Lawyers and the Australian consumer watchdog are circling Volkswagen, with the carmaker still unable to say whether its cars in Australia have been fitted with software that cheats environmental tests.
Volkswagen has admitted that it installed a program in the engine software of some of its diesel cars that reduced toxic emissions when being tested. The US Environmental Protection Agency discovered that 482,000 VW diesel cars on American roads were emitting up to 40 times more toxic fumes than permitted.
The automaker estimates this cheat affects 11m cars worldwide, but the Australian arm of the company has been unable to confirm if cars in Australia have been affected and is awaiting information from its German headquarters.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission spokeswoman said the watchdog is “making enquiries to determine if consumers might have been exposed to misleading claims. The ACCC is also considering the rights of consumers under the Australian consumer law.”
Volkswagen’s share price has tumbled by a third since news of the scandal broke, with its chief executive Martin Winterkorn, who insists he didn’t know of the rule breaking, stepping down.
The company faces fines of up to $18bn in the US and could be hit by customer legal action, including claims made in Australia.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers have urged buyers of Volkswagen diesel cars to come forward for a potential case against the company.
“Many people will have bought these cars thinking they were getting a clean, green car with good mileage but it is looking increasingly likely that for many people worldwide that is not the case,” said Damian Scattini, class actions principal at Maurice Blackburn.
“If it is confirmed that cars in Australia have been affected by this incident then it is likely these cars will be worth significantly less for consumers trying to sell at a later date.”
Australia has less stringent air pollution regulations surrounding vehicle emissions compared to the US and Europe.
Australian passenger cars can emit up to 1g of carbon monoxide per kilometre and 0.06g of nitrogen oxides per kilometre. There are no regulations around the emissions of carbon dioxide, despite advice from the Climate Change Authority that this would significantly help lower Australia’s greenhouse gas output.
The sale of diesel cars in Australia has doubled over the past decade, putting a greater onus on a tightening of the emissions standards.
In April, the then industry minister, Ian Macfarlane, said the looming closure of car makers Ford and Holden in Australia provided an opportunity to introduce better emissions standards.
“We will need to look at our emissions standards,” he said.
“We are lagging behind the rest of the world and one of the main reasons for that was that it would have severely jeopardised local production of motor vehicles. Now that’s not an issue.”
A spokeswoman for the department of infrastructure and regional development said the federal government is “monitoring developments” in the US and how they will relate to Volkswagen in Australia.
“The department is seeking urgent clarification from Volkswagen Group Australia, as to whether vehicles supplied to the Australian market use similar software to that used in the US,” she said.
The spokeswoman said emissions tests are subject to an audit by the department and it would work with the car maker and the ACCC to withdraw any non-compliant vehicles.