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UK lawyers say VW scandal could see largest group claim in UK legal history

VW emissions test cheat could see UK's largest ever legal group claim if proven to affect cars in UK

Posted on 23 September 2015

Leading law firm Leigh Day have revealed they are currently investigating whether Volkswagen's admission that some of its cars cheated clean-air tests in the US also applies to tests in Europe, and specifically the UK.

If proven then the leading law firm says it could expect to handle one of the largest group claims in UK legal history.

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 are undergoing official emissions testing.

This is a type of software known as a "defeat device". Once on the road, the cars produced nitrogen oxide pollutants at up to 40 times the legal standard.

Yesterday in a statement The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) yesterday implied that it would be harder to cheat a standard emissions test in Europe:

“All cars must complete a standard emissions test, which, unlike in the US, is independently witnessed by a government-appointed independent agency.”

However, 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.

Archer claims that whilst these testing companies have been verified by regulators in each country, but in the US the tests are conducted by an independent body.

The defeat device software is also hidden and fully automated, programmed to switch on when cars are being tested, lawyers at Leigh Day are calling for full disclosure of emissions testing for Volkswagen cars in Europe.

Lawyers at Leigh Day are calling for full disclosure of emissions testing for Volkswagen cars in Europe.

Bozena Michalowska-Howells from the Consumer Law and Product Safety group at law firm Leigh Day said:

“We are aware of legal cases being brought against Volkswagen in the US, 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.”

VW's chief executive, Martin Winterkorn said he was ''endlessly sorry'' over the scandal, which has prompted demands for him to resign.