VW Emissions Scandal Widens to Gas-Fueled Audis

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A new rash of lawsuits claims Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat emissions tests didn’t stop with diesel-engine vehicles but extended to hundreds of thousands of gasoline-powered Audi models as well.

The string of class actions come just after Volkswagen finalized a $15 billion deal last month to settle claims over nearly 500,000 2.0-liter diesel-engine cars designed to give false emission readings.

At least five class actions have been filed since the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported on Nov. 6 that the California Air Resources Board found another defeat device installed in gas-powered Audis with certain eight-speed automatic transmissions.

Audi owner Elliot Stokar filed the first class action on Nov. 8 in the Northern District of Illinois, claiming the fuel efficiency and carbon emissions advertised for the Audi model 8 he purchased in March 2013 were false.

The latest federal lawsuit, filed Thursday by lead plaintiff Eugina Amador in San Francisco, alleges Volkswagen continued to deceive consumers even as it pledged to make amends for installing emissions-cheating software in an estimated 11 million cars worldwide.

“Unbelievably, despite Volkswagen’s promises to ‘come clean’ and to be honest about its past mistakes in 2015, it apparently persisted in concealing and selling vehicles with a different defeat device in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Audi-branded vehicles,” the 68-page complaint states.

Citing the Bild am Sontag news report, the plaintiffs claim the Audi vehicles stay in “warm-up” mode and change gears at unusually low speeds to burn less fuel and emit less carbon until the steering wheel is turned 15 degrees or more.

Emission tests typically take place on a dynamometer or “rolling pad,” which the plaintiffs describe as a “car-sized treadmill.”

Audi’s former head of powertrain development, Alex Eiser, reportedly asked in February 2013 that the gear shift-slowing program be configured to be “100% active when on the roller, but only .01% with the customer,” according to documents obtained by Bild am Sontag and the Wall Street Journal as cited in Amador’s lawsuit.

The complaint says the cheating program was installed in ZF eight-speed automatic transmissions used in both diesel and gasoline-powered Audi vehicles, including but not limited to Audi models A6, A7, A8, Q5 and Q7.

“Because of defendants’ actions, the cars it sold to plaintiffs and the class are not what defendants promised,” Amador says in her complaint. “During normal operation, they pollute the atmosphere with much higher levels of carbon dioxide than the artificially-manipulated test results disclose or than are permitted by federal and state environmental protection laws.”

On Nov. 13, Bild am Sontag reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had opened an investigation into Audi’s alleged use of defeat devices in gas-powered vehicles.

An EPA spokesman declined to comment on reports of the alleged investigation.

Dave Clegern, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the agency’s reported discovery of defeat devices in gas-powered vehicles this past summer.

The first class action filed in Chicago by lead plaintiff Stokar seeks damages, restitution and disgorgement for a nationwide class of aggrieved Audi buyers.

Stokar is represented by Steve Berman of the law firm Hagens Berman Sobel and Shapiro in Seattle.

Amador is represented by Jeffrey Lewis of Keller Rohrback LLC in Oakland.

Audi did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the new rash of lawsuits.

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