VW drivers feel ‘totally used’ as scandal persists

Source: Benjamin Hulac, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Owners of diesel cars at the heart of Volkswagen’s cheating scandal are angry at the German company and California regulators for not moving faster to correct the pollution problem, according to correspondence released late last week.

American officials accused Volkswagen AG of violating federal law in September by installing illegal software to deceive emissions tests. Six months later, following a congressional hearing and the resignation of the company’s topmost American executive, the parties have yet to find a solution to fix the cars.

For many California drivers who own one of the approximately 600,000 affected vehicles in the country, the solution is past due, according to correspondence released Friday by the California Air Resources Board.

“Tell Mary Nichols that if CARB doesn’t force Volkswagen to buy back my TDI then I vow to extend the life of the vehicle indefinitely and pollute as much as possible out of spite,” wrote Jonathan, referring to the head of the California Air Resources Board, in an email to the state Environmental Protection Agency March 9.

“I will instruct my fellow TDI owners in all California TDI clubs to follow suit,” he wrote. “CARB has been too soft in this whole ordeal.”

Dave, a former fleet manager and self-described “diesel-enthusiast,” said he regrets buying a VW after he retired.

“I feel totally used by a company that exploited the values held by many Californians and our desires to be leaders in climate, energy and technology,” he wrote to California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) less than a week after officials accused VW last fall of installing emissions-cheating software.

Carin, of Santa Cruz, Calif., said that she has considered contacting a lawyer to get some money out of Volkswagen. Another aggrieved driver, only identified as Gilbert, had a solution: Volkswagen should erect photovoltaic solar panels at every dealership parking lot in Southern California as penance for its violations.

The messages are part of a batch of documents, emails and letters between officials at the Air Resources Board (ARB) and constituents since September. Most full names are redacted.

Many of the drivers ask about a potential buyback from VW, while others are puzzled by the state’s decision to let them continue driving the polluting vehicles. Most want action from VW, regulators or both.

Wayne Koga, a VW Golf owner, asked if U.S. EPA or ARB have the authority to compel Volkswagen to repurchase the cars. “I am normally a patient man, but as I see it VW is STALLING,” he wrote to an ARB staffer. “I am becoming angry that I cannot trade or sell the car.”

Nate, a “California Native,” even invoked the financial crisis and the Troubled Asset Relief Program — the $475 billion federal program used primarily to stabilize the banking and auto industries in the aftermath of the economic meltdown.

“The complaint that consumers across the country have against the federal government for allowing banks to continue to operate post-2008 will pale in comparison to the outcries that more liberal Californian’s [sic] will have if this problem is allowed to persist,” he wrote.

VW has an April deadline

Volkswagen missed a court-imposed deadline Thursday to submit a plan to fix the cars, but U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer gave the automaker more time.

The company will have until 8 a.m. PDT April 21 to file a plan with the court. The plan could include a buyback provision, a fix that modifies the cars and allows them to remain on the road, or a combination.

“Whatever the proposal, by April 21, it must be specific and detailed as to proposed timing, what cars are involved in each proposal, payments to consumers and the like,” Breyer said.

If the company misses that deadline, Breyer said, he would “seriously consider whether to hold a bench trial” to address the vehicles’ pollution violations.

The vehicles in question, Volkswagen, Porsche and Audi models, emit more than 40 times the allowed level of nitrogen oxides, or NOx. NOx contributes to low-hanging ozone and microscopic particulate matter, which is linked to respiratory ailments like asthma.

“According to Director Mueller, substantial progress has been made toward a resolution that will get the cars in their current unacceptable condition off the road,” Breyer said during a 10-minute courtroom proceeding last week.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller is the “settlement master” for the case. He is working with both sides to resolve the case before a possible trial.

“I had probably the hardest month of my now 25-year career last month,” said Robert Giuffra, an attorney for Volkswagen. “We’ve been working round the clock.”

The German electronics and auto parts supplier Bosch is also a defendant in the case before Breyer.