Lawyers representing more than 90,000 motorists will accuse the carmaker Volkswagen on Monday of fitting some of its most popular models with an emissions defeat device, in the biggest class action of its kind in the UK.
Four years after the emissions scandal emerged, customers in the UK will take their case to the courts in a class action which will focus on whether software fitted to 1.2 million vehicles was designed to cheat clean air laws in the UK.
The carmaker admitted in 2015 to manipulating 11m vehicles worldwide to fool emissions tests. In the US VW pleaded guilty two years ago to criminal charges and paid out $4.3bn in civil and criminal penalties – the largest levied by the US government against a car company. Total costs for VW are estimated to have reached $21bn.
Earlier this year in Australia VW settled a multimillion-dollar class action over the global diesel emissions scandal and will pay between $87m and $127m in compensation to customers. Volkswagen made no admission of liability under the agreement.
But in Europe VW is still denying that the software it used was an illegal defeat device – despite German regulators having ruled in 2015 that it was designed to cheat emissions tests.
On Monday, lawyers for UK customers will argue that the device fitted to 1.2 million cars was designed to defeat emissions tests in the first of a string of European class actions, which include Germany and Italy.
Gareth Pope, head of group litigation at Slater Gordon, which is representing the majority of the UK customers, said the trial would be a milestone for attempts to hold VW accountable in the UK.
“VW has had plenty of opportunity to come clean, make amends and move on from this highly damaging episode. But instead it’s chosen to spend millions of pounds denying the claims our clients have been forced to bring against it rather than paying that to their own customers in compensation.”
VW admitted in 2015 to fitting software to 1.2m of its vehicles in the UK, and rolled out a “fix” to make cars compliant with emissions laws.
But VW’s case is that this software did not breach the law.
VW said in a statement: “Volkswagen Group maintains that there has never been a defeat device installed in any of its vehicles in the UK.
“The question the judge is deciding in this hearing is not whether the affected vehicles contained such a device, but whether the legal definition is met in certain circumstances. We will continue to defend robustly our position in the high court.”
Dieselgate became public in September 2015 when the US Environmental Protection Agency revealed how VW and Audi had violated the Clean Air Act, leading to investigations by government agencies around the world in the biggest scandal to hit the car industry in decades.