Proceedings in the largest legal claim in German history begin against Volkswagen today in relation to the Dieselgate scandal, with owners seeking compensation for either being missold their car or for financial losses as a result of altered emissions or lower resale values.
The case is viewed as highly significant for owners of all affected VW products – including cars from the Audi, Porsche, Seat, Skoda and VW brands – as it will likely have a bearing on how the Group approaches legal action in other European territories, including the UK.
The VW Group has already reached a settlement with American and Australian owners, but is vigorously defending European claims as a result of what it says are different regulations that it did not breach. To date, the scandal, which broke in 2015, has cost VW more than £30 billion in fines and costs, while it has made a provision of around £1bn for defending its European cases.
The law in Germany was changed to allow a group civil action against VW – previously claimants would have had to take individual action. As a result, more than 400,000 owners are said to have grouped together ahead of today’s hearing, while around another 100,000 are said to be still pursuing individual action.
They must prove that they were either mis-sold the car, that the technical fix approved by technical authorities has had a detrimental affect on efficiency or that resale values of affected cars have fallen.
In defence, VW argues that it did not breach European law by using a device to cheat emissions tests – such was the laxity of wording of the rules – and that the effect of the cheat was to lower NOx emissions, which would have had no immediate financial impact on owners, plus the fix has been independently approved as not negatively altering any emissions criteria.