In the suit, the government is seeking damages for Volkswagen's use of emissions testing defeat devices on Volkswagen and Audi cars fitted with its EA189 2.0-litre TDI engine, as well as Volkswagen, Porsche and Audi cars equipped with the Audi-developed 3.0-litre V6 TDI.
According to today's filing, the electronic control module on affected 2.0-litre engines "contains software logic and/or calibrations that sense when the vehicle is being tested for compliance with applicable emission standards, based on various inputs including the position of the steering wheel, vehicle speed, the duration of the engine’s operation, and barometric pressure.
"These inputs precisely track the parameters of the federal test procedure ('FTP') and other test cycles used for emission testing required to obtain a COC ['certificates of conformity'].
"During FTP emission testing, the ... ECM [runs] software logic and/or calibrations that produce compliant emission results under an ECM calibration that VW has referred to as the 'dyno calibration'. At all other times during normal vehicle operation, the [cars] run a separate 'road calibration' that reduces the effectiveness of the emission control system."
As for the larger 3.0-litre V6 engine, "during FTP emission testing, the [engines] run software logic and/or calibrations that produce compliant emission results under an ECM calibration referred to as the 'temperature conditioning mode.' At other times during normal vehicle operation, the [software runs] a separate 'normal mode' that reduces the effectiveness of the emission control system."
The government is pursuing a number of claims for relief, including US$32,500 per vehicle built before January 13, 2009, and US$37,500 for every affected car after that date. As well, the US authorities are looking for US$32,500 per day of violation prior to January 13, 2009, and US$37,500 for every day after that point.
On top of this, the government is also seeking US$3750 per component that can be considered a “defeat device” with all affected 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 3.0-litre V6 TDI engine.
All up there are around 600,000 vehicles in USA that are fitted emission testing defeat devices. According to Reuters, that works out to a maximum damage claim of around US$48 billion ($66 billion). This far exceeds the initial estimates that the company's maximum fines in the US would around US$18 billion ($25 billion).
Daniel Riesel, from Sive, Paget & Riesel, told the news wire that unlike criminal charges, where the government would need to "prove the degree of intentional deception", a civil suit only needs to show that cheating took place - a fact that Volkswagen has already conceded.
How much Volkswagen will end up paying the US authorities is unclear. Reuters notes that at the turn of the century, the US government filed a suit against Toyota claiming around US$58 billion ($80 billion).
In the end, the two parties settled out of court, with Toyota paying around $34 million ($47 million) in fines.