Volkswagen fraud in ‘Dieselgate’ emissions scandal fueled by drive to become world’s leading automaker

by Charles Miller

Recent admissions by Volkswagen that the company lied to consumers and federal regulators about the pollution levels of its “clean diesel” vehicles were fueled by the company’s ambition to overtake Toyota as the number one automaker in the world, according to a report by the New York Times. Volkswagen announced in September that it will recall 11 million VW and Audi “TDI Clean Diesel” vehicles—including nearly 500,000 in the U.S.—after admitting that the company installed a “defeat device” on the vehicles that was designed to conceal the high emissions levels of these vehicles from consumers and regulators.

According to the report, former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn announced in 2011 that the German automaker’s goal was to become the leading automaker in the world by 2018. Winterkorn was forced to resign his position as head of Volkswagen in September following revelations about the company’s role in the Dieselgate scandal.

One aspect of VW’s plan to overtake Toyota was to develop an eco-friendly competitor to the Toyota Prius. Volkswagen aimed to develop a car that would provide a similar level of low emissions to the Prius, but with superior performance and drivability.

Volkswagen had planned to use a pollution-control technology developed by Mercedes-Benz and Bosch known as BlueTec to achieve its goal of competing with Toyota in the eco-friendly car market. However, under Winterkorn, this technology was abandoned in favor of a “clean diesel” engine designed by the Volkswagen itself. The company believed that this technology would enable the company to produce larger vehicles favored by American drivers while still complying with new fuel emissions standards set by the Obama administration.

Matt DeLorenzo, an expert on diesel engines with Kelley Blue Book, says that Volkswagen may have believed that it could start producing vehicles with the “clean diesel” engines for a few years to gain a foothold in the market and update the technology down the road in order to comply with the new fuel emissions standards. “It could have been an incremental thing that got them caught up in this,” DeLorenzo says. “They thought they could maybe fix this later, then discovered they couldn’t and went down a dark path.”

Problems Uncovered With Volkswagen and Audi “TDI Clean Diesel” Vehicles

Volkswagen sold millions of VW and Audi vehicles equipped with the “TDI Clean Diesel” technology before California regulators began to notice a discrepancy between the actual pollution levels emitted by these vehicles and the emissions claims made by Volkswagen. The researchers found that while the VW and Audi cars emitted high levels of pollutants while being driven on the road, when they were tested in a lab, their emissions levels were recorded at normal levels.

After further investigation in conjunction with the EPA, researchers discovered that this discrepancy was due to a software “defeat device” installed by Volkswagen on the TDI models, which was designed to alter the vehicles’ emissions levels during testing, making the vehicles appear more eco-friendly than they actually were.  In reality, researchers discovered, the VW and Audi TDI models emitted levels of the air pollutant nitrous oxide that were up to 40 times higher than the maximum level allowed under the Clean Air Act.

After being confronted by the EPA, Volkswagen was forced to admit that it had lied to consumers who purchased its “TDI Clean Diesel” models by fraudulently claiming that these cars offer a level of performance and eco-friendliness that they did not actually possess. The company announced that it would recall about 11 million VW and Audi “clean diesel” models worldwide—including nearly 500,000 vehicles in the U.S.—after formulating a plan to fix the high emissions levels that are emitted by these cars. But although this plan will address Volkswagen’s violations of federal environmental laws, it will likely mean a significant drop in the performance of these vehicles for drivers who already own one of the recalled TDI models.

Lawsuits Against Volkswagen Filed by Heygood, Orr & Pearson

Owners of one of the Volkswagen or Audi “TDI Clean Diesel” models that were recalled by VW may be eligible to join the numerous lawsuits that have already been filed against the German automakers. As Volkswagens admissions in the Dieselgate scandal have made clear, the company knew for years that it was selling vehicles that failed to meet U.S. emissions standards and fraudulently lied its customers by touting the eco-friendly technology of these vehicles.

For more information about the lawsuits filed against Volkswagen and to receive a free legal consultation from an attorney, contact Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also reach us by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions about your situation to get started.


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by Charles Miller

Charles Miller is a licensed attorney and a partner at Heygood, Orr & Pearson. Charles focuses his practice on areas of complex commercial litigation and personal injury litigation.