You’ve probably noticed that automakers tend to take a few creative licenses when describing the possibilities of their vehicles. Maybe they don’t accelerate quite as quickly as advertised, and the ability to use the navigation system while driving can be more of a hassle than a help. But it’s a fine line between embroidering the truth and outright lying in marketing materials—something Volkswagen is learning at an extremely high price.
Volkswagen Faces Fines and Possible Criminal Charges for Cheats
The rise of hybrids and electric vehicles has put pressure on automakers to produce vehicles that are less harmful to the environment. Consumers are willing to pay top dollar to decrease their carbon footprint, and less environmentally-conscious manufacturers are losing out on the market. So when Volkswagen began advertising its diesel-powered passenger vehicles as “clean, fuel efficient, and powerful,” there seemed to be a viable alternative to electric-powered cars.
However, that promise was recently discovered to be a deception. While Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” vehicles did pass the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards for low emissions, it only did so during environmental road testing, thanks to a software implant used to detect when the vehicle was being driven for testing purposes. During normal driving, emissions from the vehicles could reach over 40 times the federal safety standard.
The scandal could have a number of consequences for the German automaker, including:
Recalls. The automaker has admitted that these environmental “defeat devices” have been installed in diesel TDI versions of the Golf, Passat, Jetta, and Beetle dating back to 2009. Although most of the affected vehicles are believed to be in Europe, Volkswagen estimated that roughly 11 million clean diesel cars are equipped with these devices. Volkswagen has announced that they are initiating a recall for these vehichle. Volkswagen may be required to remove the devices and bring the cars emissions systems up to federal standards, likely at the automaker’s expense.
Money Damages to Consumers. The automaker may be liable to consumers who purchased the affected vehicles for: 1) deceptive trade practices; 2) overpayment for the vehicles (between $1,000 to $6,800); 3) loss of resale value; 4) loss of horsepower and fuel efficiencency when made compliant with current federal emission standards, and, 4) higher fuel costs.
Fines. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can fine automakers up to $37,500 for every vehicle found to be noncompliant with federal standards. At the highest possible fines, Volkswagen could potentially be ordered to pay over $18 billion.
Criminal charges. Violating clean air standards is not only unethical and potentially costly, it is also illegal. By installing the cheat software on the estimated 500,000 Volkswagen and Audi diesel models sold in the U.S., Volkswagen knowingly violated the Clean Air Act, and could face criminal prosecution.
Volkswagen has pledged to stop selling its 2015 and 2016 Volkswagen and Audi diesel models in the U.S. and has initiated a recall to lower emissions in the vehicles it has already sold. Consumers driving diesel versions of the Golf, Jetta, Beetle, Passat, and Audi A3 should know that there is no danger to themselves or passengers, and it will be up to the company to fix the issue.
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