Automobiles, Motorcycles and Libertarian Politics
A federal judge has approved Volkswagen AG’s record $14.7 billion settlement with regulators and owners of 475,000 diesel-powered vehicles; the German automaker said it would begin buying back the cars in mid-November.
It is one of the biggest corporate settlements of any kind.
The action by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco marked a pivotal moment for VW as it aims to move past a scandal that has engulfed the company since it admitted in September 2015 to installing secret software in diesel cars to “cheat” federal exhaust emissions tests.
Hinrich Woebcken, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America Inc., called final approval of a settlement first announced in June “an important milestone in our journey to making things right in the United States,” and pledged to carry out the terms “as seamlessly as possible.”
Breyer turned away objections from car owners who thought the settlement did not provide enough money, saying it “adequately and fairly compensates” them. In addition to the pre-scandal “trade in” value of the vehicle, owners will receive $5,100 to $10,000 in additional compensation.
“Given the risks of prolonged litigation, the immediate settlement of this matter is far preferable,” Breyer wrote.
The settlement was reached with the U.S. Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission, the state of California and vehicle owners who had filed a class action lawsuit against the world’s No. 2 automaker. VW has admitted to misleading regulators and still faces an ongoing criminal investigation.
Volkswagen agreed to spend up to $10.033 billion on the buybacks and owner compensation and $4.7 billion on programs to offset excess emissions and boost clean-vehicle projects.
VW may also be allowed to repair vehicles if regulators approve fixes.
In total, Volkswagen has agreed to date to spend up to $16.5 billion in connection with the scandal, including payments to dealers, states and attorneys for owners. The scandal rattled VW’s global business, harmed its reputation and prompted the ouster of longtime CEO Martin Winterkorn.
The settlement covers 2.0-liter TDI-powered Beetles, Golfs, Jettas, Passats and Audi A3 cars from the 2009 through 2015 model years. Up to 490,000 people will take part in the settlement because some vehicles had multiple owners.
Volkswagen spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said the automaker expects to begin buying back vehicles in mid-November. VW has hired 900 people, including one to be stationed at each dealership, to handle buybacks.
VW still faces billions more in costs to address 85,000 polluting 3.0-liter vehicles and Justice Department fines for violating clean air laws. It also faces lawsuits from at least 16 U.S. states for additional claims that could hike the company’s overall costs.
Last month, a Volkswagen engineer pleaded guilty to helping the company evade U.S. emission standards. His lawyer said he would cooperate with federal authorities in their criminal probe.
“Today is a landmark day, when this innovative settlement can be put into action, investing billions of dollars into public health protections to remedy these serious violations,” Cynthia Giles, the EPA’s assistant administrator, said in a statement.
VW will provide $2 billion over 10 years to fund programs to promote construction of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, development of zero-emission ride-sharing fleets and other efforts to boost sales of cars that do not burn petroleum.
Volkswagen has been in intensive talks over how much compensation it may offer owners of the larger 3.0-liter diesel Porsche, Audi and Volkswagen vehicles that emit up to nine times legally allowable emissions and whether it will offer buybacks for some of the SUVs but no final agreement has been reached. Volkswagen faces a Nov. 3 court hearing to update the court on those vehicles’ status.
Volkswagen agreed to make up to $1.21 billion in payments to 652 U.S. VW brand dealersand $600 million to 44 U.S. states to address some state claims.
Nearly 340,000 owners have registered to take part in the settlement. About 3,500 owners have opted out. Volkswagen must fix or buy back 85 percent of the 475,000 vehicles under the agreement by June 2019 or face additional costs.
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