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Volkswagen used 'defeat devices' to cheat emissions tests, UK court rules

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Dark clouds hang over the company headquarters of German car maker Volkswagen (VW) in Wolfsburg on February 28, 2020
Dark clouds hang over the company headquarters of German car maker Volkswagen (VW) in Wolfsburg on February 28, 2020   -   Copyright  RONNY HARTMANN/AFP
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The UK’s High Court ruled on Monday that Volkswagen cheated emissions tests by using a “defeat device” on some of its diesel cars.

The Court ruled in favour of around 91,000 of consumers who filed a legal claim following reports in September 2015 that vehicles were able to “cheat” emissions tests to be approved for sale.

The vehicles that included a “defeat device” were sold by Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda and were fitted with an EA 189 diesel engine.

The judgement described Volkswagen’s argument that the vehicles did not have such a device to be “completely irrelevant” “hopeless” and “highly flawed”. It added that it had been “an abuse of process” on the car maker’s part to say that the German transport authority’s decision as to the existence of the defeat device was not binding.

The losses payable to the thousands of claimants is to be determined. Some of the consumers may recover a portion of the purchase price they paid for the vehicles.

"Today’s ruling is hugely significant for our clients who have been battling for four years to hold Volkswagen to account", Bozena Michalowska-Howells, one of the lawyers representing the claimants, said.

"Many of our clients have been horrified to find out that they had been driving vehicles which were much more harmful to the environment than they were led to believe. We hope that Volkswagen accepts the court’s decision and we urge them to now do the right thing and put their customers first by entering into settlement negotiations."

"This damning judgment confirms what our clients have known for a long time, but which VW has refused to accept: namely that VW fitted defeat devices into millions of vehicles in the UK in order to cheat emissions tests", Gareth Pope, a lawyer who also represented the claimants, added.

Volkswagen said in a statement that the firm is “disappointed that the outcome was not in [their] favour", adding that "the judgment relates only to preliminary issues".

"Today’s decision does not determine liability or any issues of causation or loss for any of the causes of action claimed. These remain to be determined by the Court as the case continues", a spokesperson for Volkswagen said in a statement.

"Volkswagen remains confident in our case that we are not liable to the claimants as alleged and the claimants did not suffer any loss. We will continue to defend our position robustly. Nothing in this decision today changes this. We look forward to making progress with defending the remainder of the case."

Volkswagen added that it is "considering carefully the grounds on which it may seek to appeal [Monday's] decision."

The trial was held in December 2019, with the ruling published on 6 April 2020.

Volkswagen have continuously denied the claims in the UK, despite having eventually settled similar claims in Germany and Australia after lengthy litigation.