In two related settlements, one with the United States and the State of California, and one with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), German automaker Volkswagen AG has agreed to a massive payment of up to $14.7 billion to settle allegations of cheating emissions tests and deceiving customers.
Volkswagen said it will offer consumers a buyback and lease termination for nearly 500,000 model year 2009-2015 2.0 liter diesel vehicles sold or leased in the U.S., and spend up to $10.03 billion to compensate consumers under the program. In addition, the companies will spend $4.7 billion to mitigate the pollution from these cars and invest in green vehicle technology.
The settlements partially resolve allegations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as the California Attorney General’s Office and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) under the Clean Air Act, California Health and Safety Code, and California’s Unfair Competition Laws, relating to the vehicles’ use of “defeat devices” to cheat emissions tests. The settlements also resolve claims by the FTC that Volkswagen violated the FTC Act through the deceptive and unfair advertising and sale of its “clean diesel” vehicles. The settlements do not resolve pending claims for civil penalties or any claims concerning 3.0 liter diesel vehicles, nor do they address any potential criminal liability.
The affected vehicles include 2009 through 2015 Volkswagen TDI diesel models of Jettas, Passats, Golfs and Beetles as well as the TDI Audi A3.
“Today’s announcement shows the high cost of violating our consumer protection and environmental laws,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “Just as importantly, consumers who were cheated by Volkswagen’s deceptive advertising campaign will be able to get full and fair compensation, not only for the lost or diminished value of their car but also for the other harms that VW caused them.”
“By duping the regulators, Volkswagen turned nearly half a million American drivers into unwitting accomplices in an unprecedented assault on our atmosphere,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates. “This partial settlement marks a significant first step towards holding Volkswagen accountable for what was a breach of its legal duties and a breach of the public’s trust.”
Added EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy: “Today’s settlement restores clean air protections that Volkswagen so blatantly violated.”
According to the civil complaint against Volkswagen filed by the Justice Department on behalf of EPA on Jan. 4, 2016, Volkswagen allegedly equipped its 2.0 liter diesel vehicles with illegal software that detects when the car is being tested for compliance with EPA or California emissions standards and turns on full emissions controls only during that testing process.
During normal driving conditions, the software renders certain emission control systems inoperative, greatly increasing emissions. This is known as a “defeat device.” Use of the defeat device results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory, but emit harmful NOx at levels up to 40 times for EPA-compliant levels during normal on-road driving conditions. The Clean Air Act requires manufacturers to certify to EPA that vehicles will meet federal emission standards. Vehicles with defeat devices cannot be certified.
The FTC sued Volkswagen in March, charging that the company deceived consumers with the advertising campaign it used to promote its supposedly “clean diesel” VWs and Audis, which falsely claimed that the cars were low-emission, environmentally friendly, met emissions standards and would maintain a high resale value.
The settlements use the authorities of both the EPA and the FTC as part of a coordinated plan that gets the high-polluting VW diesels off the road, makes the environment whole, and compensates consumers. It also requires Volkswagen to offer owners of any affected vehicle the option to have the company buy back the car and to offer lessees a lease cancellation at no cost.
Volkswagen may also propose an emissions modification plan to EPA and CARB, and if approved, may also offer owners and lessees the option of having their vehicles modified to substantially reduce emissions in lieu of a buyback. Under the U.S./California settlement, Volkswagen must achieve an overall recall rate of at least 85% of affected 2.0 liter vehicles under these programs or pay additional sums into the mitigation trust fund. The FTC order requires Volkswagen to compensate consumers who elect either of these options.
Volkswagen must set aside and could spend up to $10.03 billion to pay consumers in connection with the buy back, lease termination, and emissions modification compensation program.