Never has a news story made me so incredulous. But I’ve checked and rechecked and, yes, there is a strong suggestion from VW that the use of manipulation software in European emissions testing may not be illegal.

The argument appears to centre around whether the software constitutes a defeat device. European test regulations clearly state that defeat devices are prohibited, but there are sub-clauses within the wording. Specifically, they read:

“The use of defeat devices that reduce the effectiveness of emission control systems shall be prohibited. The prohibition shall not apply where:

“(a) the need for the device is justified in terms of protecting the engine against damage or accident and for safe operation of the vehicle;

“(b) the device does not function beyond the requirements of engine starting;

“or

“(c) the conditions are substantially included in the test procedures for verifying evaporative emissions and average tailpipe emissions.’

So far, I’ve had no further detail from VW, but I wonder if it is trying to claim that the software was there for “protecting the engine against damage” or similar? At which point, even if they do discover the manipulation software was invoked in European NEDC testing, they will be able to claim that they didn’t break any rules.

Regardless of whether VW is right – and I should stress that it claims not to even know yet whether the software was invoked during European tests – I find this an extremely troubling argument for it to be pedalling.

VW has clearly admitted it cheated in US tests using the same software. As a result, trying to nitpick its way through the European regulations and out of trouble appears to me to be utterly outrageous – especially for a company in the middle of a maelstrom that it’s new boss has claimed it will only emerge from by acting with honesty, transparency and positive action. Slipping between the cracks of regulations would demonstrate none of those things to a car buying public looking for humility.

Just to recap, this is what Matthias Müller said when he took the top job: “My most urgent task is to win back trust for the Volkswagen Group – by leaving no stone unturned and with maximum transparency, as well as drawing the right conclusions from the current situation. Under my leadership, Volkswagen will do everything it can to develop and implement the most stringent compliance and governance standards in our industry.”

I simply cannot draw a straight line between those comments and the suggestion that the use of manipulation software could be excused, legal or otherwise.

VW’s slipperiness also raises a more troubling question. With the firm’s illegal actions already having opened a can of worms for the rest of the car industry (deservedly or otherwise), this new argument returns the spotlight to every other car maker that has been forced to issue a statement in these recent weeks saying their cars fully comply with the regulations.

If VW can claim that cars we know were fitted with manipulation software could legally use it in European emissions tests, then we are surely back to square one again?