Volkswagen AG shares tumbled nearly 19 percent on Monday, hitting a three-year low, after the German automaker admitted to cheating on US air pollution tests for years.
The shares closed down 18.6 percent at 132.20 euros in Frankfurt, after plunging as much as 23 percent during the session, wiping some 14 billion euros (US$15.6 billion) off its market cap, Reuters reported.
The US Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday that VW used software that deceived regulators measuring toxic emissions, and that it could face penalties of up to US$18 billion.
According to media reports, the Department of Justice started a criminal probe of the effort to game the emissions tests.
Meanwhile, German officials, alarmed at the potential damage the scandal could inflict on the nation’s car industry, urged Volkswagen to fully clear up the matter.
Authorities will investigate whether emissions data had also been falsified in Europe, Reuters reported.
VW said it is cooperating with regulators probing gaps between emissions on the road and lab tests on some diesel models.
CEO Martin Winterkorn, who has led VW since 2007, was forced to halt sales of the cars on Sunday and issue a public apology, saying he’s “deeply sorry” for breaking the public’s trust.
The company will do “everything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused,” he said.
Winterkorn, whose contract renewal is scheduled for a supervisory board vote on Friday, now faces a serious challenge to his leadership, Bloomberg News cited analysts as saying.
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