Volkswagen is being urged to explain why Australian drivers are not being offered compensation for cars fitted with emissions cheating devices.
In a joint letter to the car giant, consumer groups Choice and the US-based Consumer Report ask why Australian consumers are not being given compensation or a refund for cars fitted with the devices — similar to the deal given to VW drivers in the United States.
Last month, Volkswagen pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the US over the emissions scandal and will pay billions of dollars in criminal and civil penalties.
VW installed software in diesel engines on nearly 600,000 VW, Porsche and Audi vehicles in the US that activated pollution controls during government tests and switched them off in real-world driving.
Choice chief executive Alan Kirkland said VW continued to deny it installed the devices in Australian vehicles.
“The message in our letter is you can’t say one thing in the US and a different thing in Australia,” he told the ABC.
“Volkswagen acknowledged the problem in the US, they pleaded guilty — so it’s not the world of a regulator versus Volkswagen.
“We’re just asking them to acknowledge they’ve done the wrong thing in Australia as well.”
Currently, Australian Volkswagen owners who are affected have only been offered a technical software update to their cars.
“Having seen the giant difference in the treatment of Australian consumers compared with the better treatment in the US, we’ve got together to go to Volkswagen to say ‘we can tell you’re treating us differently and it’s just not good enough’,” Mr Kirkland said.
The emissions scandal erupted in 2015 when the US Environmental Protection Agency discovered many Volkswagen cars sold in America were fitted with software controlling their diesel engines.
That software could detect when the car was being tested and then lower emissions during the tests.
The scandal spread rapidly, with Volkswagen admitting about 11 million vehicles worldwide were affected, including almost 80,000 cars in Australia.
The cars affected in Australia also relate to Skoda and Audi vehicles, which are subsidiaries of Volkswagen.
VW hits out at consumer group
A spokesman for Volkswagen Group Australia issued a statement saying Choice had “no grasp of the issue”.
“Volkswagen Group Australia is in constructive dialogue with the ACCC and representatives of the Australian Government.
“The matter is before the Federal Court. Choice’s belated buy-in adds no value.
“Volkswagen Group Australia believes there is no legal basis for the cases against it in Australia.
“As Choice should be aware, US emission regulations are unique in the world in that they are based on nitrous oxide.
“Australia’s regulations, like those of the more than 70 countries that subscribe to the EU emissions regime, are based on lowering fuel consumption and carbon monoxide.
“All of our new vehicles comply with Australia’s Euro 5 standard or even more stringent Euro 6 regulations.”
Drivers in Australia treated like ‘backward citizens’
Thousands of Volkswagen drivers have signed up to class actions in cases that are being run by two firms, Bannister Law and Maurice Blackburn.
They are seeking redress in the Federal Court.
One of the lead plaintiffs, Richard Cantor, said if he had known about the modification he may not have bought his car.
“It’s that we’ve been deceived, that we’ve been treated with contempt by a corporate giant, I think the people in the US and Europe affected would feel the same,” he said.
“The only difference is there is a very aggressive authority in the US and I’m sure in Europe they’re very close to coming to a decision and paying everyone out.
“In Australia for some reason they seem to think they can treat us like backward citizens.”
Bannister Law solicitor Diane Chapman said the regulations Australia falls under are more closely related to Europe.
“And nothing has been decided there at the moment,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s that our laws aren’t as strong, it’s just that our judge hasn’t had the chance to fully review the case and actually have a look at this issue from a domestic perspective.
“It is an international case but Australia has its own legal framework and we have to work within those.
“I’m hoping the matter will settle at any time.”
A hearing for the Bannister Law case is scheduled for October.
Maurice Blackburn principal Jason Geisker said Volkswagen should “show respect” to Australian consumers.
“Volkswagen, instead of doing the right thing by consumers in Australia, has elected to fight through the courts, and it’s very disappointing because the issues are the same,” he said.
“Volkswagen continue to say that the US has a different emissions regime; that much is true, but all countries around the world have relevant prohibitions on the use of defeat devices.”