BERLIN - German authorities on Thursday ordered a recall of all Volkswagen cars fitted with emissions test-cheating software, a decision that will affect 8.5 million VW diesel vehicles across the 28-nation European Union.
The Federal Motor Transport Authority announced that the recall would affect 2.4 million vehicles in Germany. Under EU rules, cars that are cleared in one country are automatically approved across the bloc, so the repeal also affects Volkswagen vehicles elsewhere in the union.
Austrian authorities have already said some 363,000 VW cars there are affected by the recall.
Volkswagen said in a statement that 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 VW brand, Audi, SEAT and Skoda cars can also be checked.
The fix will be free for customers, it said.
German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said Volkswagen would have to present replacement software for certain cars that have a 2.0 liter diesel engine this month and begin fitting vehicles with them next year.
"VW 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 Dobrindt's ministry, rejected a Volkswagen proposal for a voluntary recall.
Dobrindt refrained from publicly criticizing Volkswagen, saying cooperation with the German automaker was "extraordinarily good."
He indicated that the recall may last through 2016 because vehicles fitted with smaller 1.6 liter diesel engines will require 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 Dobrindt provided to The Associated Press, Volkswagen 's chief executive Matthias Mueller said the recall would "stretch through the 2016 calendar year."