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Volkswagen Announces Tentative $4.3 Billion Settlement Deal


The German auto giant Volkswagen says it is in talks with the U.S. government to settle a criminal investigation over its emissions cheating scheme. Under the agreement, the company says it would pay $4.3 billion in fines and plead guilty to criminal wrongdoing. This is on top of another agreement Volkswagen made last summer. That was one of the largest product settlements in history.

This latest news comes as car makers gather in Detroit for the big auto show. NPR's Sonari Glinton is there, and he joins us now. Hi, Sonari.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly. How're you doing?

MCEVERS: Good (laughter). So Volkswagen is in talks with the government to settle this criminal investigation. What more can you tell us about the agreement?

GLINTON: Well, Volkswagen confirmed today that it negotiated a deal of $4.3 billion. That's a draft settlement. We haven't heard word from the Department of Justice. And that's to resolve its diesel emissions trouble. And in addition, they're also going to plead guilty to criminal misconduct. And it's - and they say that they're going to be facing oversight for about three years from an independent monitor.

MCEVERS: Sonari, you've covered this Volkswagen emissions scandal over the last 16 months now. Can you remind us just what Volkswagen did to cheat regulators?

GLINTON: So what Volkswagen did was installed software that was meant to fake out the emissions tests. So it only - so the cars were only clean while they were, you know, up on blocks, running through the emissions tests.

And then the company lied about it to regulators when they asked them repeatedly about problems with the diesel emissions. And it's become a huge deal. The company is already in a - the company says it's spent $19.2 billion so far if you add on this $4.3 billion mitigating this scandal.

MCEVERS: So what does this settlement now mean for Volkswagen and for the larger car business?

GLINTON: Well, one of the things that we realize is that there have been a lot of scandals recently in the car business - Ford, Toyota, General Motors, Takata (laughter) and on and on. And so what happens is that if General Motors learned from Toyota's problems, then Volkswagen definitely learned from all of those problems.

And that 16 months that we talked about from beginning a scandal to nearly a settlement - you know, it seems like a long time, but that is really quick in the automotive world, and it is definitely quick in the legal world to sort of wrap up the largest product case in history...


GLINTON: ...In 16 months. That's amazing.

MCEVERS: So what are people at the Detroit Auto Show saying about this?

GLINTON: Well, the people at the Detroit Auto Show I mean are really talking about Donald Trump and Mexico. But when we talk about Volkswagen, it's interesting because I remember the heat about this story. It was very hot. And now it's like the - sort of the air has been left out because how many times can Volkswagen admit to it? And they've done it, you know, really quickly. They've gone through this really quickly.

And ironically, out of all of this - right? - is even in the biggest scandal in the company's history, this year, Volkswagen sales worldwide are up. So ironically speaking, in what is - has to be one of the craziest things that happened in the industry, that's going to make Volkswagen - this year is going to make Volkswagen likely to be the largest company - car company by sales in the world. And that's amazing given what's happened to them.

MCEVERS: Wow. That's NPR's Sonari Glinton on Volkswagen's diesel emissions scandal and the new settlement. He joined us from the floor of the Detroit Auto Show. Thank you very much.

GLINTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.