Volkswagen operated a top-secret site at its sprawling headquarters to test the diesel technology at the heart of the emissions-cheating scandal, reflecting the lengths those involved went to conceal their actions, people familiar with the matter said.
Some engineers used the research facility in Wolfsburg, Germany, to upload the software that manipulated regulatory emissions checks, one of the people said.
The test site — just a stone’s throw away from the main office tower where top executives sit — had unusually tight security rules that prevented access to those not involved in the project, including high-level employees who could enter all other development sites, another person said. The people spoke on condition of anonymity.
Volkswagen declined to comment on internal facilities and findings into investigations into the roots of the manipulations.
While Volkswagen has said the manipulation was restricted to a small group of rogue engineers, the existence of a dedicated test site, which hasn’t been previously reported, shows that that work occurred in proximity to the offices of top executives and raises fresh questions about what management knew about the illicit conduct.
Former and current senior executives have denied allegations that they were aware of large-scale cheating.
Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 that it had rigged pollution controls on some diesel engines to operate only during regulatory testing and shut off during normal driving. About 11 million vehicles worldwide were affected, and provisions for costs related to penalties and vehicle repairs amount to $26.7 billion so far.
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On Friday, a veteran Volkswagen engineer was sentenced to 40 months in prison for his role in helping the German carmaker cheat U.S. emissions tests, the first person prosecuted in one of the biggest scandals in the automotive industry’s history.
James Liang, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy last year, received less than the statutory maximum time in prison recommended because he cooperated with the investigation into the automaker, and prosecutors called his “insider’s perspective” key to understanding how VW deceived regulators and consumers for years.