FTC says Volkswagen misled consumers through advertising claims in VW and Audi ‘clean diesel’ marketing campaigns

by Jay Pate

Federal Trade Commission has accused Volkswagen of deliberately misleading consumers through an ad campaign for its VW and Audi “clean diesel” vehicles, costing them “billions of dollars” in losses. In a unanimous vote, the FTC announced that Volkswagen made false or misleading claims about the emissions levels, environmental friendliness, met emissions standards, and resale value of its “TDI Clean Diesel” models through a multi-million dollar ad campaign designed to promote these models to consumers.

Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 that it had installed a “defeat device” on 11 million VW and Audi diesel vehicles worldwide. This defeat device was designed to hide the high emissions levels of the TDI models from consumers and regulators, making the vehicles appear to release lower emissions levels during testing that they did under real world driving conditions. Volkswagen announced that it would recall the 11 million vehicles that were equipped with the defeat device in order to repair the emissions problems with these vehicles. The company is now facing numerous lawsuits from consumers who purchased or leased a VW or Audi diesel model over the lost value of their vehicles.

Volkswagen’s ad campaign for its “TDI Clean Diesel” models included Super Bowl ads, social media marketing, press releases, emails, print ads, and online videos targeted towards “environmentally-conscious,” “eco-conscious,” or “green” car buyers. These ads claimed that VW’s “clean diesel” models had low emissions levels, reduced nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 90 percent, and had lower emissions levels than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. The FTC states that in reality, Volkswagen’s diesel models can emit NOx levels up to 40-times higher than the maximum allowed under federal law.

The vehicles included in the Volkswagen emissions scandal include the 2009-2015 Audi A3 TDI, the 2016 Audi A6 Quattro, the 2016 Audi A7 Quattro, the 2016 Audi A8, the 2016 Audi A8L, the 2016 Audi Q5, the 2015 Porsche Cayenne, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Beetle TDI, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI, the 2009-2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, and the 2012-2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI. Emissions “defeat devices” have also been discovered on the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg, the 2015 Porsche Cayenne, and the 2016 Audi A6 Quattro, A7 Quattro, A8, A8L, and Q5, although so far these vehicles have not been recalled.

FTC Allegations of False Advertising Against Volkswagen

According to the FTC’s allegations, Volkswagen sold or leased about 550,000 diesel-powered VW and Audi vehicles over a period of seven years based on false advertising about the emissions levels and resale value of these vehicles. “For years Volkswagen’s ads touted the company’s ‘Clean Diesel’ cars even though it now appears Volkswagen rigged the cars with devices designed to defeat emissions tests,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. The FTC says that “consumers suffered billions of dollars in injury” as a result of false advertising by Volkswagen.

The FTC also alleges that Volkswagen’s ads for its TDI models falsely claimed that the vehicles were compliant with emissions regulations in all 50 states. In fact, the FTC says that without the “defeat device” that Volkswagen installed on its diesel models, these vehicles would never have been able to pass state emissions tests.

The high emissions levels of VW’s diesel models has also affected the resale value of these vehicles. Because owners of Volkswagen and Audi diesel-powered vehicles are unable to take their cars for emissions inspection until VW follows through on its promise to fix the emissions problem with these vehicles, many VW and Audi TDI owners are currently unable to sell their vehicles for fair market value. The VW emissions cheating scandal has also significant decline in the Blue Book value of the affected vehicles. The suggested purchase prices for the diesel vehicles involved in the VW emissions scandal ranged from about $22,000 for the least-expensive Volkswagen model to about $125,000 for the highest-priced Audi model.

The FTC complaint against Volkswagen—which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco—seeks to recover compensating for U.S. consumers who purchased or leased one of the VW or Audi models from 2008 through 2015 that were involved in the Dieselgate scandal. The FTC’s action against Volkswagen will have no effect on the ability of consumers who purchased or leased a VW or Audi diesel vehicle from taking legal action against the automaker. The FTC lawsuit also asks the court to issue an injunction that would prevent Volkswagen from engaging in similarly deceptive advertising practices in the future.

Lawsuits Filed Against Volkswagen by VW and Audi Diesel Owners

Consumers who purchased or leased a Volkswagen, Audi, or Porsche model involved in the diesel emissions cheating scandal may be eligible to file a lawsuit against VW. The first step in taking legal action is to talk with a law firm whose attorneys have the knowledge and experience in handling commercial and product liability litigation to help guide you through the process of filing a case.

The law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson has filed lawsuits on behalf of our clients against Volkswagen over the Dieselgate scandal. One of our partners, Michael Heygood, was recently named to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee for the Volkswagen MDL that is already underway in California. Mr. Heygood and the other attorneys at our firm expect to remain involved in the lawsuits against Volkswagen throughout the litigation process as we work to achieve a fair resolution to these claims on behalf of our clients.

If you purchased or leased a Volkswagen, Audi, or Porsche vehicle equipped with a diesel-powered engine, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson for a free legal consultation to learn more about whether you qualify to file a lawsuit. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few short questions about your case to get started.

by Jay Pate

John “Jay” Pate is a licensed attorney who focuses his practice on complex tort litigation involving catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and product liability cases.