Volkswagen HQ in Germany has been told by an Australian judge to start cooperating with courts in Australia over a class action case against the carmaker, or face the potential of “serious costs orders”.
Federal Court Justice Lindsay Foster was hearing early submissions in Sydney in claims against the VW Group on behalf of Australian owners of vehicles affected by its emissions-cheating devices.
Lawyers acting for 90,000 owners told the court that VW Group Australia and its lawyers had not accepted service of the lawsuit because they had not been advised by the German parent company about its approach to proceedings. The lawyers said they were disappointed in the delay.
“The court expects the Germans to deal with this case in Australia … expeditiously,” Justice Foster said. “We need to quickly get to the substance of the issue. They’ve got to come forward and participate in the proceedings in a sensible way”.
Justice Foster ordered VW to file before December 17 a “concise narrative statement” on what it would admit in the case, as well as what it would deny. Failure to do so could mean “serious costs orders” if the claim had to be formally served outside Australia.
The emissions scandal surfaced in the United States in September and has since wiped billions of dollars from the company’s value. In tests in California, some VW diesel vehicles recorded emissions of nitrous oxide that were 25 per cent above VW’s claimed figures. It forced the resignation of Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn, who was replaced by former Porsche chief Matthias Mueller.
Two law firms have filed class actions against the VW Group on behalf of Australian owners of the affected VW, Audi, and Skoda vehicles. Bannister Law is proceeding only against the Australian companies and not the German parent; Maurice Blackburn Lawyers has filed against both.
Justice Foster ordered that if law firms acting for the companies in Australia did not accept service of the claim by December 3, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers would be granted leave to file and serve the documents outside Australia,
A lawyer for VW Australia said it had no knowledge of what its head office in Germany would admit or deny, and that it might have difficulty providing the information in the time provided.
Meanwhile, VW has published a fix for the millions of 1.6- and 2.0-litre TDI diesels equipped with the cheating device that masked the true level of exhaust emissions.
The 1.6-litre diesel will get a ‘flow transformer’, a plastic mesh filter fitted into the air intake and ahead of a sensor that measures air flowing into the engine and tells the car’s engine control unit (ECU) how much fuel to add to the air.
“This component stabilises the air flow and allows a more precise measure of the incoming fresh air flow,” said Volkswagen diesel development chief Andreas Krause. “As a result, the fuel can be metered more precisely, and we improve emissions.”
The 2.0-litre diesels need only a software update, says VW. Both jobs can be done in less than an hour. VW said in a statement: “The objective for the development of the technical measures is still to achieve the applicable emission targets in each case without any adverse effects on the engine output, fuel consumption and performance. However, as all model variants first have to be measured, the achievement of these targets cannot yet be finally confirmed.”