Volkswagen Canada Inc. has suspended the sale of several models amid a U.S. investigation into whether the car-maker purposely rigged vehicles to trick emissions tests.

“Volkswagen Canada has issued a stop sale order for all vehicles affected by this issue,” a statement from VW Canada spokesperson Thomas Tetzlaff said.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleged last week that the German car maker used software that allowed cars sold in the United States to release fewer smog-causing pollutants during tests than in real-world driving conditions.

The cars, built in the last seven years, include the Audi A3, VW Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat models.

Tetzlaff said the affected models in Canada carry the 2.0-litre TDI engine and pertain to Jetta vehicles made between 2009 through this year; Golf models between 2010 and this year; 2013 to 2015 Beetle models and Passets manufactured in 2012 and this year.

Models with that engine were sold both in Canada and the United States. The EPA alleges about 500,000 diesel cars in the United States contained the software.

“We will work with our colleagues at Volkswagen of America as well as our parent company in Germany to resolve this matter in the most timely fashion,” Tetzlaff said in an email message.

MORE: VW chief ‘deeply sorry’ for rigging cars to violate U.S. pollution laws

On Sunday, the CEO of Volkswagen apologized. “I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public,” Volkswagen chief Martin Winterkorn said in a statement. He said VW has ordered an investigation and promised that the company would co-operate with regulators.

The U.S. agency has ordered VW to fix the cars at its own expense but said individual car owners do not have to take any immediate action. VW also faces fines that could add up to billions of dollars. Volkswagen shares plummeted 20 per cent Monday in reaction to the controversy.

Industry analysts said the VW CEO also faces difficult questions himself in the coming days, particularly at a scheduled board meeting Friday.

“At the moment, I’d be surprised if Winterkorn can ride this out, but in Germany there’s often a slightly slower process in these matters,” said Christian Stadler, professor of strategic management at Warwick Business School.

Environmentally friendly

Volkswagen marketed the diesel-powered cars, which account for about 25 per cent of sales, as being better for the environment.

The EPA insisted that the violations do not pose any safety hazard and said the cars remain legal to drive and sell while Volkswagen comes up with a plan to recall and repair them. However, it said the cars pose a threat to public health.

The EPA also indicated the scale of the fines that could be imposed. It said the carmaker could be hit with up to $37,500 per vehicle for the violations — a total of more than $18 billion.

The California Air Resources Board is also investigating, while German authorities are looking into whether the company bent the rules there too.

“The auto manufacturers have to work closely with U.S. authorities to comprehensively clarify the matter,” Michael Schroeren, a spokesman for Germany’s environment ministry told reporters in Berlin. “We expect reliable information from the car manufacturers so that (German authorities) can check whether comparable manipulation has happened in Germany or Europe.”

— With files from Global News