Germany’s largest consumer protection and advocacy group, Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (VZBV), is about to go to trial against Mercedes-Benz over whether the car company knowingly deceived customers by controlling the purification of exhaust gas, thus meriting claims for damages.
The trial comes nearly a decade after Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal, in which VW installed emissions software on more than half a million diesel cars in the U.S.—and roughly 10.5 million more worldwide—that allowed the cars to sense the unique parameters of an emissions drive cycle set by the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the EPA and the California Air Resources Board, which were alerted to the issue by researchers in 2014, these so-called “defeat devices” detect steering, throttle, and other inputs used in the test and are able to switch between two distinct operating modes.
Dieselgate ended up costing Volkswagen billions of euros in vehicle refits, fines, and legal costs.
The current class-action lawsuit alleges that Mercedes knowingly installed its own defeat devices that allowed its vehicles to pass emissions tests by making it appear that they produced lower pollutant levels than they actually did in traffic. When not being tested, the vehicles would revert to a different profile that offered more power but which produced significantly higher emissions on the road.
The suit is being brought under a German law passed in 2018 that enables consumer advocacy groups to launch class-action lawsuits on behalf of owners of affected products. The law makes it easier for consumers to hold companies to account for perceived injustices while the consumer advocacy groups foot the bill.
VZBV’s suit could affect as many as 50,000 GLK and GLC sport utility vehicles, although Mercedes says it’s actually closer to just 2,800. The car company claims the suit is unfounded and that German courts have tossed out 95% of the 25,000 similar claims filed against it in the past.
“We consider the claims asserted against our company as part of diesel customer lawsuits to be unfounded,” said Mercedes-Benz in a statement. “This also applies to this model declaratory action.”
VZBV is seeking to set a precedent with the case that would enable owners of Mercedes GLC and GLK SUVs to receive compensation in the future.