BERLIN (AP) — Volkswagen's chief executive was under withering pressure yesterday as an emissions-testing scandal erased more than 13 billion euros from the company's market value in a single trading session.
The stock plunge followed revelations that the German carmaker had rigged US emissions tests for nearly 500,000 diesel cars. VW CEO Martin Winterkorn apologised, acknowledging that his company had "broken the trust of our customers and the public."
Investors considering the financial and reputational implications of the scandal on the world's top-selling carmaker dumped VW stock Monday, driving the company's share price down a stunning 17.1 percent in the first trading since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the violations. VW shares closed at a nearly three-year low of 133.70 euros.
VW, facing as much as $18 billion in fines, has halted US sales of the affected vehicles and pledged to cooperate with regulators.
The investigation also could test the U.S. Justice Department's resolve, announced Sept. 9, to hold individual executives accountable for corporate wrongdoing.
"We will be working closely with DOJ throughout this investigation," EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said Monday.
Separately, a VW official confirmed that the Justice Department has contacted the company about the case. The official spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to discuss the matter publicly.
The EPA warned VW Friday that it may refer the case to Justice for enforcement, and noted that in addition to corporate fines of up to $37,500 per vehicle, individuals could be fined $3,750 per violation of the Clean Air Act, which could theoretically add up to nearly $1.9 billion, given the number of cars involved.
Industry analysts said the VW CEO faces difficult questions in the coming days. The German news agency dpa reported that key members of the VW board will hold a crisis meeting Wednesday, and the full board is set to meet Friday.