A top European court has ruled that Volkswagen DID break the law by installing special software that cheated on emissions tests.
The manufacturer had claimed it was simply using the so-called defeat devices to protect the vehicles’ engines, but the European Court of Justice – the supreme court of the European Union – threw out the argument.
The dieselgate scandal broke five years ago after the US Environmental Protection Agency discovered that VW had installed software to rig tests for ‘clean diesel’ vehicles.
It eventually emerged that the use of the cheating software was global, and Volkswagen subsequently admitted fitting some 11 million cars with the device worldwide.
The software lowered nitrogen oxide emissions when the cars were on a test machine but allowed higher emissions and improved engine performance during normal driving.
VW was referred to as ‘company X’ in the ruling, which established ‘a manufacturer cannot install a defeat device which systematically improves, during approval procedures, the performance of the vehicle emission control system and thus obtain approval of the vehicle’.
The case was looked into by the court after the Paris prosecutor’s office opened a judicial investigation into whether Volkswagen deceived buyers of diesel cars fitted with the device.
Jens Muller, air quality co-ordinator at Transport & Environment, an umbrella group of non-governmental groups campaigning for cleaner transport, said: ‘This landmark ruling is good news for getting cleaner air in Europe.
‘National authorities can’t allow car makers to prioritise profits over our health any more.
‘Now there are no more excuses. Manipulated cars must be fixed and consumers must be compensated across Europe.’
In its detailed ruling, the court rejected the idea that the device was justified because it contributed to preventing the engine from ageing or clogging up.
A separate ruling by the court this summer means EU consumers can sue in the country where they bought Volkswagen vehicles fitted with the device, rather than having to do so in Germany.
The scandal has cost Volkswagen 30 billion euros (circa £26.8bn) in fines and civil settlements so far, with millions of vehicles also being recalled.
VW says the latest ruling won’t have any bearing on current legal disputes since the court didn’t comment on the question of possible damages to car owners.