Volkswagen deceived British car buyers by falsifying the green credentials of its vehicles, lawyers will argue this week, as a compensation claim linked to the German firm’s “dieselgate” emissions scandal reaches the high court.
More than 90,000 claimants are seeking compensation after buying cars from Volkswagen Group – including Audis, Seats and Skodas – only to find that they emitted more of the air pollutant nitrogen dioxide than the company claimed.
The group action, which was launched in 2019, is the latest to stem from the scandal, which emerged in 2015 when the carmaker was found to have installed defeat devices to rig emissions data. The company has already spent £25bn globally on legal costs, compensation and vehicle buybacks since the scandal broke.
Arguments heard in court this week could have a significant bearing on further payouts, owing to their potential bearing on a trial scheduled to begin in January 2023.
During the five-day hearing, lawyers for the claimants will argue that customers were deceived because VW did not tell them about the defeat devices.
The company is expected to say that its failure to mention the devices is insufficient in law for a deceit claim, which could arise only if customers believed that the cars did not have them and that they were fooled into thinking otherwise.
Should a judge rule that a deceit claim cannot proceed, VW could ultimately end up paying a significantly limited amount in compensation, or none at all.
But VW would still face compensation claims including for breach of statutory duty – in effect failing to follow automotive manufacturing regulations – and a smaller number, about 40% of the 91,000 total, for breach of contract by providing a car of insufficient quality. Claimants are being represented by three law firms: Leigh Day, Slater & Gordon and PGMBM.
“It has been over six years since the dieselgate scandal broke and made headlines across the world, but our clients in the UK are still awaiting justice,” said Shazia Yamin, a partner at Leigh Day.
“Whilst in many other jurisdictions, Volkswagen have admitted cheating emissions tests and have paid out billions of pounds in fines and settlements, they nevertheless continue to fight this drawn-out legal battle in the UK and, rather than taking the sensible approach and seeking to resolve these matters, have opted to bring an application seeking to dismiss some of the claims being made by our clients.”
Yamin said a ruling in her clients’ favour “would serve a very important purpose in holding manufacturers to account, restoring consumer confidence, and furthering the wider goal of reducing emissions and their harm to public health and the environment”.
She added: “There is a clear public interest in what is now a long overdue resolution to the emissions scandal in the UK.”
A spokesperson for the German carmaker said: “Volkswagen Group maintains that there is no legal basis to the claimants’ argument that customers were deceived by Volkswagen.
“In particular, we do not believe that the claimants were aware of and understood the specific representations it is alleged they relied upon before buying the vehicles. We are therefore requesting that the court strikes out (or gives summary judgment on) this allegation from the claimants’ case.”
Mercedes is also facing compensation claims over defeat devices, as part of separate legal action which the German carmaker has said it will defend.
• This article was amended on 6 December 2021 to clarify the compensation possibilities should a judge rule that a deceit claim cannot proceed.