Volkswagen Group of America spent multi-millions positioning its “clean diesel” technology as an environmentally conscious choice for car buyers – and sales of more than 550,000 so-called clean diesel vehicles suggest it was a persuasive pitch. But as a just-filed FTC lawsuit alleges, VW scored impressive green numbers by installing each car with a “defeat device” that cheated on emissions testing. According to the FTC’s complaint, the vehicles emitted excess nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions measuring as much as 40 times the maximum allowed by EPA regulations under normal driving conditions. That, says the FTC, renders VW’s campaign of eco-hype deceptive.
Green was the theme for VW’s extensive marketing campaign. As ads claimed:
- “Diesel. It’s no longer a dirty word.”
- “With the new Jetta TDI Clean Diesel, you get a great car that’s low on emissions . . . .”
- “[C]lean-diesel technology such as ours can achieve 40-percent better fuel economy and reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions by 90%.”
- “Touareg V6 TDI meet[s] the most stringent emission requirements of the world [with] its advanced DeNOx system.”
Other ads delved into the purported technology that led to such impressive numbers, but according to the FTC’s complaint, the relevant technology was “illegal software designed to defeat EPA’s testing procedures” – in other words, VW’s defeat device.
The complaint charges VW with multiple violations of the FTC Act. Count I alleges that because of the defeat device, a host of the company’s claims about low emissions, NOx reductions, emissions compliance, eco-consciousness, and comparative resale value were false or deceptive.
Count II charges that VW deceptively failed to disclose the existence of defeat devices that would adversely affect the cars’ resale value – information that would have been material to prospective buyers.
Count III focuses on ads, brochures, and other promotional items VW distributed to dealers and distributors – materials the FTC alleges provided those companies with the means and instrumentalities to engage in deceptive acts or practices.
Court IV alleges that VW’s use of defeat devices constitutes an unfair practice under the FTC Act.
The case is pending in federal court in California. In addition, the FTC continues to work closely with other agencies investigating VW’s defeat devices. We’ll follow up as developments arise.