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Over the past years, it was revealed that Volkswagen AG intentionally and systemically manipulated almost 8.5 million European vehicles. Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT, Skoda and Porsche vehicles were involved in the fraud. Specifically, VW had installed what is known as test cycle recognition software or “defeat device software” in over 11 million cars worldwide from 2009 through 2015.

The effect of this defeat device software was to reduce the NOx emissions during emissions testing while the vehicles would produce much higher levels of NOx than permitted by law when driven on the road. The purpose of this unethical behavior was to mislead the authorities and portray its cars as cleaner and more efficient than they actually were.

The Flemish Minister of Environment deposited a criminal plaint against Volkswagen on 10 November 2015. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers & Markets determined in its decisions of 28 November 2017 and 4 December 2018 that this manipulation was intentional, systemic and that Volkswagen AG had engaged in unfair commercial practices. While in other continents, Volkswagen reached substantial settlements, in Europe and, particularly, France, Volkswagen remained silent.

Note that European court of justice recently condemned France for breach of obligation imposed under the Air Quality directive for having “systematically surpassed” the limit of nitrogen dioxide since 2010, and for not having protected its citizens against air pollution (ruling of October 24 2019). The texts foresee a sanction of 11 million euros and daily penalties of at least 240.000 euros.

Scandal Overview

European vehicles affected

Cars impacted in France

£4,000 - £6,000
Paid by VW in France

Emissions Testing

Before any vehicle may be sold in the European market, it must pass a series of tests and inspections to assure the vehicle is compliant with applicable laws. These measures include, among other things, crash-testing, road worthiness testing and emissions testing.

Since 1992, the maximum amount of permitted pollution causing emissions has steadily decreased by European Union regulations popularly known as the Euro standard. In 2009, the Euro 5 standard was passed to further protect consumers and the environment, and it dramatically reduced the permitted amount of NOx emissions by diesel vehicles. Volkswagen intentionally cheated the Euro 5 standard by employing the defeat device software in order for their vehicles to appear to pass emissions tests.

Current emissions testing in Europe is done in a laboratory setting and not on the road. The defeat device software installed on the affected vehicles was sophisticated enough to determine whether the vehicle was in a test environment or being driven on the road. This was done by assessing various parameters such as movement of the wheels, the steering wheel and the accelerator.

When the defeat device software detected the vehicle was in a test environment, a valve would be manipulated to recirculate gas through the engine and thereby reduce the NOx emissions to within permitted standards. Volkswagen themselves admitted that the level of NOx emissions in these different modes was “noticeable.” In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that NOx emissions were as much as 10 to 40 times higher when the vehicle was not in test mode.


NOx is comprised of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide. These gases are a significant source of air pollution and contribute to the formation of smog, acid rain, global warming and cause damage to the Earth’s ozone layer similar to chlorofluorocarbons. NOx is a known irritant to the lungs and causes respiratory problems like asthma, wheezing, coughing, colds, and bronchitis. Children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of NOx. Aggregate traffic pollution, including NOx, is estimated to cost Europeans 60 billion Euros annually in healthcare costs and is responsible for 500,000 premature deaths each year.

Volkswagen has falsely promoted a “clean diesel” image world-wide and as a result, has commanded a premium for their vehicles. With its unethical conduct, VW has engaged in consumer fraud and should be held accountable both to their customers and to the environment.

If you own a 1.2, 1.6 or a 2.0 litre diesel vehicle manufactured by Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT, Skoda and Porsche that was manufactured from 2009 through 2015, there is a high likelihood your vehicle has been affected. Apart from affecting your wallet, this may have had a much larger negative impact on your health and the environment than you ever imagined.

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