Feds sue Volkswagen over ‘clean diesel’ ads

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued Volkswagen Group of America, accusing the car manufacturer of running deceiving advertisements for so-called “clean diesel” vehicles that in fact were designed to evade federal emissions tests.

In a complaint filed in federal court on Tuesday, the FTC accused Volkswagen of selling more than 550,000 diesel-fuel vehicles over seven years after falsely claiming they were good for the environment. VW installed so-called “defeat devices” on those cars, allowing them to evade federal emissions tests.

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The commission is seeking a court order requiring the company refund customers who bought or leased the vehicles. The more than 550,000 cars in question sold for an average of $28,000, and an unnamed official told USA Today the government is seeking more than $15 billion in damages.

The FTC’s complaint takes aim at Volkswagen’s clean diesel advertising campaign, a strategy that included Super Bowl television spots, social media campaigns and print advertising that targeted “environmentally conscious” consumers.

The ads, for example, said the vehicles reduced nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 percent, when in fact they were found to give off up to 4,000 percent more than the legal emissions limit.

“For years Volkswagen’s ads touted the company’s ‘clean diesel’ cars even though it now appears Volkswagen rigged the cars with devices designed to defeat emissions tests,” FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez said. “Our lawsuit seeks compensation for the consumers who bought affected cars based on Volkswagen’s deceptive and unfair practices.”

The suit, which the commission approved on a 4-0 vote, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. 

Federal regulators have accused Volkswagen of selling nearly 600,000 vehicles with defeat devices that violate the Clean Air Act. The company already faces potentially billions of dollars in fines due to the emissions workaround, and the Justice Department sued the company over the scandal in January.

A federal judge last week gave the company more time to work out a deal with regulators to fix its emissions problem.