Dieselgate - record fine imposed by UOKiK

[Warsaw, 15 January 2020] 25 volumes of files, over 5 thousand sheets of evidence – that is how much material has been collected by the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection in the proceedings against Volkswagen Group Poland, which ended yesterday. - The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection is another consumer protection authority in Europe to issue a decision on this matter. Volkswagen manipulated emission indicators - misleading consumers by claiming that its vehicles were environmentally-friendly. The environmental awareness of Poles is growing, which is why many people could have deliberately chosen cars that emitted less harmful substances - says Marek Niechciał, President of UOKiK.

The Volkswagen concern used EA 189 EU 5 engine controlling software in Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda cars manufactured after 2008. Under test conditions, it underestimated nitrogen oxide emission levels. The software recognized that the car was at a test station and reduced nitrogen oxide emissions. Whereas the emissions were higher during normal use. These values differed significantly from those declared to consumers in advertising materials and approval documents. This means that they were misled. What's more, the company issued guidelines for dealers indicating that they were to disregard legitimate consumer complaints relating to nitrogen oxide emissions.

The Regional Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw also joined the proceedings conducted by the Office.

The Office contested:

  • disseminating false information in advertising materials which suggested that Volkswagen, Seat, Skoda and Audi cars were environmentally-friendly and met the requirements for nitrogen oxide emissions. This took place from 2008 to January 2016.
  • providing incorrect nitrogen oxides emission parameters in EC certificates of conformity. This took place from 2008 to January 2016.
  • issuing guidelines for sellers of these cars which suggested that consumers' complaints should not be taken into account, even though there was a clear defect. This took place until February 2016.

The penalty for Volkswagen Group Poland was over PLN 120 million (PLN 120 607 288). - I took into account the fact that the practice lasted 8 years - there were no settlement proposals from the company during the proceedings. The company acted to the detriment of consumers because it made unethical recommendations that dealers should not accept legitimate consumer complaints. Incorrect information in advertising materials caused disinformation – such information referred to Volkswagen's environmentally-friendly attitude, whereas in fact the cars were not environmentally-friendly. Manipulating exhaust emissions is denial of a environmentally-friendly attitude - adds Marek Niechciał. This is the highest sanction in the history of UOKiK for violation of the collective interests of consumers. The practice has been abandoned: the company does not disseminate misleading information or guidance disputed by the Office in the proceedings. Nevertheless, the effects of the recent practices may still persist - many people may have given up on pursuing claims. In addition to the financial penalty, the President of UOKiK ordered that all consumers who bought cars from the VW Group with the EA 189 EU 5 engine should be informed of the decision. The company should also publish the decision on its website.

The decision of the Office is not final, as it can be appealed against in court. Once UOKiK’s decisions become legally binding, they become a precedent, which makes it easier for consumers to pursue possible claims in court. The findings of the Office as to the practice used are binding for common courts when handling individual cases concerning the practices challenged in the decision. Consumers may also refer to UOKiK's decisions when making a complaint.

UOKiK is yet another authority in Europe to complete proceedings in the case. Before the Polish authority, proceedings were concluded, among others, by the Italian authority, which imposed a total of EUR 5 million in penalties on Volkswagen AG and Volkswagen Group Italia.