Get Adobe Flash player

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Volkswagen AG’s emissions-cheating scandal burst into public view a few months ago and since has consumed its dealings with regulators, customers and investors, but its issues with regulatory compliance go far back.

In 2004 the auto maker’s U.S. environmental-compliance employees alerted their bosses in Germany that they needed to tell regulators about a faulty emissions part. The Germans’ response: don’t.

Dozens of cars from Volkswagen’s

VOW, -2.56%

VLKAY, -1.77%

 Audi unit were returning to U.S. dealers with a broken sensor that could affect emissions in gasoline-powered engines. The number of defects triggered a legal requirement to include the part in mandatory reports to regulators, U.S. employees said.

But after an employee listed the faulty part, called an exhaust-gas temperature sensor, or EGT, in a draft report to California regulators, an Audi official in Germany called for a revision. “Delete the EGT,” Audi’s Bernhard Grossmann wrote to Norbert Krause, the U.S. employees’ supervisor, in an email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Krause responded two days later: “The EGT is out.”

Mr. Krause said he doesn’t recall the exchange. Grossmann said: “This all happened 11 years ago and that’s a long time. I have nothing to say about this.”

Volkswagen declined to comment on the events. An email that a Volkswagen official sent to its U.S. office in late 2004 stated that the part wasn’t important enough in the emissions system to disclose to California. The previously unreported episode, detailed in internal documents the Journal reviewed, shows Volkswagen withholding information from U.S. regulators more than a decade before it admitted to hiding an emissions device on more-recent models.

An expanded version of this report appears on