If there is evidence that Volkswagen cheated clean-air tests in the UK, it could lead to one of the largest group actions in British legal history, according to a law firm that is investigating the possibility.
Well-known group action firm Leigh Day said there needs to be full disclosure of emissions testing for Volkswagen cars in Europe.
Some 11 million vehicles worldwide are believed to have been fitted with software to ensure they would pass clean air tests, to meet environmental standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US said cars had been fitted with sophisticated software to switch engines to a cleaner mode when they were undergoing official emissions testing, known as a ‘defeat device’. Once on the road, the cars produced nitrogen oxide pollutants at up to 40 times the legal standard.
Leigh Day noted a statement from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders that implied it would be harder to cheat a standard emissions test in Europe because it is independently witnessed.
But it said a British expert in low-emissions vehicles, Greg Archer – the former managing director of UK’s Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership and non-executive director for the government’s Renewable Fuels Agency – has claimed that the EU testing system is more open to abuse because the tests are conducted before the car goes into mass production and by companies that have been paid by the car makers.
Leigh Day partner Bozena Michalowska-Howells said: “We are aware of legal cases being brought against Volkswagen in the US, but this does not mean that UK cases will automatically follow.
“The key issue in this country is whether or not these devices were able to bypass the European emissions tests.
“If it is shown that this piece of software defeated the European testing, then Volkswagen would be in a very similar position as it is in the US and may well then have to call in their cars with all the resulting costs involved.
“This could well lead to one of the largest group claims ever in this country against Volkswagen for the way in which consumers may have been misled in relation to their vehicle.”
Jacqueline Young, head of group litigation at Slater & Gordon, said: “If any of the 11 million identified cars have been sold in the UK then either owners, or car dealerships/VW franchises stocking such vehicles will have viable legal claims for breach of contract, given that they have purchased the car based on misrepresentations which have devalued the vehicle.
“Claims may also be advanced by VW shareholders due to the slump in the share price caused by the recent announcement.”