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April 30, 2020 10:15 AM, EDT

VW’s Diesel Woes Mount as EU Court Adviser Attacks Defeat Device

An employee uses a power tool to secure the suspension system near the exhaust on the rear of a VW Golf GTI automobile in Wolfsburg, Germany, in March 2018.An employee uses a power tool to secure the suspension system near the exhaust on the rear of a VW Golf GTI automobile in Wolfsburg, Germany, in March 2018. (Bloomberg News)

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Volkswagen AG’s use of technology that helped it to cheat on diesel engine pollution tests violated European Union rules, an EU legal adviser warned in the second setback for the automaker at the bloc’s highest court this month.

The so-called defeat device “does not appear to be necessary to protect the engine against damage or accident and to ensure safe operation of the vehicle,” Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston of the EU Court of Justice said in a nonbinding opinion on April 30. The Luxembourg-based EU tribunal follows such advice in most cases.

“Only immediate risks of damage which affect the reliability of the engine and cause that vehicle to present a real danger when it is driven may justify the presence of a defeat device,” Sharpston wrote, adding that “the objective of slowing down the aging or the clogging-up of the engine does not justify the use of a defeat device.”

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The company is facing a wave of litigation by drivers who want their money back for the loss in value of their diesel cars because of the manipulation exposed by U.S. regulators in September 2015. The scandal has cost the world’s largest automaker about 30 billion euros ($32.6 million) so far. Lawsuits from disgruntled investors and consumers are set to drag on for years, with U.S. owners faring far better in settlements than their European counterparts so far.

VW said it will comment later in the day on the court opinion.

A U.K. court, in one of the biggest class-action suits filed in that country, earlier this month ruled that VW used such a defeat device. The decision allows 91,000 customers to proceed with a class action against the carmaker.

In a separate case linked to the diesel scandal, the EU court’s advocate general said in a nonbinding opinion earlier this month that customers claiming their vehicles lost value due to the cheating shouldn’t have to sue the German carmaker in its own backyard, but could bring cases in their own countries.

The EU court’s decisions in both cases are expected within another six months. National courts are bound by its interpretation of EU law.

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