Photo: Chevanon Photography, Pexels, CC0

Car maker Volkswagen systematically installed software aimed at cheating on emissions tests on 11 million diesel vehicles around the world – actively engaging in a strategy of fraud to deceive customers and regulators alike.

Photo: Chevanon Photography, Pexels, CC0

Systematic deceit

In this scandal, which is informally known as ‘Dieselgate’, Volkswagen knowingly and systematically installed the software in 11 million vehicles worldwide, and continued to commit fraud to conceal these actions.[1] In addition to defrauding both its shareholders and the US government, as well as consumers and governments elsewhere, the criminal activity of Volkswagen has clear negative environmental and human rights impacts around the world.

An analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that Volkswagen’s fraudulent actions resulted in nitrogen oxide emissions up to 40 times the legal limit, producing an estimated 46,000 tons of pollution between 2008 and 2015.[2] Another study conducted by researchers from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) concluded that these excess emissions would have resulted in approximately 59 premature deaths, 31 cases of chronic bronchitis and 34 hospital admissions in the US alone.[3]

Pleading guilty

In March 2017, Volkswagen AG pleaded guilty to three felony counts of “(1) conspiracy to defraud the United States, engage in wire fraud, and violate the Clean Air Act; (2) obstruction of justice; and (3) importation of merchandise by means of false statements”.  The court case came in response to a “decade-long scheme to sell diesel vehicles containing software designed to cheat on U.S. emissions tests”. As a result of this court case, Volkswagen agreed to pay a $2.8 billion penalty, in addition to a $1.5 billion settlement for separate environmental, customs and financial claims.[4]

[1] Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs.

[2] Margot Sanger-Katz and John Schwartz, “How Many Deaths Did Volkswagen’s Deception Cause in the U.S.?”, The New York Times, September 29, 2015, (accessed October 23, 2019).

[3] Steven R. H. Barrett and others, “Impact of the Volkswagen Emissions Control Defeat Device on US Public Health”, Environmental Research Letters 10, no. 11 (November 2015): 1-10, (accessed October 23, 2019).

[4] Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs, “Volkswagen AG Sentenced in Connection with Conspiracy to Cheat U.S. Emissions Tests”, April 21, 2017, (accessed October 23, 2019).