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Trial opposing VW to 400,000 'Dieselgate' plaintiffs opens in Germany

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Folders pictured before the start of a hearing in a class action suit filed by over 400,000 of diesel automobile owners against VW in Brunswick, September 30, 2019
Folders pictured before the start of a hearing in a class action suit filed by over 400,000 of diesel automobile owners against VW in Brunswick, September 30, 2019 -
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REUTERS/Michele Tantussi
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Carmaker Volkswagen (VW) is facing trial in Germany on Monday against hundreds of thousands of consumers demanding compensations following the so-called 'Dieselgate' scandal.

More than 400,000 owners of VW diesel cars have joined the class action against the manufacturer which opened at 08:00 CEST in the northern city of Brunswick. The trial is expected to last until 2023.

They are represented by consumer group VZBV which accuses VW of having deliberately put its consumers at risk by installing software to cheat emissions test.

Ahead of the hearing, the group's president, Klaus Muller, said: "In our opinion, Volkswagen cheated and must, therefore, be held accountable."

"It is long overdue for Volkswagen to recognise its responsibility. If this does not happen, the company would have lost its last chance to win back the consumers' trust," VZBV also said in a statement to Euronews.

However, even if the court rules in favour of plaintiffs, they will not automatically be compensated and will have to file individual claims.

"We want swift proceedings. It doesn't help anyone if this process is dragged out unnecessarily," VW said in a statement to Euronews, adding, however, that they are "preparing for a lengthy procedure."

The company dismissed the argument their cars are harmful, writing: "the vehicles are driven by hundreds of thousands of customers every day, they are safe and roadworthy, which is why we do not believe there is any damage and therefore no reason for a lawsuit."

It also said that "a settlement is hardly imaginable, since it is completely unclear who has filed which possible claims. Settlement negotiations with so many unknown factors are simply not practicable."

Four years after the scandal broke out and after it admitted to fitting emission-cheating software of 11 million cars, the German company is still wrestling with several legal battles.

Last week, chief executive Herbert Dies, supervisory board chief Hans Dieter Poetsch and former CEO Martin Winterkorn were charged with market manipulation in a case opposing the company to investors.

The scandal has so far cost the carmaker $33 billion (€30.2 billion), the vast majority — $25 billion — paid to US regulators and consumers. In Germany, it has paid three fines for a total of €2.3 billion.