The Volkswagen group has been hit with billions of dollars in fines for cheating on emissions tests. This week, the legal proceedings took a step further with the decision on the so-called thermal window, which also implicated other manufacturers. In addition, former Audi boss Rupert Stadler was on trial. Despite the legal actions, many still feel that the perpetrators got off too lightly.
The scam involving the thermal window worked for years. Manufacturers defended their exhaust aftertreatment by claiming that it was reduced when the temperature fell below a certain level in order to protect the engine. However, this type of aftertreatment is only active during the transitional period. The Federal Court of Justice followed suit with the European Court of Justice and lowered the barriers for damages, which is promising for affected car buyers. However, the compensation amount (5 to 15 percent of the purchase price) may not fully cover the actual damage. Further deductions from the compensation are possible in individual cases, meaning that buyers may only receive a fraction of what they lost.
Proving the presence of an illegal defeat device is also a challenge. Manufacturers have the burden of proof to show that the device was not illegal, and in some cases, this defense may hold up. The courts in the lower instances have a lot of work ahead of them as they handle the lawsuits from deceived car buyers, which could take years to resolve.
In the case of Rupert Stadler, the ex-Audi boss was proven to be an adept tactician. He denied his involvement for years and slowly admitted to his actions only when presented with evidence. He eventually confessed, and it was revealed that Audi continued to release cars with illegal exhaust aftertreatment even after the fraud was exposed. The presiding judge estimated the damage at €41 million. Stadler was sentenced to 21 months probation and fined €1.1 million, which many feel is a lenient punishment considering the magnitude of the fraud.
Overall, the legal consequences for those involved in the emissions scandal have not severely impacted their freedom or finances. This has left many feeling that Stadler and his colleagues have gotten away with a serious crime without significant repercussions.