Authorities in Germany have ordered a recall of all Volkswagen cars fitted with emissions test-cheating software, a decision that will affect 8.5m Volkswagen diesel vehicles across the EU.
The Federal Motor Transport Authority announced that the recall would affect 2.4m vehicles in Germany.
Under EU rules, cars that are cleared in one country are automatically approved across the bloc, so the repeal also affects vehicles elsewhere in the union.
Austrian authorities have already said about 363,000 Volkswagen cars there are affected by the recall.
Volkswagen said it would approach customers, who can already enter their car’s serial number on a special website, to find out whether it is affected.
Apart from the company’s Volkswagen brand, Audi, Seat, and Skoda cars can also be checked.
The fix will be free for customers, it said.
Alexander Dobrindt, the German transport minister, said Volkswagen would have to present replacement software for certain cars that have a 2.0-litre diesel engine this month and begin fitting vehicles with them next year.
“Volkswagen is ordered... to remove the software from all vehicles and to take appropriate measures to ensure that the emissions rules are fulfilled,” Dobrindt told reporters in Berlin.
The DPA news agency reported that the Motor Transport Authority — which answers to Mr Dobrindt’s ministry — rejected a Volkswagen proposal for a voluntary recall.
Mr Dobrindt refrained from publicly criticising Volkswagen, saying co-operation with the carmaker was “extraordinarily good”.
He indicated the recall may last through 2016 because vehicles fitted with 1.6-litre diesel engines will need physical adjustments rather than just a software update.
Those hardware changes, which may not be ready before September 2016, will determine the timeline, he said.
In a letter to Mr Dobrindt, Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller said that the recall would “stretch through the 2016 calendar year”.
The company recently disclosed the existence of further suspect software in 2016 diesel models. Mr Dobrindt said additional tests were under way that would include examining emissions outside the lab.
Asked about German media reports that more than two dozen Volkswagen managers had been suspended by the company amid signs that knowledge of the defeat devices was widespread, Mr Dobrindt said his ministry had “no information about who decided where, when at Volkswagen about the use of such software”.
Volkswagen has said some managers had been suspended, but said the report of up to 30 “lacks any basis”.
Volkswagen has said around 11m cars with the software were sold worldwide, 2.8m of them in Germany. Dobrindt said only 2.4m Volkswagen diesel cars with the software are still registered in Germany.
Mueller said in his letter a “concerted and reliable approach” by all EU members would be in the best interest of customers.
Volkswagen faces possible fines after US authorities discovered it had equipped 482,000 cars with software that disabled emissions controls except when the cars were being tested.
Meanwhile, Italian authorities have searched the headquarters of Volkswagen Italia as part of a local probe into the emissions testing scandal. The financial police in Verona conducted the searches and confirmed that there are officials under investigation.
Volkswagen bought a full-page advert in the Turin daily La Stampa on Tuesday apologising for the “grave error” and promising to do everything to win back the trust of Italians.
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