US sues Volkswagen over emissions-cheating software in diesel cars
The US Justice Department is suing Volkswagen over emissions-cheating software found in nearly 600,000 vehicles sold in the country.
The civil complaint against the German car maker, filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency in US District Court in Detroit, alleges the company illegally installed software designed to make its diesel engines pass federal emissions standards while undergoing laboratory testing.
The vehicles then switched off those measures to boost performance in real-world driving conditions, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions up to 40 times greater than federal environmental standards.
"Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors," said John C Cruden, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.
"The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation's clean air laws alleged in the complaint," he said.
The company first admitted in September that the cheating software was included in its diesel cars and SUVs sold since the 2009 model year. The company is negotiating a massive mandatory recall with US regulators and potentially faces more than 18 billion dollars (£12 billion) in fines for violations of the federal Clean Air Act.
The company could also face separate criminal charges, while a raft of private class-action lawsuits filed by VW owners are pending.
"With today's filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution," said assistant administrator Cynthia Giles for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
"So far, recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward. These discussions will continue in parallel with the federal court action."
Volkswagen Group of America spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said the company "will continue to co-operate with all government agencies investigating these matters".
In past statements, high-ranking VW executives have sought to blame only a small number of software developers in Germany for the suspect computer code designed to trick emissions tests. The company has hired a US-based law firm to conduct an internal investigation into the scheme. Preliminary results of that review have not yet been made public.
Worldwide, the company says cheating software was included in more than 11 million vehicles.
The federal lawsuit alleges that Volkswagen intentionally tampered with vehicles sold in the US to include what regulators call a "defeat device", a mechanism specifically designed to game emissions tests. Under the law, manufacturers are required to disclose any such devices to regulators.
Because Volkswagen kept its suspect software secret, the lawsuit alleges the company's cars were sold without a valid "certificate of conformity" issued by the EPA to regulate new cars manufactured or imported into the country.
In addition to producing far more pollution than allowed, experts say the excess nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions from the more than half-million VW vehicles had a human cost. A statistical and computer analysis by the Associated Press estimated that the extra pollution caused somewhere between 16 and 94 deaths over the last seven years, with the annual toll increasing as more of the diesels were on the road.