Business & Real Estate

Volkswagen lawsuits head to San Francisco court

A Volkswagen diesel car undergoes emissions testing in California.
A Volkswagen diesel car undergoes emissions testing in California. West Virginia University

Government engineers in California helped unmask the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Now a California judge will oversee the 451 lawsuits seeking class-action status filed against the carmaker by U.S. consumers.

A judicial panel ordered the lawsuits, which could involve billions of dollars in damages, transferred Tuesday to U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco.

Breyer’s district was chosen in part because 101 suits have been filed in California, more than one-fifth of all the cases nationwide. There’s also a convenience factor: California could be home to relevant witnesses and documents, “given the role played by the California Air Resources Board in uncovering VW’s use of defeat devices on its diesel engines,” according to the order from the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.

Acting on a tip from West Virginia researchers, air board scientists discovered that Volkswagen diesel cars were equipped with “defeat device” software that activated emissions-controls systems only when cars were undergoing pollution testing. VW admitted to the problem earlier this fall.

Auto industry experts say emissions-control systems can hinder fuel mileage.

VW has submitted a plan to recall 480,000 2.0-liter engine diesel cars sold nationwide since 2009, including about 65,000 cars sold in California. Additionally, the air board has ordered the carmaker to recall an additional 15,000 cars equipped with more powerful 3.0-liter diesel engines.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler