Today was a big day for Volkswagen and Volkswagen owners as the Wolfsburg-based company met with U.S. authorities at a court hearing in California. The parties finally devised and approved a plan for VW to make up for the Dieselgate emissions scandal. Here’s the full transcript of the hearing.
We already reported the official announcement at today’s hearing that VW would offer buybacks, monetary compensation, repairs and lease cancellations to VW owners and lessees, but don’t take our word for it: here’s the agreement-in-principle straight from the judge’s mouth.
The transcript, titled “Volkswagen ‘Clean Diesel’ marketing, sales practices, and products liability litigation,” begins with a description of present parties, which included representation from VW, Porsche, Bosch, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.
Judge Charles Breyer cut straight to the chase, telling the court that an agreement has been made, and thanking all parties for working diligently to meet his deadline. He said:
As we left this matter on March 24th, I said to the parties that by April 21st, today, I wanted a concrete plan for addressing the issue of the cars on the road that are out of compliance with environmental regulations. I am extremely pleased to report that the parties have come up with a concrete plan by today’s date. And I would like to publicly thank them...
He went on, saying:
In particular, they have reached an agreement in principle as to what to do about the approximate 480,000 2-liter engine cars on the road and the associated environmental consequences resulting from the excess emissions from these vehicles.
Then the judge described the nature of the agreement, mentioning buybacks, lease cancellations and vehicle modifications:
It is also my understanding that the agreement will give consumers several options, including the option to have Volkswagen buy back their vehicle; and, subject to governmental approval after further testing, the option to have the consumer’s vehicle modified in accordance with the agreement;and for those consumers who have leased their car, to cancel the lease and return the car to Volkswagen.
He said that consumers, at this point in time, should just sit on their hands and await more information:
The consumers will not have to elect which option to pursue until the consumer has had the opportunity to fully evaluate the details of each option. There is nothing for the consumer or their counsel to do until they receive the actual formal notice.
But there’s more: those who sell their cars back, have their cars modified, or cancel their leases can also expect a big fat check. But it’s not clear exactly how big or how fat. The judge continued:
I am also pleased to report that the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee has also reached an agreement in principle with Volkswagen. The combination of these agreements include payment of substantial compensation to the consumer class members in connection with the car buy back, the car modification, and cancellation of lease options
So all VW has to do is buy some cars, fix some cars, cancel some leases and ship out a few checks? That sounds doable, right?
Well, no, there’s more. The company’s cars produced up to 40 times the allowable Nitrous Oxide emissions, so they’re going to have to make up for the damage the vehicles caused to the environment. The judge described, vaguely, how the company would do that:
In addition, the agreement will fully address any excess emissions of NOx coming from these vehicles, and the environmental consequences from these excess emissions, by establishing a fund for appropriate remediation efforts. In addition to all these other matters, Volkswagen will be required to commit other funds to promote green automotive technology.
After the announcement of the agreement, VW’s representative Robert Giuffra, told the court:
...I think that reflects that Volkswagen is committed to winning back the trust of its customers, its dealers, its regulators, and all Americans. And we think that these agreements are an important step forward on the road to making things right.
And, as Your Honor indicated, these agreements and the settlements that we hope will result will compensate fully all customers and remediate all environmental issues. So we think they’re good for consumers, they’re good for the environment, and they’re good for Volkswagen.
But there’s still plenty of work to do. A representative for the U.S. government, Elizabeth Cabraser, made that clear, saying:
We have a ways to go with respect to documentation, class notice,the approval process, but we are now able to start on that way.
The judge then set deadlines. First, he asked U.S. government officials to write up their agreement in 60 days, and to file a motion for a preliminary approval, saying:
First, the United States shall file any consent decrees memorializing their agreements with Volkswagen on or before June 21st, 2016. That is in about 60 days. ..Second, the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee shall file a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement of the consumer class action complaint on or before June 21st, 2016.
After that motion has been filed, the judge laid out the next steps:
The Court then will hold a hearing on the preliminary approval motion on July 26, 2016, at 8:00 a.m. These filings will be public. And the public will have an opportunity to fully review and evaluate the proposed agreements before they are approved or acted upon by the Court. Negotiations and tentative agreements must remain confidential.
Before ending the court proceedings, he asked all parties to keep the exact details of the agreement confidential, as they’re still being ironed out. He said:
I am ordering all parties, the United States, the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee and Volkswagen, to continue to keep the contents of the discussions and any proposed agreements confidential until they are filed with the Court.And today I am signing an order that says that.
Judge Breyer also made mention of the the 3.0-liter diesel vehicles also affected by the scandal, and other outstanding items that still need to be addressed:
And, indeed, I am sure you are aware there are approximately 90,000 cars with 3-liter engines. As well, there are the issues of fines and penalties. It is the Court’s expectation that the parties, in addition to finalizing the agreements that I’ve just discussed, will work expeditiously in resolving these outstanding issues.
The court proceedings concluded with a pun and an appointment for a status update in May:
And not leaving things to chance, I’m going to order another status conference on May 19th, 2016, at 8:00 a.m., just to make sure — I’ll use an ill-advised pun — that this is all on track or on the road to a resolution of these matters.
The agreement-in-principle requiring buybacks, fixes, lease cancellations and funding for environmental remediation was agreed upon by the EPA, California Air Resources Board, California Attorney General and Federal Trade Commission. Clearly, there is progress being made on what has already been a long, arduous journey for VW and its customers.