Stanford professors allege Volkswagen 'defeat devices' originated in Belmont

September 25, 2015
San Jose Mercury News

The software Volkswagen installed in its diesel cars to cheat emissions tests likely was developed in the automaker's Silicon Valley research lab, according to a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of two Stanford professors Friday in U.S. District Court.

The suit follows Volkswagen's admission that the software is in more than 11 million of its cars worldwide and the Obama administration's order that the automaker recall nearly 500,000 vehicles in the U.S.

Darryll Harrison, a Volkswagen spokesman in California, said he could not respond to the lawsuit's claims about the automaker's Electronic Research Laboratory in Belmont. But he did provide the following statement in an email Friday: "While we are unable to comment on pending litigation, the ERL's scope does not include the development or creation of parts or systems related to vehicle emissions."

The lab's website highlights work on infotainment platforms and applications, and does not specifically mention emissions.

Frank Pitre, of Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy, the Burlingame law firm that filed the lawsuit, said his clients believed they were buying the best vehicle on the market in terms of fuel efficiency and performance.

"We're talking about breach of trust and the moral fabric of a company," Pitre said.

Stanford law professor Bernadette Meyler and her husband Matt Smith, an associate professor of theatre and German studies at the university, purchased a 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI.

"They bought a car that was putting out emissions that were 40 times more harmful than the state allows," Pitre said. "They feel violated and they feel they have been taken advantage of, and they want nothing to do with a car manufacturer that would act that way."

An Environmental Protection Agency investigation found that software installed in the German automaker's diesel cars detected when state emissions testing was taking place and activated emissions control systems. The same systems were turned off during normal driving conditions, causing emissions to exceed those allowed by the Clean Air Act.

The software is in diesel versions of the 2009-15 Jetta, Beetle, Golf, Passat and Audi A3.

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn has apologized twice for the deception and resigned Tuesday.

The 59-page lawsuit alleges that the "defeat devices" were largely developed at the Belmont lab and seeks to uncover the timeline for the fraud.

Pitre said he believes that there were employees who knew about the wrongdoing and looked the other way or concealed it from consumers and regulators.

"We think that the data that is going to show that somebody wasn't being honest in June 2015 when they said these vehicles meet EPA standards might be in our own backyard," Pitre said.

As proof of the lab's involvement in emissions development, the law firm pointed to a June news release announcing research on alternative fuels.

In the news release, Ewald Goessmann, executive director of the Electronics Research Lab, commented on a successful collaboration with Solazyme's 100-percent algae derived renewable diesel fuel and Amyris' plant-sugar derived renewable diesel formula in tests with Passat and Jetta TDI models.

Aside from violating the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act as well as other common law fraud and warranty breaches, the lawsuit alleges that Volkswagen violated California's False Advertising Law.

Volkswagen used "false and misleading message regarding the environmental friendliness, emissions, fuel efficiency and performance of the Class Vehicles in television, print, and Internet advertising," according to the lawsuit. Had they known the actual facts, Meyler and Smith would not have purchased the Passat or paid more for it than they did, Pitre said.

Meyler and Smith want Volkswagen to buy back their Passat, said Pitre... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)