— Volkswagen has waited for the day the U.S. government files suit against the automaker over its "clean diesel" emissions, and the day has finally arrived.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a civil complaint in federal court against Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The complaint was filed after VW admitted about 600,000 vehicles in the U.S. have illegal software called "defeat devices" used to cheat emissions regulations.
In theory and based on maximum penalties, Volkswagen could be looking at tens of billions of dollars in government fines.
While Volkswagen was marketing and selling its clean diesel vehicles at a premium price for seven years, the vehicles were emitting up to 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen oxide emissions are regulated by the EPA because of what those emissions can do to physical health, especially to heart and respiratory health.
The EPA says recent studies indicate the health effects of nitrogen oxides are worse than previously believed, including with respiratory problems, damage to lung tissue and premature death.
In a study conducted by Harvard and MIT, researchers estimated the illegal nitrogen oxide emissions have contributed to 59 premature deaths in the U.S.
The DOJ alleges VW violated the federal Clean Air Act by falsifying documents to the EPA and the California Air Resources Board for a period of seven years. The government first informed Volkswagen of the problems in a violation notice issued on September 18, 2015, then a second notice of violation was sent on November 2, 2015.
The first notice was for certain 2-liter diesel vehicles equipped with Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) engines and the second notice concerned 3-liter TDI engines.
The complaint separates the charges for 2-liter and 3-liter diesel vehicles. Vehicles with 2-liter engines contain illegal software that turns on full emissions controls only during official emissions tests. Once the cars are back on the roads during routine driving, the software changes the nitrogen oxide emissions levels up to 40 times above the EPA compliance level.
The government says about 499,000 of the 2-liter "clean diesel" vehicles are included in the complaint.
Affected 2-liter diesel models include the:
- 2009-2015 Volkswagen Jetta
- 2009-2014 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen
- 2013-2015 Volkswagen Beetle
- 2013-2015 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible
- 2010-2015 Audi A3
- 2010-2015 Volkswagen Golf
- 2015 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen
- 2012-2015 Volkswagen Passat
For 3-liter cars, the government alleges the "defeat device" software senses federal emissions test procedures and kicks on "temperature conditioning" mode to cheat the system. Once the mode has changed back to "normal" for routine driving, nitrogen oxide emissions are up to nine times higher than federal limits.
Affected 3-liter diesel models include the:
- 2009-2016 Volkswagen Touareg
- 2013-2016 Porsche Cayenne
- 2014-2016 Audi A6 Quattro
- 2014-2016 Audi A7 Quattro
- 2014-2016 Audi A8
- 2014-2016 Audi A8L
- 2014-2016 Audi Q5
- 2009-2015 Audi Q7
This latest news won't help Volkswagen in court, as about 500 lawsuits are being prepared for multidistrict litigation in a California federal court. The government said it wants to transfer its case to the California court to be included in pretrial proceedings now occurring in the multidistrict litigation.
As for recalls that will eventually be ordered in the U.S., the EPA says, “discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward.”