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‘Dieselgate’ lawyers react to German car manufacturers' EU $1bn fine over diesel pollution cartel

Lawyers representing drivers against motor manufacturers have said that the behaviour of motor manufacturers shows disregard for the role excess vehicle emissions have on the environment and human health.

Posted on 08 July 2021

Lawyers representing over 90,000 UK drivers against motor manufacturers, including Volkswagen, BMW, Porsche, Audi and Mercedes have said that the behaviour of motor manufacturers shows a total disregard for the role excess vehicle emissions have on the environment and human health.

Leigh Day partner Shazia Yamin who is leading a group claim against Volkswagen said the fine represented a landmark moment in the fight against emissions. She said:

“This is the first time that the Commission has concluded that collusion on technical development amounts to a cartel”

The four top German car manufacturers were fined one billion US dollars by the European Union because of collusion to limit the development of car emission control systems.

The European Commission said Daimler (the parent group of Mercedes-Benz), BMW, VW, Audi and Porsche shared information and avoided competing on technology to restrict nitrogen oxide pollution from diesel cars.

The Commission imposed a fine of €875 million on BMW and the Volkswagen Group. Daimler was not fined after it revealed the cartel to the European Commission.

All parties acknowledged their involvement in the cartel and agreed to settle the case.

The car manufacturers held regular technical meetings between 2009 and 2014 to discuss the development of technology which removes harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel passenger cars through the injection of urea (also called “AdBlue”) into the exhaust gas stream.

Margrethe Vestager, the Executive Vice-President of the Commission, in charge of competition policy, said that even though the companies had the technology to reduce harmful emissions beyond legal limits, they avoided competing and denied consumers the chance to buy less polluting cars, which is illegal.

Ms Vestager said: “Manufacturers deliberately avoided to compete on cleaning better than what was required by EU emission standards. And they did so despite the relevant technology being available.”

The ruling is the first cartel prohibition decision by the European Commission based solely on a restriction of technical development and not on price fixing, market sharing or customer allocation.

A statement from the European Commission said the cartel investigation is separate from other investigations, including those into car manufacturers and the use of illegal defeat devices to cheat regulatory testing. There are no indications that the parties coordinated the use of illegal defeat devices to cheat regulatory testing.

In the “dieselgate” scandal Volkswagen has admitted that about 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide were fitted with the cheat software, which reduced NOx emissions during testing but allowed higher emissions and improved engine performance during normal driving.

Leigh Day represents 91,000 vehicle owners in group claims against car manufacturers accused of fitting their vehicles with cheat software which meant NOx emissions were much higher than customers had been led to believe by the vehicles’ performance in test conditions. The manufacturers being pursued are Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Skoda, SEAT, Porsche, Audi, Renault, Jaguar, Peugeot, BMW, Land Rover, Mini, Volvo, Citroen, Ford, Nissan and Vauxhall.

Leigh Day partner Shazia Yamin is leading a group claim against Volkswagen. She said:

“This is the first time that the Commission has concluded that collusion on technical development amounts to a cartel, and so this represents a landmark moment. The Commission has made clear that the manufacturers involved had the technology available to reduce harmful emissions to levels lower than required under the law but avoided competing to do so.

“When this behaviour is viewed alongside the allegations of emissions test cheating levelled at these manufacturers, it is apparent that they have shown a total disregard of the harmful effects that excess vehicle emissions have on the environment and human health. The fine imposed sends a clear message that such actions will not be tolerated and is to be welcomed.”

Diesel emissions claims

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Shazia Yamin
Consumer law Diesel emissions claims Group claims

Shazia Yamin

Shazia specialises in large-scale product liability litigation on behalf of consumers