Environmental group sues VW for emission cheating

vw passat beijing
A Volkswagen Passat on Beijing's road in 2013. In China, 1,950 imported VW vehicles were equipped with a software that cheats on the emissions of its diesel engines. Image: TonyV3112 / Shutterstock.com

A domestic environmental group has filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen over the company’s cheating on emissions readings.

It is the first public-interest lawsuit in China related to pollution from automobile exhaust. The group said it hopes to attract attention to the need to supervise motor vehicle exhaust.

China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, an NGO based in Beijing, said it entered the case against the German auto giant because it “produced the problematic vehicles for the pursuit of higher profits and circumvented Chinese laws, which has worsened the air pollution and affected public health and rights”.

“Such behavior has violated the law on product quality, environmental protection and tort liability. So we filed the case,” Wang Wenyong, a lawyer for the group, said on Monday.

No 2 Intermediate People’s Court of Tianjin accepted the lawsuit on Thursday.

The Chinese branch of Volkswagen did not comment on the lawsuit on Monday, saying it will provide updates soon.

The VW emissions scandal broke on Sept 18. The company admitted that it installed software on diesel engines that switched pollution controls on when the vehicles were tested but switched them off during driving to achieve higher fuel efficiency. About 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide were involved.

The revelation had a limited impact on China because the country has been slower in adopting diesel vehicles due to technology and petroleum quality, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said.

In China, 1,950 imported vehicles were equipped with the software, and VW has said it will recall them.

The cheating devices had resulted in excessive exhaust while driving, worsening air pollution, the lawsuit said. Vehicle exhaust is a major source of airborne pollutants in China, which in turn affects public health, it said.

“We filed the lawsuits in the public interest,” Wang said.

In the lawsuit, the group asked the court to order the automaker to apologise for the cheating and to compensate for the environmental pollution, the details of which will be released after agencies finish their assessments. It also asked that VW be required to provide environmental remediation.

The agencies that uncovered the emissions fraud in United States will provide sufficient material to facilitate the pollution assessment in China, Wang said.

Ma Yong, a researcher at a law center under the Supreme People’s Court said this first lawsuit over vehicle exhaust “could also attract the public attention on supervising exhaust to curb air pollution” more generally.

More lawsuits will be undertaken against automakers to deter them from cheating and require them to protect the environment, Wang, the group’s lawyer said.

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