Car owner accuses Mercedes of lying about 'clean diesel' vehicles' emissions

By Taryn Phaneuf | Apr 28, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO – A California woman has filed a second class-action lawsuit against Mercedes-Benz, alleging the car company knew its “clean diesel” BlueTEC vehicles emitted illegal and dangerous levels of nitrogen oxide in real-world driving conditions and used a device to defeat emissions tests.

The lawsuit follows a scandal involving Volkswagen, which allegedly sold diesel vehicles that evaded emissions testing. In its wake, environmental groups in California are calling for punishment and more oversight for that car maker – and any who later prove to have done the same thing, Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air, told the Northern California Record.

“We know enough already that all the manufacturers should be subjected to increased scrutiny,” Magavern said. “If they are also found to have cheated, then they also need to be subjected to stiff punishment.”

In February, Gwendolyn Andary filed the suit in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California. She is represented by consumer-rights class-action law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP. The suit claims Mercedes targeted environmentally conscious customers by touting its BlueTEC system’s low impact on the environment. It alleges these advertisements are false and deceptive.

“Real world testing has recently revealed that these vehicles emit dangerous oxides of nitrogen (NOx) at a level more than 65 times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permits. The Mercedes 'clean diesel' turns out to be far from ‘clean,’” the complaint states.

In 2011, the plaintiff, a long-time supporter of green issues, decided to look at Mercedes’ eco-friendly vehicles while shopping for a new car, according to a Hagens Berman news release. She leased a 2011 E350 BlueTEC and later purchased a GLK 250 BlueTEC specifically because of the eco-friendly features, she said. 

According to the complaint, Mercedes has programmed its BlueTEC vehicles to turn off the NOx reduction systems when ambient temperatures drop below 50 degrees. 

"Mercedes has admitted that a shut-off device in the engine management of certain BlueTEC diesel cars stops NOx cleaning under these and other, unspecified circumstances," according to court documents.

The suit aims to force Mercedes to recall its vehicles or replace them for free and provide restitution by reimbursing consumers for the price of the vehicle or for the amount that they overpaid as a result of the company’s misleading claims.

NOx is bad for the environment but it primarily impacts human health, Magavern said. Exposure to NOx, like other pollutants, affects the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

Since the news about Volkswagen, the Coalition for Clean Air has lobbied for resources to do more real-world emissions tests whose results would be compared with laboratory tests.

He said Volkswagen should also be forced to compensate car owners and help address the damage done by its vehicles.

“The penalties need to be stiff enough so no company in the future every thinks about doing this again,” he said.

Magavern went on to say that he was very surprised when he learned the scale of Volkswagen’s actions.

“This is one of the top two producers of autos in the entire world. The idea that they would intentionally engage in an elaborate scheme to defraud governments and consumers across the whole world – that is shocking to me,” he said. “We believe that crimes were committed. The execs that committed those crimes should be held accountable.”

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