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Remember 'dieselgate', the scandal over how Volkswagen cheated emissions testing in the US and happily went on poisoning the air, until it got busted and everyone thought it would sink the company but it didn’t?
Well it turns out maybe VW wasn’t the only carmaker engaged in that kind of cheating, and Daimler is now being probed by prosecutors in Germany over a similar cover-up.
In an announcement that would have been shocking if we hadn’t become inured to this kind of scandal by the exposure of VW’s actions back in 2015, Germany’s transport ministry revealed last year that a whopping 774,000 Mercedes-Benz vehicles in Europe had been found to contain unauthorised “defeat devices”, which had led to higher diesel emissions.
The ministry ordered Daimler to recall more than 200,000 cars in Germany alone, and US authorities immediately launched an investigation into Mercedes-Benz vehicles sold there.
A defeat device is a particularly nefarious bit of software that German engineers have been using to trick emissions-testing machinery.
Basically, it can detect when a car is being driven in a testing facility - on a rolling road, or dynamometer - and then switches itself to a low-emissions mode to get a better score.
This defeat mode never actually operates when the car is being driven on public roads, so the CO2 and particulate emissions detected in official tests are far lower than what the car actually pumps into the atmosphere every day.
Prosecutors in Stuttgart, where Daimler has its HQ, are now initiating proceedings against the company that could lead to huge fines. The accusation is that the company as a whole may have “neglected its supervisory duties”.
The same team of prosecutors has already launched proceedings against Bosch for providing VW with the software the carmaker used to cheat emissions tests.
While it is unclear just how big the financial cost for Daimler could be, VW was hit with a fine of 1 billion euros last June for its cheating.
And the financial pain for VW might not stop there, either, because one of its very angry former owners is taking the company to Germany’s highest court in an attempt to seek compensation.
If he wins, it will set a precedent that could be ruinous for the world’s largest car company.
The customer lost his case in a lower court this week, handing VW a win, but his lawyers say they will appeal to the Federal Court of Justice, making it the first dieselgate case to be decided at that level.
Altogether, more than 400,000 German diesel customers have participated in a joint legal action against Volkswagen.
VW has admitted that a staggering 11 million cars worldwide were fitted with defeat software and has agreed to pay billions of dollars in the US to settle claims from owners and American authorities.
Incredibly, however, the company has not yet reached a similar deal in Europe, where it faces billions of euros in claims from investors and customers.