Judge to VW: Find a fix quick for dirty cars

SAN FRANCISCO - A federal judge is pressing Volkswagen (VLKAY) to say how it will ensure that nearly 600,000 of the German automaker's diesel cars don't violate U.S. clean air laws.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer in California is overseeing hundreds of class-action lawsuits against the German automaker.

Breyer told Volkswagen's lawyers he expects them to report back by March 24 about the available technical solutions to fix the cars, and the status of negotiations on a potential settlement with affected owners.

Volkswagen admitted to U.S. regulators in September it had used illegal software installed in its so-called "Clean Diesel" engines. It allowed cars to pass emissions tests while spewing harmful levels of pollution when operating on real roads.

Breyer said six months is long enough for VW to find a fix.

Volkswagen says as many as 11 million cars worldwide have the software that enables them to cheat on tests. The company says it is working to fix the cars and to change its culture so that something similar does not happen again.

The emissions scandal has hurt Volkswagen's U.S. sales, which fell 7 percent in January. The company's global sales rose 3.7 last month despite sharp declines in purchases in Brazil and Russia.

But it is the potential legal damage that could inflict the most serious financial hit on VW. Along with the class-actions the company faces, the U.S. Justice Department has sued Volkswagen over its scheme to skirt pollution controls, potentially exposing the company to billions in fines for clean air violations.