Overnight, the FTC filed a complaint against Volkswagen in the US District Court covering San Francisco. The FTC is seeking compensation for US customers who bought or leased a turbo-diesel Audi or Volkswagen vehicles fitted with an emissions testing defeat device.
The FTC is also seeking an "injunction to prevent Volkswagen from engaging in this type of conduct again".
According to Edith Ramirez, FTC chairwoman: "For years Volkswagen’s ads touted the company’s ‘Clean Diesel’ cars even though it now appears Volkswagen rigged the cars with devices designed to defeat emissions tests. Our lawsuit seeks compensation for the consumers who bought affected cars based on Volkswagen’s deceptive and unfair practices.”
The crux of the FTC's argument is that these customers were deceived by the company's long-running 'Clean Diesel' campaign, which included advertising on billboards, TV, online and social media, as well as prominent spots during events like the Super Bowl.
As part of its advertising, the German automaker claimed that its 'Clean Diesel' cars met "stringent emission requirements" and were "50-state compliant". More than that they were claimed to emit less oxides of nitrogen (NOx) than equivalent petrol-engined vehicles.
It has since been revealed that in normal driving, TDI engines equipped with a defeat device emit up to 35 times more NOx than they are permitted to under US law.
In marketing material distributed to the general public, as well as training information for its dealer body, Volkswagen claimed TDI-equipped cars were projected to have "substantially higher resale than comparable competitive models with gasoline engines".
The FTC says that around 550,000 affected vehicles were sold in the USA between 2009 and 2015 with prices stretching from around US$22,000 ($29,000) for the cheapest 2.0-litre TDI Jetta through to US$125,000 ($165,000) for the most expensive Audi fitted with a non-compliant 3.0-litre V6 TDI.
Based on the commission's calculations, the average sale price of an defeat device-equipped TDI was US$28,000 ($37,000).
The FTC filing also notes that Volkswagen continued its 'Clean Diesel' campaign even after West Virgina University published a paper in May 2014 that showed that EA189-equipped Jetta and Passat vehicles emitted between five to 35 times more NOx than allowed.