Dieselgate scandal catches up with carmakers as VW loses “groundbreaking” lawsuit
Clean Energy Wire / Zeit Online
Carmaker Volkswagen has lost a legal battle against NGO Environmental Action Germany (DUH) about pre-installed mechanisms in its car engines that turn off or reduce exhaust gas filtering systems at very high and very low temperatures, designed to increase the car’s performance. An administrative court ruled that a permission to operate cars fitted with these so-called ‘thermal windows’ in their engines, granted by Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA), is void — a decision DUH called “groundbreaking,” as it is directly applicable to cars from other manufacturers using similar devices. The KBA had granted the operating license after VW’s cars received a software update in the wake of the ‘dieselgate scandal’ which modified the defeat device’s functioning but did not remove it from the engines. “About seven years after the dieselgate exhaust gas scandal, DUH has achieved a breakthrough against the fraudulent diesel cars that still drive on our roads,” the NGO said in a statement. DUH has said it will now expand its lawsuit to other carmakers violating the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions regulation, including German companies BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Porsche as well as several carmakers from abroad. The ruling could thus affect up to ten million cars currently on the road, the environmental group said. “This ruling is a big defeat for the KBA and the responsible transport ministry,” DUH said.
Transport minister Volker Wissing has since had to order the transport authority to accept the ruling and issue an official product recall of all diesel cars equipped with the device, and to retrofit them at the carmakers’ expenses. DUH stressed that excessive NOx exhaust gas emissions cause harmful pollution linked to thousands of premature deaths each year in Germany alone. “It’s a confession of failure for Volker Wissing and all its predecessors that it took a court to stop this practice, and only after several years,” DUH head Jürgen Resch said. Volkswagen stressed that the ruling has not yet come into effect and that no recalls or hardware retrofitting’s are necessary as long as this was the case, news website Zeit Online reported. The company has also said that possible lawsuits for compensating customers would not be successful.
After the dieselgate scandal broke in 2015, the KBA had been forced to order a product recall in order to reduce the harmful emissions from affected cars. However, the authority limited the manufacturers’ responsibility to a software update rather than a physical removal of the fraudulent hardware. DUH measurements had found that the software update did not reduce exhaust emissions sufficiently to comply with EU air pollution regulation.