On 18 September 2015, the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Volkswagen had confessed to using so-called ‘defeat device’ software in a number of vehicles in order to meet US air pollutant emissions standards. These devices feign better emission output when tested in the lab compared to on-the-road situations – where the cars gravely exceed the legal limits.
The scale of the issue is global, with 11 million cars affected, including 8 million vehicles in Europe.
For BEUC and our members, there are two fundamental problems that have been highlighted by the use of these ‘defeat devices’:
- Millions of consumers in Europe have bought a car that has an illegal device installed and does not match the specifications of the sales contract according to VW;
- The absence in the EU of a surveillance system which would require truly independent and on-the-road testing. If we are to restore consumer trust in emissions and fuel consumption programmes, such a system needs to be implemented without delay.
Together with our member organisations we take action to help affected consumers get their car back in line with legal requirements – in a least disruptive way for them – as well as receive compensation for the possible decreased value or performance of their car. At the same time, we are pushing the European Commission to ensure better car emission and fuel consumption testing standards and controls are put into place across the EU.
BEUC is coordinating the activities of national consumer organisations at the European level and also working closely with our sister organisation Consumers International at the global level. In tackling this vital issue for consumers, we have made our concerns known to key European stakeholders.
On 22 September 2015, we sent a letter to Ms. Elżbieta Bieńkowska – European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs – asking her: “What plans does [the European Commission] have to improve the oversight of EU vehicle test procedures and will it launch an investigation into the possible use of installed software designed to manipulate type approval tests in the EU?”. We also highlighted the lack of a dedicated agency to overlook the implementation of EU regulations, something that exists for all the other major transport modes.
On 2 October 2015, we also sent a letter to Mr. Matthias Müller – newly-appointed CEO of Volkswagen Group – in which we highlighted our concerns about the possible impact (including financial implications) for consumers. We also call on Volkswagen to take a number of actions that address the effects of this disappointing revelation to consumers.
Click here for our response to VW's reply letter.
Read the joint letter sent together with our German member vzvb to the German Federal Minister for Transport and Digital Infrastructure, Mr. Alexander Dobrindt.
See also our campaign page 'The great fuel consumption scam'. Existing fuel consumption test procedures allow car manufacturers to manipulate results. This is in turn used for fuel consumption claims which mislead consumers as to the true fuel consumption levels of their car. The consequence is paying more for fuel costs than reasonably expected. We reveal the tricks used by car manufacturers and the shockingly higher fuel consumption results. As part of the solution we are campaigning to speed up the process of adopting a new and more appropriate test.
VW needs to take swift action to restore consumer trust by:
- Immediately stopping the distribution and sale of any vehicles equipped with the ‘defeat devices’ across Europe;
- Fully disclosing which specific vehicles have had ‘defeat devices’ installed in Europe;
- Ensuring that a full recall of the vehicles affected in Europe will be communicated in a consistent and transparent way to the owners, providing full and detailed information of the technical analysis, the modifications to be made and the effects on the performance, safety, air pollutant emissions and fuel consumption.
- Ensuring that the owners of the recalled vehicles are:
- Exempted from any costs related to the alterations or repair work that would be needed to meet the standards set out in marketing material, the contract or required under law;
- Adequately compensated in case the necessary technical intervention would produce a negative impact on the performance of the cars (e.g. the fuel consumption performance);
- Provided a courtesy car whilst any alterations or repair work are carried out.
- Offering timely financial compensation for any damages caused by or related to the ‘defeat devices’ installed in vehicles purchased by consumers – including the value depreciation of the affected vehicles;
- Fulfilling any other consumer claim based on consumer sales law, including cancellation and repayment of the purchase price or proportionate reduction of the purchase price and damages for any loss;
- Ensuring that any alterations or repair work conducted on affected cars will result in the emissions performance matching EU emissions limits based on real world performance.
We also think it is clear that an overhaul to the current EU testing regime is badly needed, if we are to restore consumer trust. To do so, it is essential that:
- On-the-road tests for air pollutant emissions testing are swiftly introduced and concluded;
- A new test procedure is adopted by 2017 for fuel consumption and CO₂ emissions;
- The European Commission develops an on-the-road testing protocol of a car’s fuel consumption and CO₂ emissions…
- …as well as a more robust market surveillance mechanism (incl. conformity-testing in-use vehicles and spot checks conducted by independent testing services and overseen by EU authorities).
To provide you with the latest information on the emissions scandal, BEUC has composed this dedicated webpage as well as a Q&A, emphasising – amongst others – how European consumers are affected and what their rights are.
1. What has Volkswagen done wrong?
2. How many and which vehicles have been affected?
3. Why do air pollutant emissions matter?
4. Why didn’t authorities spot the defeat devices?
5. Why should the installation of defeat devices concern consumers?
6. What is the possible impact on an owner with an affected vehicle?
7. What rights do EU consumers have if their vehicles have been affected?
8. Should we expect other car makers of using defeat devices?
9. Is the deception of consumers limited to air pollutant emissions?
10. What legislative action is needed to improve vehicle testing?
11. What must Volkswagen do to restore trust amongst consumers?
On the 18th September 2015 the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Volkswagen had confessed to using so called ‘defeat device’ software in a number of vehicles in order to meet US air pollutant emissions standards. The devices can sense when the car is being tested under official conditions and in turn will switch on emissions control systems to their fullest. When the car is not being tested and the car is being used on the road, emissions control systems will work at a lower capacity and in turn will lead to higher emissions.
2. How many and which vehicles have been affected?
The Volkswagen Group (including Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Seat) has stated that 11 million vehicles have been affected globally, including an estimated 8 million vehicles in Europe. It has been reported that 5 million Volkswagen branded vehicles, 2.1 million Audis, 1.2 million Skodas, and 1.8 million vans in addition to 700,000 Seats have been affected. According to the Volkswagen Group a ‘service procedure’ will be required for all vehicles that have a diesel EA 189 EU5 engine. Although owners of Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Seat diesel cars can go to the respective car company websites in several countries to check if their car has been equipped with the manipulation software, it is unclear whether this is the case for owners in all European countries.
3. Why do air pollutant emissions matter?
The exhaust gasses emitted from motor vehicles include many air pollutants including nitrogen oxides (known as NOx for short – including nitric oxides and nitrogen dioxide). The amount of NOx that can be emitted by passenger cars are regulated under both US and European legislation and in high concentrations have been linked to the development of respiratory conditions such as asthma, reduced lung growth in children and bronchitis. NOx also contribute to eutrophication and can mean for severe environmental damage including reductions in water quality. Some affected Volkswagen Group diesel cars have been found to exceed US emission limits. Authorities in Europe are investigating if EU NOx emission limits have also been exceeded.
Evidence indicating the use of defeat devices was discovered by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) and West Virginia University after conducting emissions tests on vehicles using on-the-road emissions testing equipment. This evidence was presented to US authorities who in turn secured a confession from VW that defeat devices had been used. One of the problems with both US and EU testing regimes as things stand is that cars are only tested in laboratories which makes it difficult, if not impossible for authorities to discover the use of ‘defeat devices’ without conducting additional investigations.
For consumers, buying a passenger vehicle can be a complex process where upon multiple criteria will be considered. For many consumers the environmental and health impacts that can result from the emissions of air pollutants will be an important factor. In this regard, many consumers will have bought a vehicle based on the green claims made by car makers and in the understanding that the vehicle would have legally met emissions limits. They would also have bought the vehicles in the belief that the car’s emissions control systems would function in normal use as they would under official tests. In Europe, VW has admitted that diesel vehicles have been fitted with this defeat device software. There have also been reports that this software is able to recognise EU regulated tests.
Aside from the likelihood that vehicles with installed defeat devices will emit higher amounts of air pollutants than otherwise expected, a consequence of the use of the devices means that the vehicles will need to undergo some form of alteration or repair work in order to remove the devices and ensure that the car’s performance matches standards as laid out in promotional materials, the contract held with the owner, or as required under law. Such work should come at no extra cost to the consumer and if such work should negatively impact on other performance features such as fuel consumption, or the requirement for more service checks to be carried out, then consumers should also be compensated in that regard (please see below the answer to question 7).
First and foremost, consumers have the right to receive the vehicle with the specifications promised in the contract. Any repair work or alterations needed to accomplish conformity with the contract and to meet standards set out in marketing material or required under law, must be free of charge for consumers. Depending on the Member States’ law, consumers may be entitled to get compensated for the decreased vehicle (resale) value or have the contract rescinded. On top of that, consumers are potentially entitled to seek financial compensation for damages, including increased cost for fuel and taxes or costs associated with future repair, caused by or related to the ‘defeat devices’ installed in vehicles. Besides, national legislation might provide for additional rights.
Until a full investigation is conducted into the possible use of ‘defeat devices’ amongst all car makers, it is not possible to say with any certainty that the use of defeat devices is restricted only to the Volkswagen Group. Such an investigation should be conducted at the European level and also inspect the use of defeat devices or similar tools for the purpose of influencing fuel consumption/CO2 emissions testing programmes. What is clear is that results from on-the-road tests have shown that diesel cars of different car makers are on average approximately seven times higher than the limits set by the Euro 6 emission standard (whereby cars are measured in laboratory conditions). And for fuel consumption, recent evidence shows that on average motorists across Europe are achieving a fuel consumption performance almost 40% higher on the road than when it is tested under official laboratory conditions.
The discovery of the defeat devices has added to longstanding concerns about manipulation of vehicle testing programmes. For example, concerning the measuring of CO2 emissions and fuel consumption in the EU, there are numerous tactics that car makers can employ to improve their official values such as over inflating tyres, using special lubricants and removing the car’s alternator which will all improve test results and in turn meaning car owners end up paying more in fuel costs than otherwise expected (see ‘the Great Fuel Consumption Scam’ for more info). Over the past 15 years the situation has been getting worse as research undertaken by the ICCT has shown that the gap between official figures and real-world figures has grown from 8% in 2001 to 38% in 2014. Altroconsumo, our Italian member, tested two cars (a VW Golf and a Fiat Panda) following the official testing procedure resulting in emission figures up to 50% above the car makers’ advertisements – a difference which could not be explained with known test flexibilities.
In Europe, it is essential that for air pollutant emissions testing, on-the-road tests must be swiftly introduced and conducted in order to better measure emissions. For fuel consumption and CO2 emissions testing, there is the need for a new testing procedure to be adopted by 2017. This should mean that official values are more reliable. However the process will only involve laboratory based testing and thus will not solve issues surrounding test manipulation on its own. On top of this, the European Commission needs to develop an on-the-road testing protocol of a car’s fuel consumption and CO2 emissions and also to develop a more robust market surveillance mechanism. On this latter point, there needs to be requirements for conformity testing in-use vehicles (i.e. not just type approval vehicles as currently is required) and involving spot checks conducted by independent testing services and overseen by EU authorities.
- Stop immediately the distribution and sale of any vehicles that have been equipped with the ‘defeat devices’ across Europe;
- Fully disclose which specific vehicles have had the ‘defeat devices’ installed in Europe;
- Ensure that a full recall of the vehicles affected in Europe will be communicated in a consistent and transparent way to the owners, providing a full and detailed information on the nature, content and purpose of the technical analysis and modifications to be made and on their aftermath and effects on the performance, safety and standard requirement (namely the ones on gas emissions) of the vehicles concerned;
- In relation to these technical interventions, ensure that the owners of vehicles which are recalled are not only exempted from any costs related to the alterations or repair work that would be needed to meet standards set out in marketing material, the contract or required under law, but also adequately compensated in case the necessary technical intervention would produce a negative impact on the performance of the cars (e.g. the fuel consumption performance); in parallel, ensure that a courtesy car is provided to owners whilst any alterations or repair work are carried out;
- Offer in any case timely financial compensation for any damages caused by or related to the ‘defeat devices’ installed in vehicles purchased by consumers – including the depreciation of the value of the affected vehicles;
- Ensure that any alterations or repair work conducted on affected cars will result in the emissions performance matching EU emissions limits based on real world performance, or, where lower, the advertised emission levels for the relevant vehicle;
- Ensure the fulfilment of any other consumer claim based on consumer sales law, including cancellation and repayment of the purchase price or proportionate reduction of the purchase price and damages for any loss.
Across Europe, BEUC member organisations have been following the VW scandal closely, providing advice to consumers and calling on the automaker to put in place measures that would restore trust in the company. Below, we give a snap shot of some of their actions and links for more information in alphabetical order:
Austria | Belgium | Denmark | France | Germany | Greece | Iceland | Italy | Lithuania | Luxembourg | Netherlands | Norway | Poland | Portugal | Slovenia | Spain | Sweden | Switzerland | United Kingdom
AK published a study to assess the reliability of the fuel consumption claims of car makers. Their results indicate that cars are consuming around a third more fuel than claimed by car makers.
VKI has invited owners of ‘defeat device’ affected vehicles to freely participate in a collective redress campaign against VW. It is regularly informing Austrian consumers about its activities on the issue. By now, more than 53,000 owners of affected VW cars have registered for VKI’s collective redress campaign. VKI supports the foundation ‘Volkswagen Car Claim”, which was established under Dutch law, in order to reach a collective settlement agreement with VW. In addition, VKI is in regular contact with an Austrian car driver’s organisation.
Following the initial news about the VW emission scandal, Test-Achats wrote to Volkswagen and the Belgian government asking for more clarity about the situation in Belgium and what measures were envisaged to address the issue. Test-Achats has also been logging consumer complaints about affected vehicles and furthermore has been calling for EU decision makers to implement stronger measures to tackle the testing of a vehicle’s fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
In view of the recall of cars by Volkswagen, Test-Achats made a model letter available for consumers to send to their car dealers and the Volkswagen group in order to preserve their rights to seek remedies for the consequences that may arise from the technical solutions adopted by VW.
Arising from the VW scandal, Test-Achats also launched a tool where consumers can calculate the real emission and consumption of their cars. So far, over 5,000 Belgians are supporting this action.
Forbrugerrådet Tænk has been raising awareness amongst Danish consumers and has written to VW Denmark calling on the company to fully inform all owners of affected vehicles. In addition, Forbrugerrådet Tænk responded to inquiries of more than 400 consumers and supplied them with a model letter that they could send to the car seller not to lose their rights due to the statute of limitations.
CLCV filed a criminal law suit against VW and also provides an informative toolkit on their website for consumers who wish to file an individual civil lawsuit. In addition, they denounce the preferential treatment granted to American consumers by Volkswagen.
UFC-Que Choisir have been raising awareness amongst French consumers of the misleading claims made by automakers concerning air pollutant emissions and fuel consumption. UFC-Que Choisir is also involved in an independent testing commission which has been put in place by the French Ministry of Environment.
Stiftung Warentest has provided consumers with a detailed Q&A on the most pressing issues related to the VW scandal.
vzbv has called on VW to provide the owners of affected vehicles with compensation for damages and the repair work of cars. In a letter sent to the Minister of Transport, vzbv has asked for a roundtable to be set up with the participation of car makers, politicians, and other key stakeholders to discuss what measures are needed to ensure this situation never happens again. A joint letter from BEUC and vzbv was sent in January 2016 to KBA (German Type Approval Authority) to ask for clarification on the previously revealed information on the approval.
KEPKA have contacted the national authorities and called for measures including stronger market surveillance mechanisms, penalties for violating legislation in the area of unfair commercial practices and for the government to ensure that affected vehicles are repaired as soon as possible. KEPKA pointed out a malfunctioning on the VW website and also keeps Greek consumers up-to-date regarding the VW case in general.
Neytendasamtökin has raised awareness amongst consumers about the measures needed to tackle vehicle testing and have informed consumers about how they find out if their car has been affected.
Following the VW emissions testing scandal, the Italian consumer organisation is bringing a lawsuit against the car manufacturer seeking compensation for consumers. They already have collected more than 18,700 complaints and invite consumers to participate in the class action. Altroconsumo also conducted an investigation to examine how vehicles are tested under EU regulations in 2014. They tested two vehicles, a Volkswagen Golf and a Fiat Panda, two of the most popular selling cars in Italy and across Europe. The fuel consumption performance for both vehicles under Altroconsumo’s tests were significantly higher that the official figures.
ALCO has been following the VW scandal and has communicated about the Italian case.
ULC has worked to raise awareness amongst consumers in Luxembourg and has urged VW to keep consumers regularly informed.
Consumentenbond refers to the joint letter sent by BEUC and its members to VW Group CEO Mr Müller in which we ask to provide answers and take quick actions to restore trust and repair consumer detriment.
Forbrukerrådet provides information to consumers and is currently logging their complaints via its hotline and mail service. In addition, it is keeping a close dialogue with the Norwegian importer of concerned cars as the repairs are put in effect.
Federacja konsumentów is referring to BEUC’s position and actions with regard to the VW case.
Stowarzyszenie Konsumentów Polskich has highlighted the letter sent the VW Group CEO Mr Müller.
DECO has produced an online tool allowing consumers to identify if their vehicles are affected by the defeat devices. So far, it has gathered 4,800 registrations on their online forms. DECO also highlights on its website the issues related to the testing methodology and refer to the recommendations included in the BEUC and member letter to Volkswagen. In addition, DECO met with the national VW representative in Portugal (SIVA).
ZPS has created a dedicated page for affected owners to find out more information about their vehicles and has so far gathered about a thousand signatures from unhappy consumers. ZPS has also written to relevant government authorities.
The Confederation of Consumers and Users (CECU) has been working with BEUC and Consumers International to organise joint actions to ensure that owners of affected vehicles are fully protected. In addition, CECU joined a coalition of Spanish organisations which have started a campaign to clarify the situation and act jointly against VW.
OCU published an article which assesses the situation in Spain and explains what action can be taken by affected vehicle owners. OCU has written to the Minister of Industry and Energy, José Manuel Soria and has called exemplary sanctions. In addition, over 12,650 Spanish have signed up to their website section on the VW scandal.
Along with other BEUC members, Sveriges Konsumenter has called on the Volkswagen Group to put in pace concrete actions in order to restore consumer trust in the company. Sveriges Konsumenter has called on the National Consumer Council to organise group claims.
FRC provides updated information to consumers about the current situation and have filed a complaint to a court for unfair competition and fraud. They posted a model letter for consumer’s claims on their website and over one thousand consumers sent them a copy of their individual criminal claim following this. FRC have also created a platform to gather the information of affected owners on which 54,000 consumers have registered so far.
Which? launched of a new campaign calling on the car industry to ‘Come Clean On Fuel Claims’ following the Volkswagen (VW) emissions scandal and has so far received the support of over 104,000 signatures. As part of their campaign, they asked manufacturers to confirm that they were not manipulating official tests. Which? has also raised awareness amongst affected owners about their rights and provided updated information about the ongoing scandal. In addition, Which? also met with a representative of the UK government to discuss the VW issue.
Additionally, our members from the countries listed below have also co-signed our letter to Volkswagen:
Bulgaria - Bulgarian national association active consumers (BNAAC)
Cyprus - Cyprus Consumers' Association (CCA)
Czech Republic - dTest
Estonia - Eesti tarbijakaitse LIIT
Finland - Kuluttajaliitto-Konsumentförbundet ry | The Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA)
Greece - EKPIZO
Hungary - FEOSZ
Italy - Consumatori Italiani per l'Europa (CIE)
Latvia - Latvian National Association for Consumer Protection (LPIAA)
Macedonia - Consumers' Organisation of Macedonia
Malta - Ghaqda Tal-Konsumaturi (CA Malta)
Slovakia - Association of Slovak Consumers