The VW saga continues unabated.
In the US, a proposed US$15bn settlement offered to VW owners received preliminary court approval in July 2016 and is scheduled for a final hearing on 18 October 2016. If the settlement is formally agreed, owners will have two options: either sell back their cars to VW at pre-scandal prices or wait for a free fix – if the free fix is not available by 1 May 2018, VW will still be required to buy back the cars. Whichever option owners take, they will also be entitled to compensation, which is likely to be between US$5,000 and US$10,000.
In the meantime, consumer groups in Europe are demanding that EU drivers (including 1.2m in the UK) receive a similar compensation offer.
Whilst the compensation claims by owners of VWs may be moving towards a conclusion, this is by no means the end of the saga. Criminal claims being pursued in the US are only really in their infancy. In September 2016, James Laing, a VW engineer for over 30 years, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud regulators and car owners. Mr Laing will be sentenced in January 2017, although the suggestion is that the US justice Department may try to strike a deal with him, as it seeks to build a larger criminal case and pursue charges against other higher level executives at VW.
Criminal investigations are also underway in Germany, although investigators have indicated they will not have concluded their enquiries until the end of the year. Similar criminal investigations are ongoing in South Korea. In Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commissions has also launched a Federal Court Action against VW and its Australian subsidiary.
In the meantime, class actions have been filed in Germany against VW by law firm Quinn Emmanuel on behalf of shareholders. The proceedings are backed by litigation funder Bentham Europe. Claimants include institutional investors, Blackrock – the world’s largest asset manager, Qatar Investment Authority and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. Commentators have suggested that the shareholder claims in Germany may total over €5bn. VW is also facing various shareholder class actions in the US, however, these relate to investors in ADRs, as VW is only listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange, and as such exposures in respect of these US actions is expected to be limited.
A year after the news of the emission rigging scandal broke, the saga shows few signs of abating and the concern for the car industry and its insurers remains that this is still only the tip of the ice berg.