Hey, remember Dieselgate? The zombie Volkswagen emissions scandal that started approximately three hundred lifetimes ago in 2015? VW apparently isn’t done feeling the ill effects of its bid to trick customers and regulators into thinking its diesel engines were less polluting than they actually were. A new court ruling in the U.S. means VW could be out much, much more cash.
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First, a refresher, in case you’ve had other things on your mind in the last two years or so: The scandal started when groups of independent scientists started questioning major discrepancies between U.S. and European models’ emissions. As it turned out, VWs had secret software that made the car run clean during government tests, but would pollute illegal amounts during normal driving.
It seemed like a big deal back then, but VW continued to hum along in spite of the bad press. The company said its mea culpas, bought back and fixed or crushed thousands of vehicles, promised to build a bunch of EVs and paid out about $33 billion, according to Reuters.
Volkswagen has been working hard to put the whole mess behind it, particularly in scrambling to get EVs for sale in Europe, but the reverberations from one of the most audacious corporate cons of all time have not ceased. VW lost an appeal Monday after a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimous sided with Utah’s Salt Lake County and Florida’s Hillsborough County in a lawsuit over excessive damage to the environment cause by cheating diesel engines. Via Reuters:
The judges wrote that they were “mindful that our conclusion may result in staggering liability for Volkswagen. But this result is due to conduct that could not have been anticipated by Congress: Volkswagen’s intentional tampering with post-sale vehicles to increase air pollution.”
The two counties each have penalties of $5,000 per day for tampering violations and had a combined total of at least 6,100 polluting Volkswagen diesel vehicles. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, who had ruled in the case in 2018, noted at the time that “the potential penalties could reach $30.6 million per day and $11.2 billion per year.”
Volkswagen vowed to seek further review by the full 9th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, saying the ruling conflicts with the findings of other courts.
Of course, VW is going to appeal as far as it can to avoid paying such fines. These are just the lawsuits of two counties in a country with over 3,000 counties, many of which one can reasonably assume had at least one Volkswagen diesel engine register therein. And that’s not counting the VWs in other parishes, boroughs, and other weird municipalities. VW sold 550,000 cheater diesels in the U.S. since 2008, according to Consumer Reports. If Volkswagen has to pay similar fines on even a majority of those vehicles it could quickly have a very expensive problem on its hands.
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