New York’s attorney general filed a lawsuit Tuesday explaining how top executives at Volkswagen were responsible for covering up the company’s fuel emission scandal for more than 15 years.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman laid out in painstaking detail the specifics of how and why the German automaker spent a decade cheating emissions tests. One of the major accusations Schneiderman puts forth is that one of the company’s former executives was among those covering up evidence.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh announced Tuesday they will also file lawsuits against VW using similar justifications.
VW acknowledged in September installing so-called defeat device in many of its most popular vehicles, including the Beetle and Porsche Cayenne, expressly to curb smog-producing nitrous oxide emissions. Nearly 585,000 vehicles in the U.S. had the software, with roughly 11 million vehicles worldwide.
The company’s fuel emission cheating scandal will cost a total of $14.7 billion, $10 billion of which will go to the owners of the tainted vehicles, while another $2.7 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency for environmental mitigation. The company will plow another $2 billion investment into electric vehicle technology, which will be distributed within the next decade.
The payments will be dolled out to various plaintiffs, including Schneiderman’s own state of New York, which will use $115 million for environmental projects to improve air quality, and another $30 million to the state’s general fund.
Schneiderman’s lawsuit claims VW’s top U.S. official, Michael Horn, misled the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2015 when he testified that software engineers were responsible for the scandal.
“Rather, it was the result of a willful and systematic scheme of cheating by dozens of employees at all levels of the company regarding emissions, after Volkswagen was unwilling to manufacture diesel vehicles that would meet federal and state standards in the United States,” the lawsuit says.
Schneiderman said the beleaguered company engaged in the fraud because it wanted to increase market share in the U.S., and make the company seem more environmentally friendly than was otherwise true. It would also allow them to cover up engineering deficiencies.
“Volkswagen believed that its deceit would go undetected, and that even if caught, the consequences would be manageable,” the lawsuit states.
Audi vehicles were fitted with a device in 1999 to stop a “disagreeable noise” the vehicles made during startup, which then resulted in fuel flooding the car’s system causing them to run afoul of Europe’s fuel emission standards.
It was then, the lawsuit claims, that VW installed the cheating software that deactivated the new injection technology during road testing situations. That technology would end up in all the cars tainted with the devices from model year 2004 to 2008.
The device-tainted vehicle eventually migrated to the U.S., the lawsuit claims, in 2006 when German engineers found that the company’s emissions reduction systems were clogging the vehicles’ soot filters, causing them to break after only 50,000 miles – the company was obligated to meet a 120,000 to 150,000 mile durability standard in the U.S during the mid-2000s.
VW got around the deficiency by installing the defeat devices on nearly 300,000 vehicles it marketed as “clean diesel” cars in the U.S.
Company executives and then-CEO Martin Winterkorn were aware of fraud at the time, the lawsuit alleged.
“Despite being fully aware of the prohibitions in this country against defeat devices, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche proceeded to roll out hundreds of thousands of diesel vehicles with 2.0 and 3.0 liter engines onto the American market from the 2009 through 2016 model years, all of which featured undisclosed and illegal defeat devices,” the lawsuit says.
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