Lawyers for UK drivers have urged Volkswagen to “come clean” over exactly which cars have been affected in Britain by the emissions-rigging scandal that has rocked the global car industry.
Law firm Leigh Day, which is representing hundreds of Volkswagen drivers in the UK, said there was a “woeful lack of clarity” over which diesel cars were involved. The German carmaker, the world’s biggest, has admitted to US regulators that 11m trucks and cars were fitted with software that cheated emissions tests. As well as a US regulatory penalty of $18bn (£11.8bn), the company faces multibillion-pound class-action lawsuits from customers and possibly shareholders. The scandal wiped more than €25bn (£18bn) off VW’s stock market value in one week, one-third of its value.
Bozena Michalowska-Howells of Leigh Day, said: “It is a disgrace that seven days after this scandal came to light … consumers in the UK and other countries in Europe and around the world are still being kept in the dark over their vehicles.
“Our clients still do not know definitively whether cars in the UK are affected and if so which models. They do not know whether the car they are driving is indeed emitting 40 times the legal emissions limit as has been suggested, nor do they know whether their cars will be recalled to bring them into line with EU regulations.”
Volkswagen appointed Matthias Müller as its new chief executive on Friday. Müller has been at VW for four decades and ran its Porsche sports car division for the past five years. He replaced Martin Winterkorn, who stepped down two days earlier despite insisting he was not to blame for the scandal.
Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority has given VW until 7 October to come up with a detailed timetable for when all of its diesel vehicles will comply with emissions standards, according to German tabloid Bild am Sonntag. If the carmaker misses the deadline, it will be banned from selling those cars. Switzerland has already banned sales of VW diesel cars, the most drastic action taken by any government yet.
Despite the scandal, a majority of Germans (55%) still have “great faith” in Volkswagen, a poll conducted for Bild showed. More than three-quarters of Germans believe that other carmakers are equally guilty of manipulation.
VW’s brand chief Herbert Diess has said the company is working on a technical upgrade for affected cars. Around 5m VW passenger cars are affected worldwide. Certain models such as the sixth-generation Volkswagen Golf, the seventh-generation Volkswagen Passat and the first-generation Volkswagen Tiguan are equipped exclusively with type EA 189 diesel engines that were found to be cheating emissions tests. All new cars that fulfill the EU6 norm are not affected, including the current Golf, Passat and Touran models.
German newspapers are asking why Volkswagen ignored so many warnings. At its near-10-hour meeting in Wolfsburg on Friday, the company’s 20-member board discussed an internal report that showed an employee warned in 2011 about the illegal use of software for emissions tests, according to the Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, citing sources close to the board. Bild reported that Bosch, which supplied the software for test purposes in 2007, also warned then about its planned illegal use.
Former consumer protection minister Renate Künast of the Green party has called for compensation for owners of affected VW vehicles in Germany.
Leigh Day’s Michalowska-Howells pointed out that affected Volkswagen customers in the UK face not only the inconvenience of losing their vehicle while it is being repaired, but also higher fuel costs, and potentially higher vehicle excise duty, because vehicles will be less fuel-efficient and could emit more CO2 following any upgrade.
Consumers in some regions of the UK may also be out of pocket where parking charges are based upon such emissions. The secondhand resale value of the vehicle could plummet, she warned. This will have a particularly significant impact on organisations that have bought fleets of Volkswagen cars because of their apparent fuel and emissions record and reputation for holding their value.
The law firm called on the UK government to “act fast and take action to prevent further damage to air quality”.
Carol Day, an environmental lawyer at Leigh Day, warned that the VW revelations make it harder for the UK to meet its climate change targets. Transport emissions make up nearly a quarter of UK emissions, but this figure was estimated to fall by around a third over the next decade primarily through more efficient combustion engines.
She said: “As well as the losses suffered by the individual car owners, there has clearly been a significant impact on the environment as a result of increased nitrogen oxide emissions, which the government has not been able to assess as part of its strategy on climate change.”
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