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Volkswagen expands buybacks, will pay more for diesel pollution scandal

Technicians test a 2013 Volkswagen at the California Resources Board’s lab in El Monte. Volkswagen is paying billions to settle claims over tainted diesel vehicles in California and elsewhere.
Technicians test a 2013 Volkswagen at the California Resources Board’s lab in El Monte. Volkswagen is paying billions to settle claims over tainted diesel vehicles in California and elsewhere. New York Times

Volkswagen has agreed to buy back more tainted diesel cars and spend an additional $1 billion to settle the air-pollution scandal that was uncovered by California state scientists, it was announced Tuesday.

The German automaker agreed to buy back tainted 3.0-liter-engine vehicles sold between 2009 and 2012, and will fix newer 3.0-liter cars. Volkswagen will pay $225 million into a “national mitigation fund” to address air-pollution effects from those vehicles. The California Air Resources Board said $66 million will go to California.

Volkswagen is expected to spend $1 billion to settle the claims, including the mitigation money and the cost of buybacks and repairs, said Cynthia Giles, an assistant administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a conference call with reporters.

That’s in addition to the $14.7 billion Volkswagen earlier agreed to spend to settle claims over its polluting 2.0-liter vehicles. That sum includes an estimated $10 billion to buy back vehicles from owners, and $4.7 billion to be spent on air-pollution programs, including $1.1 billion in California.

The latest settlement is much less costly because the 3.0-liter vehicles “are far fewer in number and pollute less” than the 2.0-liter cars, Giles said.

Tuesday’s settlement doesn’t end Volkswagen’s legal woes. The carmaker is still facing consumer lawsuits, and a criminal investigation is underway, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The new settlement assumes that cars sold since 2012 can be fixed. If they can’t, however, Volkswagen must agree to buy them back as well. “The newer vehicles appear to be likely candidates for a successful emissions compliant modification,” the California Air Resources Board said. “However, no modification has been approved, and if the manufacturers cannot provide one, these vehicles will become eligible for buyback or lease cancellation as well.”

State officials said they were pleased with the new settlement. California will receive $25 million to support efforts to make zero-emission vehicles more widely available in California. Another $41 million will go toward mitigating air pollution in the state, for a total of $66 million.

“This settlement highlights the fact that cheating to get a car certified has consequences for air quality and the public’s health – and that cheaters will be caught and held accountable,” said Richard Corey, the Air Resources Board’s executive officer, in a prepared statement.

After a tip from West Virginia University scientists, researchers at the ARB’s test lab in El Monte confirmed that the Volkswagen diesel cars were equipped with “defeat device” software designed to evade emissions tests. The software switched off the emissions controls when the cars were on the open road but switched them on when the vehicles were undergoing testing. Emissions controls are known to hamper fuel economy and car performance.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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