Lawyers building a class action against Mercedes alleging that the carmaker has deliberately engaged in emissions fraud said that the firm’s latest recall of diesel vehicles is “compelling evidence” that it has a nitrogen oxide emissions problem.
London law firm Fox Williams says that the auto giant programmed an emission defeat device during test conditions that limited illegally high and dangerous levels of the gas.
It is working together with US firm Hagens Berman, which was successful in leading a similar case against the Daimler subsidiary in the US which saw it pay out $700m.
The penalties were the latest in the so-called “Dieselgate” scandal that has smothered the motor industry since 2015, when Volkswagen admitted to installing secret software on vehicles sold in the US.
Such devices allowed Volkswagen’s cars to emit up to 40 times legally permitted emissions and evade detection during tests.
As of 4 September, Mercedes has been sending out mandatory recall notices to car owners prescribing an update for engine control unit software.
The letter, which City A.M. has seen, says that “the new software helps to further reduce the average nitrogen oxide emissions while driving on the road”.
Fox Williams partner Andrew Hill said that “this recall exercise is further compelling evidence Mercedes diesel and BlueTec vehicles have a nitrogen oxide problem that needs fixing”.
In response, the car firm said: “We believe the claims brought forward by the UK law firms are without merit, and will vigorously defend against them or any group action.”
It added that the vehicles concerned in the US settlement were produced “exclusively” for the country’s market.
“The emissions control system of US vehicles differs in comparison to vehicles in Europe both with respect to hardware components and configuration of the control software”, it said.
Michael Gallagher, co-managing director of Hagens Berman UK disputed this, saying: “We absolutely don’t accept Mercedes’ argument that the emissions control system of US vehicles is materially different to European models.”
The lawyer added that the fact that the recalls were being carried out at the behest of the German transport authority – the KBA – was “telling”.
“We believe Mercedes is developing software updates for almost the entire Euro 6b and Euro 5 diesel fleet in Europe and that the cheating impacts more vehicles than we originally thought”, Gallagher said.
But a spokesperson for Mercedes contested this, saying that the firm had been “voluntarily been performing software updates across our Euro 6b and Euro 5 diesel vehicles to further reduce Nitrogen Oxide emissions in Europe, including the UK” since 2017.
“Daimler has also been carrying out mandatory recalls related to diesel emissions, in which software updates are being installed, pursuant to an administrative order by the KBA.
“Daimler is appealing against these recall notices and these objection proceedings are ongoing”, they added.
Initial estimates from the law firms suggest that there could be up to 1.2m claimants in the UK.
Compensation could be in the range of £5,000 to £10,000 per vehicle, said Hill.