Volkswagen getting away with it in Europe

This is a guest article written by one of our passionate readers, Mrs Rachael Everly. 

It was an embarrassing day when the news broke out that Volkswagen had been duping emission tests for years, and the actual emissions were way above what Europeans rules allowed.

How it unfolded

It was in the US that the German giant was caught. On 18th September 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) served a notice of violation to Volkswagen. They found that many of the Volkswagen’s cars were fitted with a “defeat device” or software that helped detect that the car was undergoing an emissions test and altered its performance accordingly in order to ensure that the car performed according to test results. Following this the German giant was forced to admit wrongdoing and the process of levying fines began in the U.S. Volkswagen’s engines were producing pollutants like nitrogen oxides 40 times above what was allowed in the U.S. It was understood that day that VW had screwed up big time, even the American head of VW, Michael Horn, simply said “We’ve totally screwed up”.

How did Volkswagen fared in the U.S and Europe

EPA has the authority to fine a company up to USD 37,500/- for each car that breaches standards. Right now we are hearing that in the U.S. each owner may be compensated by USD 10,000/- per vehicle and the company has set aside another USD 10 billion to fix or buy back affected cars in the U.S.

On the other hand in Europe it looks like VW may get away with a simple admission of wrongdoing and an apology!

People like Maros Sefcovic, the EU Commission Vice President overseeing the energy and climate policy has spoken against this. Many politicians are raising their voices and called for a united action against VW. European policymakers are angry but it appears their wrath has insufficient power to back it.

Volkswagen response in Europe

Volkswagen chief technology officer told the European Parliament on July 13 that Europe’s lax rules on environment compared to those in the U.S meant that the car could be brought to comply with a simple software update while in the U.S they would require mechanical modifications. Thus he said that the European consumer was in no way inconvenienced and therefore there was no need for a payment to be made for damages.

What does it all mean?

The Volkswagen case shows how incompetent European countries are when it comes to the protection of the environment. The U.S took action against VW in 2015, however it was in 2013 that researchers working for the EU had flagged irregularities in emission testing and yet no member state took action.

At present, according to industry experts it seems that taking advantage of the impotence of the European policymakers VW may get away with simply paying 6.5 million euros (USD 7.21 million).

Europe needs to learn from the U.S. The U.S. faces a very strong automobile lobby but it has always stepped up when consumer interests are harmed. Toyota was forced to make record recalls in the U.S. One of the biggest came in 2014 when it was forced to recall 7.8million cars due to faulty airbags.

Europe needs to put up a united front to deal with car manufacturers that have apparently grown big enough to subdue consumer interests and get away with serious crimes by just getting “slapped on the wrists”. Also Europe should start strengthening its laws dealing with car pollutants and bring it in line with the rest of the developed nations of the world.

Europe has had a good history of dealing with cartels and now it needs to live up to that history and starting dealing with huge corporations who are taking advantage of the weak environmental protection laws and the fractured politics of the EU. The U.K parliament’s transport select committee recently complained on how the European Commission holds neither the necessary power nor the evidence to prosecute VW. This is quite worrying and if it continues this way Europe shall set a very dangerous precedent in dangerous times.

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Comments

  1. I agree that European consumer and environmental laws need to be strengthened but surely in all the jurisdictions there are laws that can be used to punish Audi/VW. I see that Italy is fining them for “improper business practices” — only 5M but it is something. Some of the German states have charges. One commenter suggested UK owners could use the Consumer Guarantee Directive to demand a full refund for a latent defect. Has there been false advertising? Violations of investment laws? Forging of certification documents as South Korea has charged? It may be difficult to levy a meaningful fine but every charge, with publicity, hurts the VW/Audi/Porsche brands. Strong restrictions on diesels or incentives for hybrids would hurt future VW sales. It is Europeans who have been hurt the most by these crimes and it is the European market that is VW’s bread and butter going forward.

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