Volkswagen, under oath, will finally explain dieselgate software

Lawyer leading a class action describes it as a "world first".

The Federal Court of Australia has ordered Volkswagen to address under sworn testimony why its diesel cars have emission tampering software, in what's being described as a "world first".

Justice Lindsay Foster ordered Volkswagen, Audi and Skoda to testify why the software behind "dieselgate" is being used in their vehicles, and to reveal what's different about the software – if anything – in the cars sold in Australia compared to those in the United States.

"The interrogatory calls for a succinct and plain answer to a question which goes to the heart of the present proceedings," wrote Justice Foster in his judgment.

"It seems to me that it would be a relevant matter for the court to know why it was that the software was developed and installed in the EA189 diesel engine found in vehicles sold in Australia."

All three cases brought against Volkswagen – by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, Bannister Law and the ACCC – are being managed before the same court at the same time. Costs are being divvied up between the plaintiffs and Volkswagen as the case progresses.

The car maker has been involved in legal action all around the world; Volkswagen pleaded guilty to emission tampering before the US Department of Justice in January 2017, and stood before the UK parliamentary committee as early as 2015, to name two examples.

But Jason Geisker, the lawyer leading the Maurice Blackburn class action, believes this is the first time Volkswagen has had to directly answer questions pertaining to its dual-software mode while under oath and before a court.

"I think these are precisely the sorts of questions that our clients want answers to," he says. "Fortunately, our [legal] system provides victims of mass wrongs ... with a potent way of holding wrongdoing manufacturers to account."

The class actions cover the 99,672 diesel Volkswagens, Audi and Skoda vehicles that are being recalled in Australia. CHOICE understands approximately 17,000 owners are being represented by Maurice Blackburn and 2000 by Bannister Law, although the remaining owners of affected cars will still be represented by the class actions unless they actively opt-out.

Volkswagen, Audi and Skoda have to provide a response before the court by 16 October. This is ahead of a first stage trial of the class actions and the ACCC's claims, which is scheduled for 30 October 2017.