Why VW Must Pay. A View From The Road

I've posted a guest post blog entry from Marcus Moench and Elisabeth Caspari on my Huffington Post blog and cross-posted it here. It explains why Marcus and Elizabeth are traveling from Boulder, Colorado to Volkswagen headquarters in northern Virginia to attempt to return their 2010 "defeat-device" Jetta diesel.

Last week, PIRG members Marcus Moench & Elisabeth Caspari kicked off a cross-country road trip from Boulder, Colorado through several cities (including a planned stop Saturday 1/16 at the Detroit Auto Show) on their way to Volkswagen headquarters in Virginia on Tuesday 1/19 to attempt to return their 2010 VW diesel Jetta. Marcus and Elisabeth own one of the 567,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S. that Volkswagen sold as “clean” but was secretly designed with a “defeat device” to emit as much as 40 times the legal limit for smog-forming pollutants. The Department of Justice recently filed a civil complaint against VW in the debacle; numerous consumer class action lawsuits have been filed against Volkswagen. We’re helping Marcus and Elisabeth because we believe we must make VW pay for misleading consumers and polluting our air. You can read more about the campaign at our campaign site makevwpay.org or at our PIRG VW blog. You can also follow Marcus and Elisabeth on their own blog at whatnextvw.org.

In their own words, here is a comment from Marcus and Elisabeth on why they are making this statement.

Why Should VW Pay? By Marcus Moench and Elisabeth Caspari

The arguments for why Volkswagen should compensate individuals who purchased diesel cars containing the emissions control defeat device have been made forcefully by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group through its “Make VW Pay” campaign. This has been supported via signed petitions from 20,000 of its members. We want to emphasize the deeply personal reasons individuals like us are pushing for VW to move rapidly and proactively to make amends.

Installing an emissions control defeat device offends us deeply on basic ethic and moral grounds. This was no act of omission. As VW engineers admitted to the EPA and CARB, the defeat device was installed so that vehicles could pass emissions tests while, under normal operating conditions, emitting up to 40 times the allowed levels of pollutants. These pollutants are well known as major contributors to respiratory illness and premature death – that’s why they are regulated in the first place.

Our decision to purchase the Jetta was heavily influenced by VW’s promotion of their vehicles as “clean diesel.” They suggested that VW’s diesels were as efficient and clean as many hybrid cars. By installing a defeat device, VW was able to bypass regulators and fool us into purchasing a car we otherwise would never have bought.

We’re now driving out from Denver to VW’s American headquarters in Virginia to return our diesel Jetta. As we do so we’re passing through many of the cities where emissions from diesel vehicles contribute to the brown clouds of pollution that cause respiratory disease and premature death. VW must compensate society as well as individual owners.

Volkswagen America has already called us and discouraged us from making the trip. They say they won’t take the vehicle back and that we should wait while they negotiate with EPA. This is unacceptable. Except for the travel to return the car to VW, we’re unwilling to continue driving a vehicle that spews out illegal levels of pollution. As a result, we’ve purchased an electric car to replace the VW. Furthermore, even if it still legal to drive our Jetta, doing so when we have an alternative would be unethical.

So what do we hope to achieve by returning our vehicle?

First we hope that VW reconsiders. At minimum they should take the car and store it off the road for us while they negotiate with EPA. We can’t use it and we don’t have a place to store it. Our loss of use could be part of any eventual compensation.

More importantly, by returning our vehicle to VW we hope to raise awareness regarding the depth of betrayal we feel and the need for VW to commit to compensating both consumers and the wider society.

VW has an opportunity: By rapidly and proactively moving to compensate vehicle owners and by committing to the types of structural reforms that could compensate society more broadly, it could regain its reputation. If it offered to replace diesel vehicles with high performance electric vehicles or to replace highly polluting school buses with electric ones, it could tip the scale in the development and adoption of electric vehicles. This would generate real and sustained benefits far beyond compensation to the individual owners of the diesel cars VW has sold.


Ed Mierzwinski

Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program, PIRG

Ed oversees U.S. PIRG’s federal consumer program, helping to lead national efforts to improve consumer credit reporting laws, identity theft protections, product safety regulations and more. Ed is co-founder and continuing leader of the coalition, Americans For Financial Reform, which fought for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, including as its centerpiece the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He was awarded the Consumer Federation of America's Esther Peterson Consumer Service Award in 2006, Privacy International's Brandeis Award in 2003, and numerous annual "Top Lobbyist" awards from The Hill and other outlets. Ed lives in Virginia, and on weekends he enjoys biking with friends on the many local bicycle trails.