Ventura County Star: Volkswagen test site in Oxnard a focus of class-action suit over emissions cheating

Gretchen Wenner

Sep 30, 2015

OXNARD, Calif. – A Volkswagen emissions compliance laboratory in Oxnard is a focus of at least one class-action lawsuit filed in the wake of the carmaker’s emissions cheating scandal.

“Our view is that the Oxnard test center is at the heart of this,” said Leila Noël of Santa Barbara law firm Cappello & Noël LLP.

Volkswagen Group of America opened its Test Center California on Del Norte Boulevard in August 2012. The high-tech facility is VW’s only emissions test lab in North America.

“To us it’s incomprehensible, knowing what everyone now knows, that Volkswagen’s own test center wasn’t aware of what was going on,” Noël said. Her firm has filed a class-action suit, one of many springing up nationwide, on behalf of several Santa Barbara County residents who own Volkswagens.

Staff in the lobby at Volkswagen’s Oxnard center Wednesday said no one from the local facility would comment.

In early September, Volkswagen admitted to state and federal regulators it has installed “defeat devices” in its 2.0-liter diesel engines since 2009. Up to 11 million VW, Audi and other vehicles worldwide have the affected engines.

The cars’ electronic control systems have software that senses when emission tests are underway based on steering wheel position, speed, barometric pressure and other measures, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Sept. 18 violation notice. During tests, vehicles run within limits, but on the road the cars spew out certain pollutants at up to 40 times above allowed levels, according to the EPA.

Oxnard’s 64,000-square-foot test center plays a “pivotal role” in Volkswagen’s U.S. operations, according to a company fact sheet, “acting as the final stop for many products before they are approved for production.” Operations include determining the “root cause of field vehicle glitches,” the sheet says, and verifying emission analysis data for government reporting.

Darryll Harrison Jr., a regional Volkswagen spokesman, said the Oxnard facility “is tasked with testing vehicles and is not responsible for creating or developing vehicle parts or systems.”

The $27 million center was an expansion of a similar facility in Westlake Village that had operated since 1990.

California, with its strictest-in-the-world emissions laws, provided an important testing and development locale for the carmaker, officials said at the Oxnard ribbon cutting in 2012.

Noël, the Santa Barbara attorney, noted that this isn’t the first time Volkswagen has been caught cheating with a defeat device. In the 1970s the company settled with the EPA over undisclosed devices.

“They know they can’t do this,” Noël said. ““They know it’s fraud, they know it’s illegal and they did it anyway.”

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