Earlier this month multiple media outlets, including MSNBC, reported that the Obama administration ordered a recall of almost 500,000 Volkswagen vehicles for intentional emission violations. The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) ordered its’ own vehicle issued the company a notice of violation and accused the company of breaking the law by installing software known as a “defeat device” in 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from model years 2009-15. The device is programmed to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and to only turn on full emissions control systems during that testing. Those controls are turned off during normal driving situations, when the vehicles pollute far more heavily than reported by the manufacturer.
This type of recall is different than the one we saw a few years back against Toyota, which was for unexpected acceleration issues. In that case, the danger was specifically towards drivers as car accidents were alleged to be caused by the sudden acceleration. The Volkswagen recall is specifically for damage done to the environment. “Using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards is illegal and a threat to public health,” said Cynthia Giles, the E.P.A.’s assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance. “Working closely with the California Air Resources Board, E.P.A. is committed to making sure that all automakers play by the same rules. E.P.A. will continue to investigate these very serious violations.”
This is going to be a huge financial cost to Volkswagen. They are going to face lawsuits by both the EPA to repay the government for the damage to the environment. There will also be auto defect lawsuits filed by class action attorneys looking for reimbursement for the thousands of car owners based on the reduced value of their vehicles. The interesting issue here is that the actions by Volkswagen appear to be intentional. This could create additional fines and punishment requested by the EPA.
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