. The company won German regulators' approval last month for low-cost fixes for 8.5 million engines equipped with emissions-manipulating software, the majority of the 11 million sold worldwide. Repairs are due to start this month.