Catalonia refuses to fine Volkswagen for emissions fraud and justifies their irregularities

The Catalan Agency of Consumer Affairs archives 1,801 reports under the argument that when the affected vehicles were sold the company were under no obligation to inform them about their NOx emission levels.

Catalonia refuses to fine Volkswagen for emissions fraud and justifies their irregularities

The Catalan Agency of Consumer Affairs has notified FACUA-Consumers in Action on their decision to archive 1,081 reports on vehicles affected by the Volkswagen fraud under the argument that when they were sold the company were under no obligation to inform them about the extent of their Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions, overlooking the fact that users were made to believe they were complying with European regulations that establish set limits on such emissions. The association considers it scandalous that the public body in charge of looking out for the interests of consumers in Catalonia recognises fraud but decides to put the interests of the company first.

FACUA denounced the company on behalf of hundreds of its affected members before the Catalan consumer protection agency for carrying out a perfidious commercial practice, given that the emission levels they declared in their advertising were blatantly lower than the actual levels. However, the Catalan Agency of Consumer Affairs prefers not to value this circumstance, even though it recognises that the German multinational company lied to consumers. "It must be concluded that the reported commercial practice, despite having its origin in the manufacturer’s unlawful behaviour, does not reveal sufficient and reasonable indications of infringement regarding consumer protection", the Agency concludes.

The association considers the Agency's response to be shameful for leaving the interests of various consumers affected by this massive fraud unprotected. For the Catalan consumer protection organisation it seems sufficient, in the face of this "unlawful behaviour", the information given by Volkswagen itself which, in the face of this fraud, has "validated documentary evidence of the execution of certain corrective measures in order to rectify the recognised defect", states the head of the Agency's Market Control and Inspection Services in their response to the association. And this, despite the fact that the Traffic authority (DGT, according to its initials in Spanish) itself recognised before the judge presiding over the case against Volkswagen in National Court that the repairs by Volkswagen are endorsed without the relevant "knowledge or skills".

Volkswagen manipulated TDI-equipped vehicles with 1.2L, 1.6L and 2.0L EA diesel engines from its Volkswagen, Seat, Skoda and Audi brands with software that allowed them to pass the emission tests prior to the release of new models but once on the road let cars pollute well above the legal limits. The fraud, which came to public attention by the end of 2015 and affects around 11 million vehicles worldwide, has almost 700,000 of those affected in Spain.

Lack of action from the authorities of Consumer Affairs

Ever since the magnitude of this fraud was known, actions carried out by the regional authorities of consumer protection against such issues have been few. FACUA reported the multinational company to the seventeen consumer organisations of the autonomous governments for violating their respective laws on consumer protection. Most decided to archive (La Rioja, the Valencian Community, the Basque Country) or transfer the files to Catalonia (Asturias, Navarre, Murcia, Canary Islands), arguing that it is the one competent authority due to territoriality and the fact that the company’s head office in Spain is situated in that autonomous community, despite the fact that the fraud affects consumers throughout the country. Castile and León had decided to transfer its files to Catalonia, but when faced with the appeal from FACUA, decided to retake the case, although it has not reported on any actions carried out since then.

Three years later, the association does not know what actions have been carried out (assuming any have) by the Directorate General of Consumer Affairs of the Community of Madrid, which in 2016 limited itself to acknowledging receipt of FACUA's report. Their counterparts in Extremadura and Aragon have not updated on their actions either.

For its part, the Galician Consumer Institute, the only body that decided to start sanctioning the company, left the fines suspended while the criminal case in the National Court against Volkswagen is open. Castilla-La Mancha, Balearic Islands and Andalusia began sanctions proceedings but have also put them on hold, pending the resolution of the National Court.

FACUA has appealed and lodged complaints with the Ombudsman for each region and state that had a consumer authority dismiss the complaints filed on behalf of our members against Volkswagen.