Class-action lawsuit filed after Volkswagen admits its 'clean diesel" vehicles aren't so clean.

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Volkswagen Lawsuit Filed Over 'Defeat Device' on 500,000 Vehicles
Class-action lawsuit filed after Volkswagen admits its 'clean diesel" vehicles aren't so clean.

— A Volkswagen emissions lawsuit has been filed in California that accuses the automaker of cheating owners of about 500,000 VW diesel vehicles. Volkswagen is already facing the possibility of a fine of up to $18 billion from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA for using a "defeat device" to give false readings during official government emissions tests.

According to the lawsuit filed by Girard Gibbs LLP,  Volkswagen has spent years spouting the benefits of its "clean diesel" technology and watching as consumers bought into the false hype.

"Volkswagen promised consumers a car with power, high fuel economy, and low emissions—if they paid a few thousand dollars more for a Volkswagen “clean” diesel vehicle." - Attorney Andre M. Mura, Girard Gibbs LLP

The Volkswagen vehicles named in the lawsuit are the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Jetta (including the Jetta Sportswagen); 2010-2015 Volkswagen Golf (including the Golf Sportswagen); 2010-2015 Audi A3; 2012-2015 Volkswagen Beetle (including the Beetle Convertible) and the 2012-2015 Volkswagen Passat.

The plaintiffs claim without the illegal defeat device software, VW would not have sold even one "clean diesel" vehicle in the U.S. In place of doing the right thing, the automaker spent years hiding the devices and allowed 500,000 of these "clean" vehicles on the roads.

A defeat device is a sophisticated software algorithm used to detect when a vehicle is undergoing official emissions testing based on inputs including the position of the steering wheel, vehicle speed, duration of the engine’s operation and barometric pressure.

The lawsuit alleges during EPA testing, the electronic control modules ran a particular calibration called the “dyno calibration” that produced compliant emissions results.  At all other times when an owner was driving a vehicle, the software ran a separate “road calibration” that increased nitrogen oxide levels 10 to 40 times above EPA compliant levels.

Nitrogen oxides are a group of gases that create smog, acid rain and ground-level ozone, in addition to bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory problems. According to the EPA, nitrogen oxides are one of the main causes of ground-level ozone which can play havoc with breathing and congestion, especially to children.

The scheme played out by Volkswagen was uncovered in May 2014, when West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines &  Emissions published the results of a study commissioned by the International Council on Clean Transportation. Researchers discovered emissions irregularities in a 2012 Jetta and a 2013 Passat that were significantly higher than standards. The VW Jetta was 15 to 35 times higher and the Passat exceeded standards by 5 to 20 times.

The study caused the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to investigate and ask VW questions the automaker didn't want to hear. Missing its opportunity to tell the truth, Volkswagen responded that the high emissions readings could have been caused by technical issues. However, VW did order a recall in December 2014, yet the automaker kept its mouth shut about the defeat device and EPA testing continued to show inflated nitrogen oxide readings.

Volkswagen finally admitted it had been cheating the system and its customers when both CARB and the EPA refused to grant the automaker a "certificate of conformity" for any model year 2016 VW diesel vehicle. Knowing none of the cars could be sold without a certificate, VW came clean and admitted its "clean diesel" vehicles aren't that clean after all.

The lawsuit hits VW and its "clean diesel" claims by using Volkswagen's own words against itself.

  • Clean diesel is “[f]or the eco-conscious and the high-performance-conscious.”
  • Clean diesel is “more efficient, eco-conscious, and fun to drive.”
  • Clean diesel technology “impacts fuel efficiency and performance, while being a  more eco-conscious choice.”
  • VW “continues to refine and perfect the clean diesel  technology we have pioneered, which delivers a dramatic reduction in both fuel consumption and exhaust emissions and offers some of the cleanest and most efficient alternatives on the market today.”

Furthermore, the plaintiffs point out past statements by Volkswagen bragging about its "clean" technology.

In 2009, the diesel Volkswagen Jetta TDI was awarded the 2009 Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal. Afterwards, Volkswagen began to promote it as the “Official Pace Car of the Environment” and again described its clean diesel vehicles as the “best of both worlds, an alternative fuel vehicle with no compromises.”

The lawsuit alleges Volkswagen breached warranties by selling diesel vehicles with a defeat device which makes the emissions control system practically meaningless, and defective. Further, the lawsuit accuses VW of selling vehicles with emissions standards that don't meet federal law by using a device that can't be fixed without altering advertised fuel economy and the performance of the vehicles.

The plaintiffs claim they would not have paid what they did or possibly wouldn't have purchased the VW diesel vehicles if the automaker would have admitted the vehicles couldn't pass emissions tests.

The lawsuit claims Volkswagen violated California Unfair Competition Law, the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act, California's False Advertising Law, California's Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and Breach of Implied Warranty and committed Fraud by Concealment.

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn admitted the company had been cheating the system and was “deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public.” Winterkorn said the automaker has admitted everything to the EPA and CARB, but failed to admit the only reason is because VW got caught.

"Consumers have told us they are outraged, both about the reported environmental harms and the possible consumer deception. While federal and state authorities may seek civil penalties to redress environmental harms, the class action lawsuit that Girard Gibbs LLP filed today in federal court seeks to enforce consumer protection laws that provide vital remedies for consumers who were allegedly defrauded by Volkswagen." - Andre M. Mura, plaintiff's attorney

The Volkswagen emissions lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court Northern District of California - Warren Lau and Elaine Herman, et al, v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. and Volkswagen AG.

The plaintiffs are represented by Girard Gibbs LLP, and Pritzker Levine LLP. The website for the lawsuit is located here.


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