If you own a car that is caught up in Volkswagen's emissions cheating scandal, the Federal Trade Commission wants to help.
The consumer watchdog agency filed a civil complaint against Volkswagen Group of America in federal court Tuesday, demanding that the company compensate Americans who bought or leased a vehicle affected by the scheme.
Although the filing doesn't name a specific figure, James Kohm, the head of the FTC's enforcement division, told The Washington Post that Volkswagen could potentially end up on the hook for "billions" of dollars in consumer compensation — either in the form of delivering a way to fix the vehicles or buying them back.
"What we're seeking is to make consumers whole," he said.
In September, the automaker admitted that some of its light-duty diesel vehicles were loaded with software that helped them cheat emissions tests. The revelation came after the Environmental Protection Agency filed a notice of violation against the company about the issue. Under normal driving conditions, the cars would spew up to 40 times the federal emissions limit of NOx, a pollutant that contributes to urban smog, according to the EPA.
But for years before then, Volkswagen ran U.S. advertising campaigns that touted its "clean diesel" vehicles, saying that the cars had "low emissions, complied with government emissions standards, were environmentally friendly, and retained a high resale value," according to the FTC.
Those deceptive advertisements and the use of the software to cheat emissions standards between late 2008 and late 2015 amount to an unfair business practice, the FTC said.
“Volkswagen has received the complaint and continues to cooperate with all relevant U.S. regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission. Our most important priority is to find a solution to the diesel emissions matter and earn back the trust of our customers and dealers as we build a better company,” Volkswagen Group of America spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said in a statement.
The company has reserved $7 billion to fix the 11 million vehicles around the world that contained the cheating software. But that amount is likely to fall far short of the fines and settlements the company is expected to pay globally, several analysts have said.
The FTC’s lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California, which is also overseeing a lawsuit from Volkswagen customers. Volkswagen also faces a Justice Department lawsuit, filed in January, that accuses the company of violating air-pollution laws with the software scheme.