Dieselgate

The firm founded by the Nazi cheated its customers by defeat devices

Volkswagen is a German car manufacturer which was founded during the Nazi era – the car company’s headquarters has been Wolfsburg in northern Germany since VW factory was opened in 1938. They aimed at providing affordable cars for all Germans; but soon after the foundation the World War II broke out (in 1939).

During the WWII, the carmaker not only produced an array of weapons and military equiment, but also used slave labour that was mostly from the concentration camps. According to German historian Ulrich Herbert’s 1997 book Hitler’s Foreign Workers, about 70 per cent of the workers (mainly from Eastern Europe) of the car company was conscripted.

After the WWII, the car company’s violation of worker’s rights happened in Brazil: it has faced a lawsuit over the torture and detention of the employees who opposed Brazil’s dictatorship during the 1964–1985. Rosa Cardoso, a lawyer for some of the victims, said:

Volkswagen employees were victims of torture and illegal detention, and others were laid off and placed on blacklists

It has been said that during the dictatorship period, 12 employees who worked for VW were tortured in a factory near Sao Paulo, and dozens of VW workers were blacklisted.

Then, in September 2015, it turned out that Volkswagen cheated its customers by defeat devices to evade emission controls.

The defeat devices were installed in about 11 million diesel cars that were made by the car company between 2008 and 2015, for the purpose of cheating on tests. The software normally works when it is tested, but stops activating equipment that reduces emissions during regular driving. Why did they install the software in their 11m cars? Perhaps because they wanted to acquire a reputation as a good carmaker: they wanted the public to say that VW’s cars save fuel and have good acceleration.

The defeat devices deactivate the mechanical equipment (such as catalytic converter and exhaust valve) to reduce the emissions of the exhaust gasses, especially nitrogen oxide. One piece of the mechanical equipment is nitrogen oxide trap which traps NOx but consumes more fuel; it can be argued that they intented to save fuel by installing the defeat devices.

Because of VW’s criminal conduct, when you drove a VW car which installs the devices, the car inevitably increased the emissions above illegal level. Thus VW betrayed their customers, especially those who wanted to buy environemntally-friendly cars.

Volkswagen has already determined to make a compensation payment of $15 billion to the US authorities and car owners – the Spanish court, in October, ruled that a VW owner should be paid 5000 euros by the car maker. When it comes to the UK, in January 2017 Harcus Sinclair, the UK’s law firm, was going to sue Volkswagen over the emissions scandal. They sought £3000–4000 per vehicle in compensattake by taking a group action against the car maker. Damon Parker, head of litigation at Harcus Sinclair, said that they has paved the way for VW’s British customers who were let down by VW, Audi, Seat and Shoda to seek redress through their courts. Parker added:

“The group action aims to ensure that, if VW is found to have misled consumers about the environmental damage caused by their cars, they are penalised accordingly so as to discourage this sort of behaviour from happening again.”

It is understandable that Parker and Harcus Sinclair stood up to the German car maker and argued for the need for the group action.

Sometimes we need to impose a heavy penalty on a group which poses a threat to our society because we have to stop them from damaging our society.

Recent research carried out by MIT scientists suggested that about 1200 people would lose a decade of their life because of the extra car exhaust that Volkswagen cars emitted between 2008 and 2015. According to their research, about 40 per cent of the premature deaths will occur in Germany, and the other 60 per cent will do in Poland, France and Czech Republic. Professor Steven Barret, who conducted the research (with other researchers), suggested that other car makers had used the defeated devices – he added:

“We don’t know if other manufacturers have these defeat devices, but there is already evidence that many other vehicles in practice emit more than the applicable test-stand limit value.”

In June 2017, Harcus Sinclair cooperated with European law firms AKD Benelux, Labaton Sucharow and Breiteneder Attorneys (they are called the Foundation which was established in 2015), aiming to combine claims against Volkswagen. Parker said:

“Our clients’ goal is to do all that they can to support other law firms and organisations across Europe to ensure VW is held to account.”

I don’t know to what extent Harcus Sinclair’s tactics will work, but it’s not a terrible idea for a UK law firm to team up with its European neighbours to make more people pay attention to the Dieselgate. In particular, if more environmental groups and activists become interested in the scandal, they will try to act in a way that they accuse the car maker. This can make it easy for the Foundation to win compensation from VW.

Volkswagen UK’s boss Paul Willis said that he apologised sincerely over the emissions scandal. However it seems that VW doesn’t want to admit that they did wrongdoing. In fact, last year the car giant hired a new historian to “study” their history related to the Brazilian dictatorship regime – the move came a month after Manfred Grieger resigned as a VW historian. Grieger was a longtime chief historian of the car giant, and exposed how the carmaker used slave labour during the WWII. His sudden departure was related. to his review on the link of Audi(VW’s subsidiary) to Nazi and slave labour. VW denied that he was not sacked by them, but it seemed that they wanted to downplay their Nazi link. This implied that they would be dishonest to their customers and their former employees. Then, Willis added:

“It is our view that the instigation of legal proceedings in England is premature, not least because the implementation of the technical measures in the affected vehicles is still on-going.”

The Foundation made claims against not only the carmaker but also Bosch, German engineering and electronics company for selling the defeat devices to VW.

Bosch said:

“Bosch takes the allegations of manipulation of the diesel software very seriously. These allegations remain the subject of investigations and civil litigation and Bosch is cooperating with the continuing investigations in various jurisdictions, and is defending its interests in the litigation.”