VW fa­ces Ger­man court da­te

George Herald - Auto Dealer - - News -

So far, “Die­sel­ga­te” has cost Volks­wa­gen (VW) mo­re than R473-bil­li­on in fi­nes, vehi­cle buy-backs, re­calls and le­gal cos­ts, mos­t­ly in the US.

The first ma­jor Ger­man court ca­se a­gainst Volks­wa­gen o­ver the die­sel scan­dal o­pe­ned last week, as in­ves­tors pur­sue the wor­ld’s lar­ge­st au­to­ma­ker for bil­li­ons in com­pen­sa­ti­on.

A re­gi­o­nal court in Bruns­wick be­gan ex­a­mi­ning w­het­her the au­to­mo­ti­ve gi­ant should ha­ve in­for­med in­ves­tors soo­n­er a­bout so-cal­led “de­fe­at de­vi­ces” it built in­to 11-mil­li­on cars wor­ld­wi­de to fool re­gu­la­to­ry e­mis­si­ons tes­ts.

Pac­ked with a­round 50 la­wy­ers from Volks­wa­gen and its share­hol­ders, do­zens of plaintiffs and cu­ri­ous lo­cals, the he­a­ring had to be mo­ved to a lar­ge con­ven­ti­on cen­t­re to pro­vi­de e­nough room for all the at­ten­dees.

“I want to get back w­hat we lost,” Hart­mut B­le­umer, who in­ves­ted a­bout R170 000 in the firm, said ac­cor­ding to me­dia re­ports.

The share­hol­ders’ “mo­del ca­se” a­gainst VW is sup­po­sed to cle­ar up 193 que­s­ti­ons com­mon to a­bout 3 650 claims with a to­tal of a­round R153-bil­li­on.

At is­sue is a 40% plun­ge in Volks­wa­gen stock o­ver two days in Sep­tem­ber 2015, which wiped bil­li­ons off its mar­ket va­lue.

Days e­ar­lier, US aut­ho­ri­ties accu­sed the group of u­sing the de­fe­at de­vi­ces. The de­vi­ces ha­ve en­gi­ne soft­wa­re de­sig­ned to cut harm­ful e­mis­si­ons du­ring re­gu­la­to­ry tes­ts, on­ly to al­low them to ri­se a­gain du­ring on-ro­ad dri­ving.

In­ves­tors say they could ha­ve a­voi­ded pain­ful los­ses had exe­cu­ti­ves - who are le­gal­ly o­bli­ged to prompt­ly share any in­for­ma­ti­on that could af­fect the share pri­ce - in­for­med them soo­n­er of the che­a­ting.

On the first day of pro­cee­dings, the court said claims da­ting be­fo­re Ju­ly 2012 may ha­ve to be ex­clu­ded be­cau­se of sta­tu­te of li­mi­ta­ti­ons ru­les, alt­hough no fi­nal de­ci­si­on was ma­de. VW la­wy­er Mar­kus P­fu­el­ler hai­led the jud­ges’ pre­li­mi­na­ry o­pi­ni­on as “po­si­ti­ve”.

But re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ves for the plaintiffs we­re un­de­ter­red, saying that would still le­a­ve a­round two thi­rds of their ca­ses on the ta­ble.

“The door is o­pen from Ju­ly 2012 and we are con­fi­dent our clients will get their mo­ney,” said And­re­as Tilp, a la­wy­er re­pre­sen­ting in­ves­t­ment fund De­ka.

Jud­ges are ex­pected to ta­ke at le­ast until next y­e­ar to ru­le.

De­ka la­wy­ers ar­gue that bo­ard mem­bers knew a­bout the fraud and should ha­ve re­vea­led it be­t­ween the of­fen­ding soft­wa­re’s first de­ploy­ment in 2008 and Sep­tem­ber 2015.

For its part, VW bla­mes a hand­ful of en­gi­neers acting wit­hout aut­ho­ri­sa­ti­on for the sche­me. The com­pa­ny ar­gues the in­for­ma­ti­on it had be­fo­re the A­me­ri­can aut­ho­ri­ties in­ter­ve­ned was not sig­ni­fi­cant e­nough to war­rant war­ning ca­pi­tal mar­kets.

But pre­si­ding jud­ge Chris­ti­an Ja­e­de said the court would con­si­der w­het­her the start of US in­ves­ti­ga­ti­ons in­to the u­nu­su­al­ly high e­mis­si­ons from VW die­sels in the spring of 2014 could ha­ve war­ran­ted a mes­sa­ge to share­hol­ders.

At the cen­t­re of at­ten­ti­on in the court ca­se will be Mar­tin Win­ter­korn, the en­gi­neer who clai­med to know “e­very nut and bolt” of Volks­wa­gen’s en­ti­re ran­ge of mo­dels and ran the com­pa­ny as chief exe­cu­ti­ve from 2007 to 2015.

VW said in 2016 that Win­ter­korn was sent a “me­mo” in 2014 high­lig­hting e­mis­si­ons ir­re­gu­la­ri­ties in the ma­ni­pu­la­ted EA189 en­gi­ne, wit­hout con­fir­ming w­het­her he e­ver re­ad it. He step­ped do­wn in 2015.

Bac­ked by go­vern­ment tax in­cen­ti­ves, Ger­man and ot­her Eu­ro­pe­an car ma­nu­fac­tu­rers bet big on die­sel in the 1990s and 2000s as a lo­wer-car­bon al­ter­na­ti­ve to pe­trol en­gi­nes.

But the “Die­sel­ga­te” scan­dal has re­vea­led the dar­ker si­de of the techno­lo­gy: ni­tro­gen ox­i­des (NOx) e­mis­si­ons that can be harm­ful to he­alth.

Me­an­w­hi­le, the fal­lout for Ger­man so­cie­ty has been wi­de-ran­ging.

The EU has toug­he­ned e­mis­si­ons tes­ting with a new pro­ce­du­re kno­wn as WLTP, which ca­me in­to for­ce t­his month.

Car com­pa­nies are ho­ping a f­lood of new bat­te­ry-po­we­red vehi­cles will help meet tig­h­ter fleet-wi­de CO tar­gets from 2021, rat­her than e­ver-mo­re ef­fi­cient die­sels.

The­re is now a die­sel ban on two ma­jor ro­ads in Ham­burg and ci­ty-wi­de ex­clu­si­on zo­nes for ol­der vehi­cles co­ming soon in S­tutt­gart and Frank­furt.

Con­su­mers ha­ve re­acted to the pro­spect of mo­re bans by shun­ning die­sel vehi­cles, sen­ding its share of the new car mar­ket plun­ging from 46,5% in Au­gust 2015 to 32,6% in Au­gust 2018.

Po­ten­ti­al­ly e­ven mo­re ter­ri­fying for au­to­mo­ti­ve ma­nu­fac­tu­rers is a law al­lo­wing col­lecti­ve class acti­on-sty­le laws­uits that Ber­lin aims to pass be­fo­re the sta­tue of li­mi­ta­ti­ons on “Die­sel­ga­te” runs out. “So­me two mil­li­on o­w­ners could be­ne­fit,” said Jus­ti­ce Mi­nis­ter Ka­ta­ri­na Bar­ley in May. 15 Sep­tem­ber

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