Volkswagen owners say automaker betrayed their trust after emissions scandal

By , on September 23, 2015


One of Volkswagen's latest models (Screengrab from Volkswagen's website)
One of Volkswagen’s latest models (Screengrab from Volkswagen’s website)

TORONTO – Some Canadian Volkswagen owners are angry and want answers after the German automaker owned up to an organized deception that helped its diesel models slip past emissions testing in Canada and the United States.

On Friday, the U.S. government ordered the company to recall half a million cars after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said VW was using software to cheat on emissions testing.

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn issued an apology on Saturday, admitting the company had broken the trust of its customers, and on Monday Volkswagen Canada suspended sales of Jetta, Passat and Golf models dating back to 2009. Audi Canada, owned by Volkswagen, said it would stop selling its diesel-equipped A3.

On Tuesday, VW said the issue could affect up to 11 million vehicles worldwide.

Toronto’s Jessica Lancaster owns a 2009 Jetta TDI, one of the affected models, and the holistic nutritionist said the company’s claims about the environmental friendliness of its diesel engines were important to her.

“It’s really unfair to deceive consumers who thought they were making a conscious purchase,” she said.

Lancaster says she valued the integrity of Volkswagen, and often preached to her friends about how economical and environmentally friendly the car’s supposedly clean diesel technology was.

Now she’s not even sure if she’ll ever drive the car again, but the scandal has made it that much more difficult for her to get a new vehicle.

“The resale value of it has plummeted, so there’s no option right now for me to even sell the car,” she said.

Lancaster says the company should compensate her and the other owners for what she said is fraud, and she has joined a national class-action suit from Merchant Law Group LLP against Volkswagen.

Tony Merchant, the lawyer leading the class action, said Volkswagen owners who have spoken with the firm are “furious.”

“They paid a premium price intending to buy vehicles that were better for the environment and now find out their cars are among the dirtiest of polluters,” he said.

The EPA said Volkswagen used a device programmed to detect when the cars were undergoing official emissions testing. The software device then turns off the emissions controls during normal driving situations, allowing the cars to emit more than the legal limit of pollutants.

Some reports suggested the engines could produce between 10 and 40 times the allowable limit of certain toxic emissions.

Volkswagen’s German corporate headquarters has yet to release any information on remedies for owners of the vehicles equipped with the so-called defeat device, but said it had put aside an initial 6.5 billion euros to deal with potential financial penalties related to the scandal.

Volkswagen Canada offered no comment on any recall or compensation when asked on Tuesday.

Environment Canada said Tuesday that it has opened an investigation into the “suspected violation” involving about 100,000 Volkswagen and Audi four-cylinder diesel cars of the model 2009 to 2015 sold in Canada.

“Canadian legislation and regulations prohibit vehicle manufacturers and importers from equipping a vehicle with a defeat device,” it said in a statement.

“If officers uncover sufficient evidence of violations, enforcement action will be taken in accordance with the compliance and enforcement policy for the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.”

It did not state the potential severity of any penalties.

Edmonton-based writer Mel Priestley said she and her husband are hoping to find an option other than their leased diesel-powered 2013 Jetta, even if the problem can be fixed.

“This is such an egregious error, why am I going to waste my time with this company any longer?”

Priestley said she has yet to hear from her VW dealership about the issue, and said she’s surprised the company hasn’t moved faster to issue a recall or announce a fix.

She accused Volkswagen of ruining its erstwhile reputation for responsible and reliable vehicles, adding that the number of people that must have been involved in a concerted effort to circumvent emissions testing raises questions about the company’s integrity as a whole.

“This completely invalidates their branding,” she said. “That amount of corruption is shocking and probably criminal, so I personally as a consumer want nothing to do with them.”