Canadian Underwriter

U.S. Department of Justice files civil complaint against Volkswagen following emissions scandal

January 5, 2016   by Canadian Underwriter

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The United States Department of Justice has filed a civil complaint against Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche in connection with the ongoing emissions scandal.

FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2015 file photo Volkswagen ornaments sit in a box in a scrap yard in Berlin, Germany. Federal authorities are suing Volkswagen over emissions-cheating software found in nearly 600,000 vehicles sold in the United States. The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday filed a civil complaint against the German automaker in U.S. District Court in Detroit. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file)

The complaint, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was filed on Monday in federal court in Detroit against Volkswagen AG, Audi AG, Volkswagen Group of America Inc., Volkswagen Group of America Chattanooga Operations LLC, Porsche AG and Porsche Cars North America Inc., collectively referred to as Volkswagen, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

The complaint alleges that nearly 600,000 diesel engine vehicles had illegal defeat devices installed that impair their emission control systems and cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards, resulting in harmful air pollution. The complaint further alleges that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by selling, introducing into commerce, or importing into the United States, motor vehicles that are designed differently from what Volkswagen had stated in applications for certification to EPA and the California Air Resources Board.

“Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint.”

Related: Volkswagen hires compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg to handle emissions cheating claims

Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, added in the statement that “so far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward. These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action.”

Consistent with EPA’s Notices of Violation, issued on Sept. 18, 2015, for 2.0 litre engines and Nov. 2, 2015 for certain 3.0 litre engines, the complaint alleges that the defeat devices cause emissions to exceed EPA’s standards during normal driving conditions. The Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to certify to EPA that their products will meet applicable federal emission standards to control air pollution; motor vehicles equipped with illegal defeat devices cannot be certified.

The complaint alleges that Volkswagen equipped certain 2.0 litre vehicles with software that detects when the car is being tested for compliance with EPA emissions standards and turns on full emissions controls only during that testing process. During normal driving situations the effectiveness of the emissions control devices is greatly reduced. This results in cars that meet emissions standards in the laboratory and at the test site, but during normal on-road driving emit oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at levels up to 40 times the EPA compliance level, the statement said.

In total, the complaint covers approximately 499,000 2.0 litre diesel vehicles sold in the United States since the 2009 model year.

The complaint further alleges that Volkswagen also equipped certain 3.0 liter vehicles with software that senses when the vehicle is undergoing federal emissions testing. When the vehicle senses the test procedure, it operates in a “temperature conditioning” mode and meets emissions standards. At all other times, including during normal vehicle operation, the vehicles operate in a “normal mode” that permits NOx emissions of up to nine times the federal standard, according to the complaint.

In total, the complaint covers approximately 85,000 3.0 liter diesel vehicles sold in the United States since the 2009 model year.

Related: California demands fixes to 16,000 more VW, Porsche, Audi cars as scandal widens

NOx pollution contributes to harmful ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter; these pollutants are linked with asthma and other serious respiratory illnesses. Exposure to ozone and particulate matter is also associated with premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects. Recent studies indicate that the direct health effects of NOx are worse than previously understood, including respiratory problems, damage to lung tissue and premature death, the statement said.

The filing of a civil complaint under Sections 204 and 205 of the Clean Air Act seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties, but does not preclude the government from seeking other legal remedies.

Affected 2.0 litre diesel models and model years include:

• Jetta (2009-2015)

• Jetta Sportwagen (2009-2014)

• Beetle (2013-2015)

• Beetle Convertible (2013-2015)

• Audi A3 (2010-2015)

• Golf (2010-2015)

• Golf Sportwagen (2015)

• Passat (2012-2015)

Related: Government of Canada opens investigation into Volkswagen’s alleged use of devices to circumvent emissions regulations

Affected 3.0 litre diesel models and model years include:

• Volkswagen Touareg (2009-2016)

• Porsche Cayenne (2013-2016)

• Audi A6 Quattro (2014-2016)

• Audi A7 Quattro (2014-2016)

• Audi A8 (2014 – 2016)

• Audi A8L (2014-2016)

• Audi Q5 (2014-2016)

• Audi Q7 (2009-2015)