The Volkswagen Group has come under fire after it was revealed many of its cars were equipped with software designed to cheat emissions tests by independent auditors. The software resulted in a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in the rates of diesel emissions, but only when the motor was being monitored.
The consumer scandal made headlines in the USA and around the world, as many customers purchased the vehicles because of the perceived environmental and emission-reduction benefits. Were it not for the efforts of die-hard consumer advocates and auditors, the bald-faced grift might have gone unnoticed. But now, Australia’s consumer watchdog has decided to officially launch an investigation into the fraudulent practice.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced that it would be investigating Volkswagen’s Australian vehicles for so-called ‘defeat devices’ designed to rig emissions test results. But the investigation, which is likely to spread to other car companies including Audi, is already raising the ire of the federal commission.
“Look we are frustrated,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims told the ABC. “We’ve got concerns under two headings — one, whether consumers have been mislead, and two is whether mandatory standards have been breached by the use of these ‘defeat devices’ — and getting information is proving very difficult.”
For Mr. Sims, the matter raises some serious questions about brand reputation and the consumer’s right to make informed choices. “Cars are a big purchasing decision and claims that relate to environmental benefits or fuel efficiency can influence consumer choice. Businesses must be able to substantiate any claims they make.”
In Australia, Volkswagen face fines of $1.1 million for each breach of the consumer law. Currently, the company is voluntarily supplying the ACCC with information, but that information has been slow-coming. “A tricky question is to how many breaches may be involved, but the penalties be quite considerable,” Mr. Sims explained. “We usually like to do these things voluntarily, but if we don’t get some answers soon we might well be making compulsory requests.”
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