Stichting Volkswagen Car Claim: “German diesel deal fails to address consumer claims”

Dutch non-profit organisation Stichting Volkswagen Car Claim (the “Foundation”) responds to the most recent developments in Germany regarding Dieselgate. On Tuesday 2 October 2018, the German coalition government presented details of an agreement to address the increasing problem of driving bans in large German cities. The plan calls for car manufacturers to meet the needs of a limited group of car owners that live in or around the 14 cities where driving bans have been or will be implemented. According to the minister, this limited group consists of 1.4 million owners of diesel vehicles, representing 15% of the total number of German owners of diesel vehicles with a polluting ‘Euro 4’ or ‘Euro 5’ diesel engine.

The plan calls for car manufacturers to offer the owners of diesel vehicles trade-in offers up to a maximum of EUR 10,000 for older model diesels traded in against newer diesel, petrol or electrical cars. The plan also introduces retrofit schemes, which would see car manufacturers install new hardware in older diesel engines aimed at reducing emissions levels, to offer a solution to drivers that cannot afford to purchase a new car. However, it is anticipated that German car manufacturers will be very reticent when it comes to cooperating. Furthermore, it is unclear when hardware solutions will actually become available, and in any event, retrofit schemes will not be suitable for all car models.

The political agreement in Germany shows that the government recognises the problems of consumers as addressed by the Foundation. It is now widely accepted in Germany that the software updates that were made available to date to car owners do not solve the emissions problem. The Foundation thinks that the solutions now proposed by the government are also insufficient to draw a line under Dieselgate.

Guido van Woerkom, board member: “The proposal by the German coalition government is a step in the right direction, but in the end, the proposed package of measures is far from sufficient. As a result, we do not expect this solution to put an end to consumer claims in Germany. The trade-in offer is only attractive for people that can afford to purchase a new car. The proposed plans mainly serve the interests of car manufacturers, who are now given the opportunity to boost their sales figures. Moreover, only a limited group of car owners fall within the scheme’s scope. We have also read reports that those millions of polluting cars with ‘Euro 5’ engines are not really leaving the road, but will be sold on to consumers in Eastern Europe. Minister Scheuer says that is “up to the market”. If car manufacturers can simply sell the traded-in cars elsewhere in Europe, the trade-in costs for the car industry are limited, and Germany in fact exports its environmental problems somewhere else. The diesel deal also does not include any agreement on indemnity or compensation for consumers, despite the fact that there are still technical uncertainties about the effects of the hardware solutions, and that it is clear that consumers, after retrofits, are worse off financially because they have higher fuel and AdBlue costs. The German government also failed to get commitments from German car manufacturers for car owners elsewhere in Europe.”

The Foundation has repeatedly invited Volkswagen to talk about finding a better solution for European car owners, including those in the Netherlands. But to date, Volkswagen has not been willing to cooperate with the Foundation.

Stichting Volkswagen Car Claim therefore initiated large-scale legal proceedings in May 2018, on behalf of 180,000 affected car owners in the Netherlands, against Volkswagen, its former and current board members, SEAT, Audi, Skoda, Dutch importer PON, software supplier Bosch and Dutch Volkswagen dealers. The Foundation wants the Dutch court to enable the affected diesel car owners to return their vehicles to the Dutch dealers against full repayment of the purchase price. For consumers and company car owners who purchased their vehicles second hand, the Foundation has asked the court to rule that Volkswagen is obliged to pay them compensation for any damage and/or loss suffered or to be suffered. The first court hearing in these proceedings will take place on 6 November 2018 at the Amsterdam court.