A class action lawsuit was filed against Volkswagen Group of America by six California Volkswagen diesel owners who say they now face loss of vehicle value, decreased resale opportunities and degradation of vehicle performance after Volkswagen recently admitted that since 2009 it circumvented emission test procedures to produce misleading pollution test results. (Peter Park, et al vs. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., SB-VAL (Santa Barbara Volkswagen), Solazyme, Inc, Amyris, Inc., et al, Superior Court for the State of California, Santa Barbara Superior Court, Case No. 15CV03138, September 21, 2015.
Volkswagen acknowledged using software in Volkswagen and Audi branded diesel vehicles that bypassed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions standards for certain air pollutants. This software or “defeat device,” turned on the full emissions controls only during emissions testing; when the car was driven normally, the effectiveness of the emissions pollution control devices was greatly reduced. As a result, consumers, including the plaintiffs, were unaware that their vehicles, contrary to what they had been promised, were emitting nitrogen oxides (NOx) at up to 40 times the EPA standard. Defeat devices are illegal under the federal Clean Air Act (CAA).
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) enforces California vehicle regulations through certification, compliance and enforcement programs. It regularly tests automobiles (as does the EPA) to ensure their emissions performance is as expected throughout their life. CARB began to suspect an emissions problem in diesel vehicles after conferring with European regulators and tests conducted by the International Council for Clean Transportation and researchers at West Virginia University substantiated those concerns.
“We chose to file in California State Court here in Santa Barbara because there are California entities that VW worked with to ensure their emissions controls were meeting government standards,” says Leila Noël, partner of Cappello & Noël LLP, the Santa Barbara law firm filing the class action on behalf of class members. “We believe these entities along with the Volkswagen knew the numbers were rigged. We have limited our case to California—most other firms are filing for a nationwide class.” Noël estimates approximately 50,000 Californians have purchased diesel Volkswagens with the defeat device.
Also named in the lawsuit are Solazyme, Inc. with headquarters in South San Francisco and Amyris, Inc., based in Emeryville. In partnership with Volkswagen, the two measured the environmental impacts for the use of precommercial renewable diesel formulas with TDI® Clean Diesel technology found in 2012 diesel Volkswagen models. A June 2015 Volkswagen news release stated that the two companies’ “Initial analysis found that advanced renewable fuels in the test offered comparable performance to standard crude-based diesel fuel blends while producing less CO2 emissions on average.”
“Volkswagen made claims about these cars that they knew were untrue to entice people to buy,” says Noël. “Class members are now left with automobiles that are not only harming our environment, but are currently of little or no value.”
The lawsuit is charging the defendants with fraudulent concealment, violation of California’s False Advertising Act, violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law and other causes of action.