VW Golf owners sue automaker

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VW Golf owners sue automaker

The Korean owners of gasoline-fueled Volkswagen vehicles have sued the German automaker for selling products that have rigged emissions tests following an earlier legal action taken by the owners of the diesel model of the same company.

On Monday, 26 owners of the seventh-generation of the Volkswagen Golf model, equipped with a 1.4-liter TSI gasoline engine, submitted an official complaint to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office against Audi Volkswagen Korea and its local dealers as well as the automaker’s German headquarters. According to prosecutors, 1,567 units of these cars have been sold in the local market since March 2015.

The complaint was submitted through Barun Law LLC, a local law firm that has been representing the 4,432 owners of Volkswagen diesel cars that were found in November to have been certified through rigged emission tests.

Monday’s lawsuit came after prosecutors detained an executive of Audi Volkswagen Korea last Friday for the company’s rigged emissions and noise-level tests. According to investigators, the 52-year-old official, surnamed Yoon, had manipulated the engine control unit (ECU) of the Golf model after receiving e-mail directions from Volkswagen AG, so that emission levels would appear lower than the actual amount. It was the first time that the company’s high-ranking official was detained over the ongoing emission rigging scandal.

The ECU refers to an embedded software system that controls an automobile’s exhaust gas recirculation, and modifying this requires a separate certification from the Korean government, which the carmaker failed to achieve.

Owners of problematic Volkswagen cars are outraged that the carmaker is showing a lukewarm reaction in Korea compared to the United States. After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to the Volkswagen Group last September for rigging diesel cars’ emission systems, the company admitted cheating on 11 million such cars worldwide, and announced $10 billion in compensation package plans for roughly 600,000 U.S. customers.

But in Korea, the automaker has not yet officially acknowledged falsifying the tests, the Ministry of Environment said. The company submitted three recall plans, all turned down by the ministry. Korea has a limited application of punitive damages law, unlike the United States.

Meanwhile, the prosecution said Monday that it will summon Renault Samsung Motors CEO Park Dong-hoon, 64, who was CEO of Audi Volkswagen Korea between 2005 and 2013, to question whether he knew about the rigged tests, falsified test results and uncertified swapping of parts during his tenure. Park is reportedly forbidden from leaving the country.

Other former and current high-ranking decision makers including Audi Volkswagen Korea’s CEO Thomas Kuehl and Managing Director Johannes Thammer are also on the prosecution’s summons list.

BY JANG JOO-YOUNG, LEE YU-JEONG [lee.dongeun@joongang.co.kr]
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