VW Australia back in the spotlight as first lawsuits filed over emissions scandal

Bannister Law first Australian firm to file lawsuits, both class actions, against Volkswagen Australia and Audi Australia

The fallout continues for Volkswagen Australia from the company’s global emissions crisis in the form of two class action lawsuits filed under the country’s consumer law over the use of the ‘defeat device’ in its diesel vehicles.

Bannister Law is leading the class action claims, which are filed on behalf of approximately 90,000 consumers whose vehicles were affected by the scandal.

These include cars made by Volkswagen, Audo, Seat and Skoda between 208 and 2014. As Audi and VW are two separate legal entities, Bannister Law has filed two lawsuits.

"A part of the claim in each class action is that both VW and Audi guaranteed, under the consumer laws, that the vehicles were fit for their purpose, and free from defects," said Charles Bannister, firm founder and principal.

"In supplying cars containing the defeat device, the statutory guarantee was not complied with. If we’re successful on that part of the claim, the customer may be entitled to a refund of the purchase price."

In an emailed statement, Volkswagen Australia told PRWeek Asia it would be inappropriate for the company to comment on any impending legal matters.

"Volkswagen Group Australia understands that this has been a difficult time and apologises for any disappointment and inconvenience felt by our customers, staff, dealers and partners," the statement said.

"VGA assures all its customers that the affected cars are technically safe and the necessary measures will be undertaken at no cost to them. We will do everything we can to fix this problem and regain the trust of our customers."

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For its part, Volkswagen Australia has sought to get out ahead of the crisis from a public image perspective, posting regular and informative updates on its website and creating a tool for customers to check whether they have been affected.

The company also announced a voluntary recall of all affected cars.

However, Bannister said many consumers are deeply disappointed by VW’s conduct and he has had significant interest in the lawsuits.

"I think there’s a great deal of pride in the brands – people love these cars, which makes the alleged misleading and deceptive conduct all the more difficult to swallow for these owners," he said. "This deception strikes at the very heart of the brand and undermines its value.

"That damage is already apparent. We’re already seeing hard evidence on the impact on vehicle resale throughout the market. Whether consumers have new or second-hand cars, if theirs is an affected model that loss of value is currently borne by them."

Scott Pettet, APAC senior vice president at Lewis PR, said there is little doubt that VW would have been anticipating legal action in some form coming at them, and preparing for it.

"Unfortunately for them, there’s not a great deal that can be done to mitigate the sort of reputational damage befalling them," he told PRWeek Asia. "VW has made its bed and now it has to lay in it and put up with the discomfort for as long as it lasts. And it’s likely to last quite some time.

"It would be unsurprising to see class action suits filed in a number of affected countries, not to mention action by government regulators such as fines and other sanctions. For VW, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets any better. Time will tell to what extent sales will be impacted."

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