VOLKSWAGEN is facing a legal claim of an estimated £5 million from at least 1200 car owners in Scotland in what is expected to be the biggest civil class action the country’s history over the emissions scandal that has hit the firm.
Thompsons Solicitors, one of the main law firms behind the action said they hoped to bring the first test cases within the next six months as the German car firm have refused to consider coming to any settlement with those affected.
While paying £12.3 billion to settle claims in the US and buy back polluting cars, VW’s UK boss said there was “no legal basis” for similar claims in Britain, insisted to MPs on the transport select committee that he “misled nobody” and that his company did not set up cars to cheat emissions regulations.
He insisted that fewer than half of the UK vehicles caught up in the Volkswagen emissions scandal had been fixed. Around 470,000 of the 1.2m vehicles fitted with software to cheat environmental tests had been dealt with, he said.
But he was attacked for failing to give answers to straight answers, repeatedly using phrases such as “to the best of my knowledge” and “I can’t recall” and last week the committee chairman Louise Ellman accused him of failing to tell Parliament the whole truth about the diesel emissions scandal. It’s an allegation Mr Willis refutes.
The row surrounds the use a defeat device to cheat on emission tests, which allowed VW to claim the cars had better green credentials and than was actually the case.
Paul Willis, Volkswagen Group UK managing director defends a failure to provide compensation at the parliamentary committee. Source: parliamentlive.tv
The civil case will also argue that without the cheat device, the car’s fuel efficiency and performance will drop and that the customer will lose out with a car that is worth less when it comes to be resold.
While VW accepts that 8.5 million vehicles in Europe were fitted with software that could detect when they were being tested for emissions, Mr Willis says cars affected showed no change in fuel consumption and, from all the data he had seen, there had been no detrimental effect to the residual value of vehicles.
The car company denies that the software amounts to a “defeat device” under EU law.
Patrick McGuire of Thompsons Solicitors, which has 800 of the claims, with an estimated 400 with other solicitors, said that they took on another 100 cases as a result of Mr Willis’s performance before the MPs.
“The attitude of Volkswagen publicly, with his boss’s performance in the committee is reflected entirely in how they are dealing with this in the legal sphere, which is to say that their lawyers are taking a very aggressive attitude to this,” he said.
“At the moment their solicitors are not engaging in any meaningful conversation, they have put the shutters down and our only option is to pursue the course we are doing which is to say getting the first test cases to court.
“On the current trajectory, if all the cases were to be litigated in the Scottish courts because of the attitude of Volkswagen, then it would be by some distance the largest civil class action in the history of the Scottish court system.
“Mr Willis said something along the lines of we are repairing vehicles at pace, customers are very happy with what they are doing, they are all being rest assured. There’s not a word of truth in that.
“Every single client that I have that is affected by this is not remotely happy by the response of Volkswagen.
“His performance resulted in more than 100 people phoning our offices, so angered by what he was saying.
“Very few of them have been offered a technical fix, they have been told nothing about what is involved in it, and to describe them as happy with Volkswagen’s response is a flight of fancy at best.”
In the UK around 1.2 million diesel engine cars are affected by the emissions scandal.
Of the UK vehicles affected by the crisis, there were estimated to be 508,276 Volkswagen cars, 393,450 Audis, 131,569 Skodas, 79,838 VW commercial vehicles and 76,773 Seats.
Mr McGuire (below) said there was a clear breach of consumer laws and expects compensation is a matter of when, not if.
“It is about how fair they are prepared to be, how painless they are prepared to make this for their customers, who at the moment they don’t seem to give a damn about,” he said.
“The basic case is that they were told their vehicles would have a certain level of fuel efficiency, performance, green attributes, a certain resale value when they come to be sold. Those attributes were only capable through the cheat advice, and when that is fixed, none of these key elements will be present in their vehicles.
“The fuel efficiency will be less, the performance will be less, they will be more expensive to run, they will be less green and they will be worth less when they come to resell them.
“Mr Willis claims the law is different in America. It is slightly different, but the reality is that the sale of goods law, our consumer protection law is clear, it is more than sufficiently robust for any lawyer to look at this and say the actual base claim is as close to a certainty as you can get.”
He believed that they reason they are settling in America is that the market is smaller – but a similar European settlement would cost the company too much money, so they are fighting it.
“That’s a decision they will come to regret,” Mr McGuire says.