Volkswagen emissions scandal: Next stop, Castlebar

European motorists deserve greater clarity

 

Castlebar District Court is an unassuming venue for proceedings with potential ramifications for eight million European motorists. A case before Judge Mary Devins today, however, involves a claim for damages by Co Roscommon motorist Eithne Higgins, one of the estimated 110,000 car owners in Ireland caught up in the multibillion euro Volkswagen scandal.

The hearing is believed to be the first to seek that the car firm make public the original expert opinion and technical evidence it used to develop a fix for the affected engines.

Last September Volkswagen admitted to fitting cheat devices to more than 11 million vehicles. These were designed to deceive US authorities on the levels of harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emitted by a popular range of its diesel engines. Parliamentary inquiries and criminal investigations were launched in several jurisdictions. The firm agreed to recall affected vehicles and remove the cheat devices.

In June, Volkswagen agreed a $15 billion (€13.4 billion) deal with US officials and an estimated 500,000 US car owners. However it dismissed claims for any similar settlement with affected European motorists, which brings us to Castlebar District Court.

It is hoped the case will force VW to explain how it has fixed the affected engines without impacting on either fuel consumption or carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The latter is important as it forms the basis for the Irish motor tax regime.

It is worth remembering that emissions levels exist to protect human health. Seemingly a group of engineers at the auto giant blatantly set out to cheat the system. Volkswagen couldn’t get its diesel engines to meet strict US standards for NOx. Then it could.

Motorists require greater clarity. Did no one in senior management or even at board level – staffed with highly qualified engineers – inquire as to how this game-changing innovation was achieved? Whatever about the outcome of today’s case, many questions remain in relation to the scandal, not least who knew what and when.

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