British government could prosecute VW Group
Government statement calls for customer compensation, criticises firm’s response to scandal and threatens legal action
The British government has launched a scathing attack on the VW Group for the dieselgate emissions scandal, both for its initial cheating and its subsequent efforts to fix any wrongdoing, and as a result it is considering prosecuting officials from the firm and pushing it to pay compensation to affected UK car owners.
In a response to the Transport Committee’s Special report on the scandal, the British government concluded that VW’s response had been “unacceptable”, that “the treatment of UK consumers has not been acceptable and that vehicle owners should be compensated for the inconvenience” and concluded that “prosecuting authorities from across Europe are liaising and co-ordinating their investigations. The Department is engaged in this process.”
The statement made clear the government would not go into further details on the likelihood of prosecuting VW Group officials, saying “it would be premature and potentially damaging to any prospective legal action to comment further at this point”.
However, it went on to say: “The government will continue to fight for compensation for UK consumers and continue our work to ensure that Volkswagen’s serious action of cheating type approval tests is met with the appropriate consequences.
“The government has also made clear in its most recent engagement with VW that in relation to costs incurred by the taxpayer and proposed fixes for affected vehicles, respectively, financial reimbursement and warranties are matters of high and urgent priority.”
It added: “Prosecuting authorities from across Europe have met to discuss and coordinate their investigations. Officials have been part of those coordinating efforts and continue to monitor the progress of those investigations. This is a complex area as the wrongdoing by the multinational Volkswagen Group is likely to have taken place in various jurisdictions. We understand that investigations in Germany (where the Volkswagen Group is based and the relevant engines were developed) require the review and assessment of vast amounts of material. The government wants to ensure that the Volkswagen Group faces appropriate legal consequences for its manipulation of emissions tests and is continuing to consider how best to do this. We have not ruled out opening our own investigation.”
VW has consistently denied that affected UK and European owners should be compensated, stressing that their cars will be fixed free of charge and with no performance or efficiency losses. It is also believed that the European Union legislation on emissions testing were so lax that VW could argue its defeat devices did not break any laws.
However, the British government statement continued: “The government strongly agrees that the treatment of UK consumers has not been acceptable and that vehicle owners should be compensated for the inconvenience, uncertainty and worry caused by Volkswagen’s cheating as well as for any loss in the value of affected vehicles which may become apparent.
“We also find it unacceptable that Volkswagen has avoided this issue for so long and has failed to adequately engage with customers on this matter and respond to their valid concerns. Ministers have summoned Volkswagen UK to a further meeting in order to reiterate these views and remind Volkswagen that they expect the company to treat UK consumers fairly.”
The British government statement also appeared to back owners planning to take private legal action against VW. In response to a recommendation made by the Transport Select Committee, the statement added: “The government notes the Committee’s comments regarding the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and agrees that vehicle owners may have recourse under the Act. The government is not privy to the content of contracts between vehicle owners and the relevant dealerships and so is unable to comment further.
“However the government would make clear that the Department of Transport has engaged, and will continue to engage, with consumer groups and legal firms and stands ready to provide any reasonable assistance to consumers who seek compensation directly from Volkswagen.”
VW has yet to respond to the British government’s comments.