WASHINGTON – The fact that Volkswagen will be paying up to $14.7 billion in a proposed settlement brokered by federal agencies and California regulators is good for consumers and the environment, but could have been better, according to Mike Litt, a consumer program advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).
“We really believe that full justice would include buybacks at full purchase price, because consumers bought these cars with the belief they were purchasing something that was the full package that was promised to them,” Litt told the Northern California Record. “Low emissions, good mileage, good performance – and that isn't what they got. And even with the fixes, if they go that route, they're probably going to get diminished value out of their car. Even now, our position is that full justice and compensation would be buybacks at full purchase price. After that, we believe at the very least, what should have been proposed and offered was buybacks at one-and-a-half times the Kelly Blue Book value of the car before the scandal broke. The fact they're getting the buyback at the value before the scandal broke, plus additional compensation is still a win for consumers.”
Under the settlement, which doesn’t cover violations of the Clean Air Act or any possible criminal acts, Volkswagen will pay up to $10 billion to buy back nearly half a million Volkswagen and Audi cars with 2.0-liter diesel engines. The engines were allegedly programed to cut emissions while being tested, but produced as much as 40 times the allowable amount of admissions during other driving conditions. The company will also pay to help reduce diesel emissions and invest in the development of zero-emissions vehicles.
Depending on what further action the Environmental Protection Agency, which was involved in the settlement negotiations, takes, the amount Volkswagen has to pay could more than double.
“Under the (Clean Air Act), we're talking up to $37,500 per car, so that could be an additional $18 billion just in penalties that the EPA has the authority to levy,” Litt said. “We do believe that penalties need to be included for full accountability.”
U.S. PIRG, a coalition of state groups involved in public interest research, was involved in pushing for accountability early on from Volkswagen, Litt said. The organization started a website called makevwpay.org and called for buybacks and for penalties for the company.
A Boulder, Colorado, couple reached out to U.S. PIRG and wanted to return their diesel Jetta to the company, Litt said. While the company wouldn’t take the car back, the couple used the opportunity to deliver 20,000 petitions to Volkswagen’s headquarters in Virginia.
“VW wouldn't let them keep their car there, but we definitely got the message across about what it would really take to be held accountable,” he said. “We kept up the pressure after that, having people call on VW to provide an answer, and finally, we got one with the settlement. We believe that part of what we're seeing in the U.S., what has been gotten so far, has to do with the fact that there are various parties and various avenues being pursued to hold the company accountable. You have the state attorneys general, you have the different government regulators, you have consumer and environmental advocacy groups, you have the class-action lawsuit. All of these working in tandem is what's ensuring as much accountability as possible.”