A proposed class-action lawsuit filed today alleges that Volkswagen and a Florida dealership deceived customers about the performance of the diesel-powered vehicles at the center of the German automaker’s emissions scandal.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Florida woman who bought a 2013 Volkswagen Beetle with TDI clean diesel engine and others who bought cars with the technology, names Volkswagen and AutoNation Volkswagen Delray -- an independently owned dealership now under a new name -- in Delray Beach, Fla.
The lawsuit stems from the Volkswagen emissions scandal, in which the automaker admitted to installing software found to be in violation of U.S. clean air rules in 11 million vehicles worldwide.
The former AutoNation store is now owned by Gunther Motor Co. and is known as Gunther Volkswagen Delray Beach. Gunther has six dealerships in and near Fort Lauderdale and sells VW, Mazda, Volvo and Kia vehicles. A message left with Gunther Motor was not immediately returned.
AutoNation spokesman Marc Cannon confirmed that the dealership is no longer an AutoNation store.
“This is Completely [sic] ridiculous,” Cannon wrote in an email to Automotive News. “Allegations of a conspiracy are reckless and false. We learned about the issue at the same time the press did.”
Jonathan Gdanski, an attorney from the Schlesinger Law Offices in Fort Lauderdale who represents the plaintiff, told Automotive News in a statement that the dealership is included in the lawsuit because dealerships have a responsibility under the law to make sure the products they sell meet advertised standards, even if they had no role in the installation of illegal devices.
“Companies that sell cars have an obligation, much like the companies that manufacture cars, to ensure that the car meets the specifications and assurances of the manufacturer,” Gdanski said.
Diesel cars with Type EA 189 engines, advertised as environmentally friendly by Volkswagen and dealerships, came equipped with “defeat device” software that skirted fuel emissions controls and bypassed EPA testing, resulting in emissions as much as 40 times more than the legal limit. VW theoretically faces up to $18 billion in fines from the U.S. after admitting to installing the devices.
The five-count complaint, filed on behalf of Lisa Lowrance of Palm Beach, accuses Volkswagen and the dealership of deception and fraud, pointing to advertisements that promised “a new era of diesel” and cars that were “greener than ever,” among other claims.
“‘Clean diesel’ was a hoax,” lead attorney Scott Schlesinger said in a statement. “… Literally and figuratively, this crime is enough to make you choke. Between Volkswagen and AutoNation, they deceived hundreds of thousands of customers.”
In addition to fraud and deception, the counts brought against Volkswagen and the dealership include unjust enrichment and a violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
Volkswagen and the dealership “warranted that the Defective Vehicles were eco-friendly and fit for their ordinary purpose as passenger motor vehicles, would pass without objection in the trade as designed, manufactured, and marketed, and were adequately contained, packaged and labeled,” the complaint reads, alleging that they violated those warranties.
It also accuses Volkswagen of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by selling the vehicles while knowing they contained illegal software.
The lawsuit said Volkswagen wanted to “conceal the scope and nature of the illegal defeat devices” to “sell more vehicles, to sell them at a higher price for a higher profit and to avoid incurring the expenses associated with repairing the defects.”
The lawsuit comes as the U.S. Justice Department reportedly begins a criminal probe into VW -- which has admitted that the “defeat devices” were in nearly 500,000 vehicles in the U.S. -- and as Germany, France, South Korea and Italy said today they would look into the controversy.
VW shares have declined by as much as 38 percent over the last two days. The company said today it plans to set aside 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) in the third quarter to address costs related to the scandal.