Volkswagen Announces Eco-Friendly Vehicles Amidst Department of Justice Lawsuit

VW’s CES 2016 keynote overshadowed by 90 billion dollar DOJ civil action.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a civil complaint against the Volkswagen (VW) group of companies on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The complaint alleges that approximately 600,000 diesel engine vehicles had illegal defeat devices installed to impair their emission control systems, causing the vehicles to exceed EPA standards.

The DOJ civil suit does not preclude the government from taking additional legal action against VW in the future.

“Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” said assistant attorney general John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

How Much Will the DOJ Lawsuit Cost Volkswagen?

The DOJ is charging VW with four counts of violating the U.S. Clean Air Act: two for the vehicles that had defeat devices, one for the devices themselves and one for the time the vehicles have spent on the road.

According to the complaint, VW is liable for injunctive relief and civil penalties of up to $32,000 USD per vehicle per violation before Jan. 13, 2009 and up to $37,500 USD per vehicle per violation after January 13, 2009.

The DOJ also claims that VW is liable for parts or components that constitute “defeat devices”. The penalties in this case are up to $2,750 USD per part per vehicle before Jan. 13, 2009 and up to $3,750 USD after.

Finally, the civil complaint holds VW liable for up to $32,500 USD per day of violation occurring before January 13, 2009 and up to $37,500 USD per day of violation occurring on or after that date.

Added together, this puts VW on the hook for roughly $90 billion USD. However, the company is unlikely to pay anything close to that amount.

A comparable EPA claim against Toyota in 1999 started with a $60 billion USD price tag but ended up only costing the company $34 million USD.

Public opinion on vehicle emissions may have shifted since then, but when it comes to harsh penalties for large corporations the DOJ’s attitude has not.

Volkswagen at CES 2016

In spite of the shadow cast by the DOJ civil complaint, Volkswagen chairman Dr. Herbert Diess delivered his keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016 with an air of optimism. Issuing a brief apology at the beginning of his talk, Diess quickly moved on to focus on the company’s new eco-friendly options.

The Volkswagen BUDD-e concept car. (Image courtesy of Volkswagen.)

The Volkswagen BUDD-e concept car. (Image courtesy of Volkswagen.)

The BUDD-e is a concept electric van based on Volkswagen’s Modular Electric Drive Kit, which locates the batteries in the vehicle floor. The vehicle has a driving range of up to 533km (330mi) and a total power output of 235kW.

The most notable feature of the BUDD-e is its charging cycle. According to VW, the vehicle’s battery can be charged to 80 percent of its capacity in half an hour.

Situating the batteries in the floor allows for more flexible designs. (Image courtesy of Volkswagen.)

Situating the BUDD-e’s batteries in the floor allows for greater design flexibility. (Image courtesy of Volkswagen.)

“We are developing completely new and unique vehicle concepts – especially designed for long-distance electromobility,” said Dr. Diess. This is why the BUDD-e is described as a modern interpretation of the first VW bus.

The e-Golf Touch was the other VW electric vehicle on display at CES. Offering the latest in “infotainment,” the electric compact introduces gesture control technology into mass automotive production for the first time.

The Volkswagen e-Golf. (Image courtesy of Volkswagen.)

The Volkswagen e-Golf. (Image courtesy of Volkswagen.)

As an electric car, the e-Golf Touch is unexceptional, but as “a smartphone on wheels” it’s certainly impressive. The car’s media console has no buttons: instead users control it with a combination of touch, gesture and voice commands.

Volkswagen has pledged to deliver the e-Golf Touch before CES 2017.

For more information, visit the Volkswagen or CES 2016 websites.