A federal judge on Thursday pressed Volkswagen to find a way to fix its dirty diesel cars that are still on the roadways.
“600,000 vehicles are on the road today, out of compliance,” said US district Judge Charles Breyer at a hearing in San Francisco. “It’s an ongoing harm that has to be addressed, and that gives a sense of urgency.”
He set 24 March as the date for Volkswagen and the Environmental Protection Agency to report back as to whether a solution was forthcoming and what it might look like.
The automaker has been under fire since revelations last September that it had installed software on diesel cars that allowed them to cheat on pollution tests. With the software, the diesel cars can meet America’s strict pollution standards while in the laboratory, even though the cars continue to produce excessive pollution – up to 40 times the allowed amount of nitrogen oxides – on the roadways. Some 11m cars are affected worldwide, with 600,000 in America.
The judge said that Volkswagen already had enough time to come up with a fix for dirty cars and it was time to move forward, even if the solution was not perfect.
“Six months is long enough to determine whether or not there is an engineering process that would be accepted by Volkswagen,” Breyer said, adding: “There is a deadline, and the deadline is before March 24th.”
Robert Giuffra Jr, an attorney representing Volkswagen, said that the company was in close discussions about solutions with the EPA, the Department of Justice and the California air resources board, which must also sign off on a fix. While talks were making progress, Giuffra said, he was not at liberty yet to share details.
“We are obviously working very hard,” with multiple meetings in Washington, DC, and around the nation, Giuffra said.
The judge said he did not yet have an opinion on what a solution should look like but wanted to move forward as rapidly as possible. Breyer has named former FBI director Robert Mueller to oversee settlement discussions, and on Thursday he said it was important for Mueller to meet with top management of Volkswagen.
One possible, albeit very expensive, fix is that Volkswagen could buy back non-compliant diesel cars from their owners.
Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against Volkswagen over its cheating software. The class-action suits are consolidated in the court of Breyer, who is the brother of US supreme court Justice Stephen Breyer. The plaintiffs’ complaint runs more than 700 pages and accuses Volkswagen of “one of the most brazen corporate crimes in history”.
The courtroom on Thursday morning was close to half full, with about 40 people in the audience.