The Center for Auto Safety Sues Volkswagen Over Emissions

Influential Center for Auto Safety files lawsuit against Volkswagen over clean diesel engines.

Posted in News

— The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) has sued Volkswagen and Audi to force the automakers to immediately fix all 500,000 U.S. vehicles with so-called emissions "defeat devices." CAS is a nonprofit organization that has been fighting for auto safety and working on vehicle emissions and fuel economy for over 40 years.

The emissions lawsuit also seeks to force VW to pay a portion of its annual net profits into an independent fund to offset the environmental damage caused by nitrogen oxide emissions. In addition, CAS wants an independent monitor assigned to ensure Volkswagen complies with state and federal laws concerning vehicle emissions.

The nitrogen oxide emissions lawsuit says between 2009 and 2015, VW aggressively marketed its "Clean Diesel Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) vehicles by spending millions of dollars on advertising. The ads were meant to convince American consumers that TDI cars were the most environmentally-friendly, fuel-efficient and reasonably priced diesel cars on the market.

During this entire time, Volkswagen was hiding the facts about its "clean diesel" engines by installing sophisticated software that altered the emissions during official tests. The software, no easy task to create, kicked in one second after a test machine was activated. Following the test, the software set the emissions back to what is emitted during routine driving, levels up to 40 times above legal limits.

The CAS lawsuit alleges Bosch, the supplier of components of the VW TDI emissions systems, also supplied the automaker with diesel software for test purposes. Bosch allegedly told VW in 2007 that using the software in vehicles on the road would be illegal.

CAS also alleges certain groups within Volkswagen knew of potential emission issues as far back as 2005 or 2006.

CAS says it would have never recommended VW diesel cars to the buying public if the automaker wouldn't have lied for years about emissions tests.

For example, CAS rated the Audi A4 as one if its overall “Best Bets” in 2013, and in 2015 it recommended the Volkswagen Jetta. The Center says it would have never told its 15,000 members good things about these cars if VW hadn't rigged the emissions systems.

The VW defeat device lawsuit also mentions how previous defeat devices from other automakers have garnered punishment from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

For example, in 1995, the EPA entered into a $45 million settlement with General Motors regarding defeat devices on 470,000 Cadillac cars. Again in August 1998, the EPA fined Honda $267 million and Ford $7.8 million for selling cars equipped with emissions defeat devices.

The lawsuit also says Volkswagen had previous problems with its emissions systems and received fines from the government. According to CAS, in July 1973, the EPA referred to prosecutors for legal action a claim that defeat devices were installed on model year 1973 Volkswagens. The matter was settled for $120,000 in March 1974.

In June 2005, Volkswagen entered into a consent decree with government prosecutors and paid a $1.1 million penalty concerning its failure to notify the EPA of emissions defects.

According to the nitrogen oxide emissions lawsuit, the words of Volkswagen's president says it all.

“...[l]et’s be clear about this. Our company was dishonest. With the EPA and the California Air Resources Board, and with all of you. And in my German words, we have totally screwed up. Our company betrayed the trust of you, our customers, our employees, our dealers and the public.” - Michael Horn, president and CEO of Volkswagen of America

The Center for Auto Safety is represented by Hausfeld LLP.