Volkswagen AG and the companies in which it is directly or indirectly invested are involved in a substantial number of legal disputes and governmental proceedings in Germany and abroad. Such legal disputes and other proceedings occur, among other things, in connection with products and services or in relation to employees, public authorities, dealers, investors, customers, suppliers, or other contracting parties. For the companies in question, these disputes and proceedings may result in payments such as fines or in other obligations or consequences. In particular, substantial compensatory or punitive damages may have to be paid and cost-intensive measures may have to be implemented. In this context, specific estimation of the objectively likely consequences is often possible only to a very limited extent, if at all.
Various legal proceedings are pending worldwide, particularly in the USA, in which customers are asserting purported product-related claims, either individually or in class actions. These claims are as a rule based on alleged vehicle defects, including defects alleged in vehicle parts supplied to the Volkswagen Group.
Compliance with legal or regulatory requirements is another area in which risks may arise. This is particularly true in gray areas where Volkswagen and the relevant public authorities may interpret the law differently.
In connection with their business activities, Volkswagen Group companies engage in constant dialogue with regulatory agencies, including the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA – German Federal Motor Transport Authority). It is not possible to predict with assurance how government regulators will assess certain issues of fact and law in a particular situation. For this reason, the possibility that certain vehicle characteristics and/or type approval aspects may in particular ultimately be deemed deficient or impermissible cannot be ruled out. This is fundamentally a question of the regulatory agency’s specific evaluation in a concrete situation.
A comparable challenge results from the tension between divergent national and international statutory or regulatory requirements regarding obligations to transfer information or documents, on the one hand, and privacy mandates under national and international data protection law on the other. Volkswagen is advised by outside law firms on these issues so as to preclude compliance violations as far as possible despite the sometimes unclear state of the law.
Litigation may furthermore result from demands for more extensive climate protection measures or from allegedly incomplete disclosures regarding the impact of climate change. The response of the Volkswagen Group to this risk includes, among other things, certification of its self-imposed decarbonization targets through independent and internationally respected organizations and systematic alignment of its non-financial reporting with the requirements of the law and the capital markets.
Risks may also result from actions for infringement of intellectual property, including infringement of patents, brands, or other third-party rights, particularly in Germany and the USA. If Volkswagen is alleged or determined to have violated third-party intellectual property rights, it may for instance have to pay damages, modify manufacturing processes, or redesign products, and may be barred from selling certain products; this may result in delivery and production restrictions or interruptions.
Criminal acts by individuals, which even the best compliance management system can never completely prevent, are another potential source of legal risks.
Appropriate insurance has been taken out to cover these risks where they were sufficiently definite and such coverage was economically sensible. Where necessary based on the information currently available, identified and correspondingly measurable risks have been reflected by recognizing provisions in amounts considered appropriate or disclosing contingent liabilities, as the case may be. As some risks cannot be assessed or can only be assessed to a limited extent, the possibility of material loss or damage not covered by the insured amounts or by provisions cannot be ruled out. This is, for instance, the case with regard to the legal risks assessed in connection with the diesel issue.
Unless otherwise explicitly stated, the amounts disclosed for the litigation being reported on refer only to the respective principal claim. Ancillary claims, such as for interest and litigation expense, are generally not considered.
On September 18, 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publicly announced in a “Notice of Violation” that irregularities in relation to nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions had been discovered in emissions tests on certain Volkswagen Group vehicles with 2.0 l diesel engines in the USA. In this context, Volkswagen AG announced that noticeable discrepancies between the figures recorded in testing and those measured in actual road use had been identified in type EA 189 diesel engines and that this engine type had been installed in roughly eleven million vehicles worldwide. On November 2, 2015, the EPA issued a “Notice of Violation” alleging that irregularities had also been discovered in the software installed in US vehicles with type V6 3.0 l diesel engines.
The so-called diesel issue is rooted in a modification of parts of the software of the relevant engine control units – which, according to Volkswagen AG’s legal position, is only unlawful under US law – for the type EA 189 diesel engines that Volkswagen AG was developing at that time. This software function was developed and implemented from 2006 on without knowledge at the level of the Board of Management. Members of the Board of Management did not learn of the development and implementation of this software function until the summer of 2015.
There are furthermore no findings that, following the publication in May 2014 of the study by the International Council on Clean Transportation, an unlawful “defeat device” under US law was disclosed to the persons responsible for preparing the 2014 annual and consolidated financial statements as the cause of the high NOx emissions in certain US vehicles with 2.0 l type EA 189 diesel engines. Rather, at the time the 2014 annual and consolidated financial statements were being prepared, the persons responsible for preparing these financial statements remained under the impression that the issue could be resolved with comparatively little expense. In the course of the summer of 2015, however, it became progressively apparent to individual members of Volkswagen AG’s Board of Management that the cause of the discrepancies in the USA was a modification of parts of the software of the engine control unit that was later identified as an unlawful “defeat device” as defined by US law. This culminated in Volkswagen’s disclosure of a “defeat device” to the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB), a department of the Environmental Protection Agency of the State of California, on September 3, 2015. According to the assessment at the time by the responsible persons dealing with the matter, the magnitude of the costs expected to result for the Volkswagen Group (recall costs, retrofitting costs, and financial penalties) was not fundamentally dissimilar to that in previous cases involving other vehicle manufacturers. It therefore appeared to be manageable overall considering the business activities of the Volkswagen Group. This assessment by Volkswagen AG was based, among other things, on the advice of a law firm engaged in the USA for regulatory approval issues, according to which similar cases had in the past been amicably resolved with the US authorities. The EPA’s publication of the “Notice of Violation” on September 18, 2015, which the Board of Management had not expected, especially at that time, then presented the situation in an entirely different light.
The AUDI AG Board of Management members in office at the time in question have likewise stated that they had no knowledge of the use of “defeat device” software that was prohibited by US law in the type V6 3.0 l TDI engines until the EPA issued its November 2015 “Notice of Violation.”
Within the Volkswagen Group, Volkswagen AG has development responsibility for the four-cylinder diesel engines and AUDI AG has development responsibility for the six- and eight-cylinder diesel engines.
As a consequence of the diesel issue, numerous judicial and regulatory proceedings were initiated in various countries. Volkswagen has in the interim succeeded in making substantial progress and ending many of these proceedings. In the USA, Volkswagen AG and certain affiliates reached settlement agreements with various government authorities and private plaintiffs, the latter represented by a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in a multidistrict litigation in the US state of California. The agreements in question include various partial consent decrees as well as a plea agreement that resolved certain civil claims as well as criminal charges under US federal law and the laws of certain US states in connection with the diesel issue. Although Volkswagen is firmly committed to fulfilling the obligations arising from these agreements, a breach of these obligations cannot be completely ruled out. In the event of a violation, significant penalties could be imposed as stipulated in the agreements, in addition to the possibility of further monetary fines, criminal sanctions and injunctive relief.
In agreement with the respective responsible authorities, the Volkswagen Group is making technical measures available worldwide for virtually all diesel vehicles with type EA 189 engines. For all clusters (groups of vehicles) within its jurisdiction, the KBA determined that implementation of the technical measures would not result in any adverse changes in fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, engine output, maximum torque, and noise emissions.
Following the studies carried out by AUDI AG to check all relevant diesel concepts for possible irregularities and retrofit potential, measures proposed by AUDI AG have been adopted and mandated by the KBA in various recall orders pertaining to vehicle models with V6 and V8 TDI engines. AUDI AG continues to anticipate that the total cost, including recall expenses, of the ongoing largely software-based retrofit program that began in July 2017 will be manageable and has recognized corresponding balance-sheet risk provisions. AUDI AG has in the meantime developed software updates for many of the affected powertrains and, after approval by the KBA, already installed these updates in the vehicles of a large number of affected customers. KBA approval is still expected for the small number of software updates that are still pending.
In connection with the diesel issue, potential consequences for Volkswagen’s results of operations, financial position and net assets could emerge primarily in the following legal areas:
1. Criminal and administrative proceedings worldwide (excluding the USA/Canada)
Criminal investigations, regulatory offense proceedings, and/or administrative proceedings have been commenced in some countries. Criminal investigations into the core factual issues are being conducted by the Offices of the Public Prosecutor in Braunschweig and Munich.
In January 2021, the criminal proceedings regarding alleged market manipulation relating to capital market disclosure obligations in connection with the diesel issue were terminated by the Braunschweig Regional Court provisionally as regards the former Chair of the Board of Management and definitively as regards the corresponding regulatory offense proceeding against Volkswagen AG. The Braunschweig Office of the Public Prosecutor has in the meantime filed a motion with the Braunschweig Regional Court to reopen the proceedings against the former Chair of the Board of Management. A final ruling on this motion is still pending.
In September 2020, the Braunschweig Regional Court allowed the indictment of the same former Chair of the Board of Management of Volkswagen AG to proceed on charges that include fraud in connection with the diesel issue involving type EA 189 engines. The proceedings against this former Chair of the Board of Management of Volkswagen AG have since been severed from the other cases. The trial of the other defendants began in September 2021.
The Braunschweig Office of the Public Prosecutor is continuing its investigations on suspicion of fraud in connection with type EA 288 engines.
In June 2020, the Munich II Regional Court accepted the substantially unchanged indictment of the Munich II Office of the Public Prosecutor, which also names a former Chair of the Board of Management of AUDI AG, and opened the main trial proceedings on charges of, among other things, fraud in connection with the diesel issue involving 3.0 l and 4.2 l TDI engines. Trial proceedings commenced in September 2020.
In August 2020, the Munich II Office of the Public Prosecutor issued a further indictment charging three former members of the Board of Management of AUDI AG and others with, among other things, fraud in connection with the diesel issue involving 3.0 l and 4.2 l TDI engines. The criminal investigation conducted by the Stuttgart Office of the Public Prosecutor against a member of the Board of Management of Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG and others on suspicion of fraud and illegal advertising relating to the diesel issue has in the interim been terminated at the end of April 2022, as regards inter alia the Board of Management member, against payment of a sum set by the court.
As the type approval authority of proper jurisdiction, the KBA is moreover continuously testing Audi, Volkswagen, and Porsche brand vehicles for problematic functions. If certain functions are deemed impermissible by the KBA, the affected vehicles are recalled pursuant to a recall order or they are brought back into compliance by means of a voluntary service measure.
In judgments rendered in July and November 2022, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that a so-called thermal window (i.e. a temperature-dependent exhaust gas recirculation) in the range of 15°C and 33°C outside temperature represents a defeat device. In this context, the ECJ has developed a new, unwritten criterion according to which a thermal window, even if it serves to prevent sudden and extraordinary damage, is impermissible if it is active “for most of the year under real driving conditions prevalent in the territory of the European Union.” Volkswagen Group is assessing the effects of this new vehicle engineering criterion. The KBA has commenced formal administrative proceedings relating to certain first generation type EA 896 engines deployed in certain older vehicle models. Volkswagen Group is in discussion with the KBA on this issue.
At the end of February 2023, the Schleswig Administrative Court in a court of first instance judgment upheld a lawsuit brought by Deutsche Umwelthilfe (Environmental Action Germany) against the KBA and ordered the KBA to revoke the release notice for the software update for certain older Golf Plus models, insofar as the release notice relates to the thermal window. Volkswagen will review the decision once the written reasoning is available and decide on further measures.
Moreover, additional administrative proceedings relating to the diesel issue are ongoing in other jurisdictions.
The companies of the Volkswagen Group are cooperating with the government authorities.
Risks may furthermore result from possible decisions by the European Court of Justice construing EU type approval provisions.
Whether the criminal and administrative proceedings will ultimately result in fines or other consequences for the Company, and if so what amounts these may entail, is currently subject to estimation risks. According to Volkswagen’s estimates, the likelihood that a sanction will be imposed is 50% or less in the majority of these proceedings. Contingent liabilities have therefore been disclosed where the amount of such liabilities could be measured and the likelihood of a sanction being imposed was assessed at not less than 10%.
2. Product-related lawsuits worldwide (excluding the USA/Canada)
A general possibility exists that customers in the affected markets will file civil lawsuits or that importers and dealers will assert recourse claims against Volkswagen AG and other Volkswagen Group companies. Besides individual lawsuits, various forms of collective actions (i.e. assertion of individual claims by plaintiffs acting jointly or as representatives of a class) are available in various jurisdictions. Furthermore, in a number of markets it is possible for consumer and/or environmental organizations to bring suit to enforce alleged rights to injunctive relief, declaratory judgment, or damages.
Customer class action lawsuits and actions brought by consumer and/or environmental organizations are pending against Volkswagen AG and other Volkswagen Group companies in a number of countries including Belgium, Brazil, England and Wales, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and South Africa. Alleged rights to damages and other relief are asserted in these actions. The pending actions include in particular the following:
In Belgium, the Belgian consumer organization Test Aankoop VZW has filed a class action to which an opt-out mechanism has been held to apply. Given the opt-out rule, the class action potentially covers all vehicles with type EA 189 engines purchased by consumers on the Belgian market after September 1, 2014, unless the right to opt out is actively exercised. The asserted claims are based on purported violations of unfair competition and consumer protection law as well as on alleged breach of contract.
In Brazil, two consumer protection class actions are pending. In the first class action, which pertains to some 17 thousand Amarok vehicles, the Superior Court of Justice in August 2022 rejected in part the appeal filed by Volkswagen do Brasil against the May 2019 judgment at the first appeals level that had initially reduced the damage liability of Volkswagen do Brasil considerably to around BRL172 million. Volkswagen do Brasil has appealed this decision. The judgment therefore remains non-final. The plaintiff in the second class action, which pertains to roughly 67 thousand later generation Amaroks, has appealed the trial court’s October 2021 judgment dismissing the complaint.
The financialright GmbH filed consolidated actions before various German courts asserting claims assigned to it by customers in Germany, Slovenia, and Switzerland against Volkswagen Group companies. Following the withdrawal of numerous motions for relief, approximately 33 thousand claims are currently still pending. Some cases have in the meantime moved to the first or second appeals level. In Germany, the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH – Federal Court of Justice) rendered a judgment in June 2022 holding, in a case involving the damage claims of Swiss vehicle purchasers, that the assignment of claims to financialright GmbH was valid. The BGH did not address the merits of the claims.
In England and Wales, the roughly 91 thousand claims of the group litigation against the Volkswagen Group were settled out of court in May 2022 for the sum of £ 193 million as well as a separate amount for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and other costs.
In addition, in late 2021 a new lawsuit was filed in court against Volkswagen AG, Volkswagen Financial Services (UK) Limited, and other Volkswagen Group companies in connection with certain diesel vehicles leased or sold in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland since 2009 and various other diesel engine types.
In France, a class action is pending that was filed by the French consumer organization Confédération de la Consommation, du Logement et du Cadre de Vie (CLCV) against Volkswagen Group Automotive Retail France and Volkswagen AG for up to 1 million French owners and lessees of vehicles with type EA 189 engines. This is an opt-in class action.
In Italy, a trial level judgment in favor of the plaintiffs by the Venice Regional Court in the class action brought by the consumer association Altroconsumo on behalf of Italian customers was announced in July 2021; the judgment requires Volkswagen AG and Volkswagen Group Italia to pay damages to some 63 thousand consumers in an aggregate amount of roughly € 185 million. Volkswagen AG and Volkswagen Group Italia have appealed this decision.
In the Netherlands, an opt-out class action is pending that was brought by Stichting Volkswagen Car Claim seeking declaratory rulings for up to 165 thousand customers. A declaratory judgment partially granting the relief sought was issued in July 2021. In the opinion of the court, Volkswagen AG and the other defendant Group companies acted unlawfully with respect to the original engine management software. The court moreover held that consumers are entitled to a purchase price reduction from the defendant dealerships. No specific payment obligations result from the declaratory judgment. Any individual claims would then have to be established afterwards in separate proceedings. Volkswagen AG and the other defendant Group companies have appealed the decision. Furthermore, an opt-out class action lawsuit brought by the Diesel Emissions Justice Foundation (DEJF) seeking monetary damages on behalf of Dutch consumers is also pending; the action involves vehicles with type EA 189 engines, among others. The court rendered an interlocutory judgment in March 2022 holding the new class action regime – which permits damage awards in addition to declaratory judgment on the existence of claims – to be inapplicable to the instant lawsuit. The interlocutory judgment further finds that the Amsterdam court lacks jurisdiction to hear lawsuits brought by consumers outside the Netherlands. The DEJF appealed this judgment. The court then suspended the trial level proceedings pending a decision by the appellate court.
In Portugal, a Portuguese consumer organization has filed an opt-out class action. The class action potentially affects up to approximately 70 thousand vehicles with type EA 189 engines. The complaint seeks vehicle return and alleges damages as well.
In South Africa, an opt-out class action seeking damages is pending; the action pertains to some 80 thousand vehicles, including vehicles with type EA 189 engines.
Furthermore, individual lawsuits and similar proceedings are pending against Volkswagen AG and other Volkswagen Group companies in various countries; most of these lawsuits are seeking damages or rescission of the purchase contract.
In Germany, roughly 40 thousand individual lawsuits relating to various diesel engine types are currently pending against Volkswagen AG or other Group companies, with the plaintiffs suing for damages or rescission of the contract in most cases.
In 2020, the BGH issued a series of fundamental judgments deciding legal issues of major importance for the litigation still pending with regard to vehicles with type EA 189 engines. The BGH held that buyers who had purchased vehicles prior to public disclosure of the diesel issue could return their vehicles to Volkswagen AG and receive a refund of the purchase price paid, less a deduction for the benefit derived from using the vehicle. However, buyers have no tort-based claim for damages if they purchased their vehicles after the ad hoc announcement of September 22, 2015 or if they raise claims based solely on a temperature-dependent exhaust gas recirculation (so-called thermal window) in the engine. In February 2022, the BGH issued further fundamental judgments concerning vehicles with EA 189 motors affirming that buyers of new vehicles of the Volkswagen brand were entitled to residual damage claims against Volkswagen AG after the knowledge-based limitation period has expired; the BGH had previously held that purchasers of used cars lacked such claims. The BGH held that buyers must return their vehicles in order to claim payment and that such payment was reduced by the benefit derived from using the vehicle and by the dealer profit margin. In an additional fundamental judgment rendered in July 2022 concerning vehicles with EA 189 engines, the BGH held that buyers of new vehicles of other Group brands have no claim for residual damages against Volkswagen AG.
Volkswagen estimates the likelihood that the plaintiffs will prevail to be 50% or less in the great majority of cases: customer class actions, complaints filed by consumer and/or environmental organizations, and individual lawsuits. Contingent liabilities are disclosed for these proceedings where the amount of such liabilities can be measured and the chance that the plaintiff will prevail was assessed as not remote. Given the early stage of the proceedings, it is in some cases not yet possible to quantify the realistic risk exposure. Furthermore, provisions were recognized to the extent necessary based on the current assessment.
At this time, it cannot be estimated how many customers will choose to file lawsuits in the future in addition to those already pending and what prospect of success such lawsuits might have.
3. Lawsuits filed by investors worldwide (excluding the USA/Canada)
Investors from Germany and abroad have filed claims for damages against Volkswagen AG – in some cases along with Porsche Automobil Holding SE (Porsche SE) as joint and several debtors – based on purported losses due to alleged misconduct in capital market communications in connection with the diesel issue.
The vast majority of these investor lawsuits are currently pending before the Braunschweig Regional Court. In August 2016, the Braunschweig Regional Court issued an order referring common questions of law and fact relevant to the investor lawsuits pending before it to the Higher Regional Court in Braunschweig for binding declaratory rulings pursuant to the Kapitalanleger-Musterverfahrensgesetz (KapMuG – German Capital Investor Model Declaratory Judgment Act). In this proceeding, common questions of law and fact relevant to these actions are to be adjudicated by the Braunschweig Higher Regional Court in a single consolidated proceeding (model case proceedings). The investor lawsuits pending against Volkswagen AG in Germany are stayed pending resolution of the common issues, unless the cases can be dismissed for reasons independent of the common issues that are to be adjudicated in the model case proceedings. The resolution in the model case proceedings of the common questions of law and fact will be binding for the pending cases that have been stayed as described. The model case plaintiff is Deka Investment GmbH. Oral argument in the model case proceedings before the Braunschweig Higher Regional Court began in September 2018 and is continuing at subsequent hearings. The latest indication from the court was that it may hear witness testimony on certain points.
Further investor lawsuits have been filed with the Stuttgart Regional Court against Volkswagen AG, in some cases along with Porsche SE as joint and several debtor. A further investor action for model declaratory judgment is pending before the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court against Porsche SE; Volkswagen AG is involved in this action as a third party intervening in support of a party to the dispute. The Wolverhampton City Council, Administrating Authority for the West Midlands Metropolitan Authorities Pension Fund, has been appointed model case plaintiff. Oral argument in this case began in July 2021 and continued in subsequent hearings. The court has scheduled a hearing in the spring of 2023 at which it will deliver its decision.
Excluding the United States and Canada and following the withdrawal of various actions, claims in connection with the diesel issue totaling roughly €9.5 billion are currently pending worldwide against Volkswagen AG in the form of investor lawsuits, judicial applications for dunning and conciliation procedures, and claims under the KapMuG. Volkswagen AG remains of the opinion that it duly complied with its capital market obligations. Therefore, no provisions have been recognized for these investor lawsuits. Contingent liabilities have been disclosed where the chance of success was estimated to be not less than 10%.
4. Proceedings in the USA/Canada
In the USA and Canada, the matters described in the EPA’s “Notices of Violation” are the subject of various types of lawsuits and requests for information that have been filed against Volkswagen AG and other Volkswagen Group companies, in particular by customers, investors, and various government agencies in Canada and the United States.
In January 2017, Volkswagen entered into a Third Partial Consent Decree with the DOJ and the EPA, which the federal court in the multidistrict litigation approved in April 2017. The Third Partial Consent Decree resolved claims for civil penalties and injunctive relief under the Clean Air Act related to the 2.0 l and 3.0 l TDI vehicles, and imposed a civil penalty as well as monitoring, auditing, and compliance obligations. In July 2017, the court furthermore approved the Third California Partial Consent Decree, in which Volkswagen agreed with the California Attorney General and CARB to pay civil penalties and cost reimbursements. Subsequently, Volkswagen sought to terminate both consent decrees on the basis that all requirements had been met, and the US and California authorities agreed to the termination, which the court granted in September 2022.
The Texas attorney general and some municipalities continue to pursue actions in state and federal courts against Volkswagen AG, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., and certain affiliates, alleging violations of environmental laws. In January 2022, the Texas Supreme Court granted the February 2021 petition of the State of Texas for review of the Texas appellate court decision that had dismissed the environmental claims of Texas against Volkswagen AG and AUDIAG for lack of personal jurisdiction.
In November 2021, the US Supreme Court denied petitions by Volkswagen requesting that it reviews both a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declining to dismiss certain claims brought by Hillsborough County, Florida, and Salt Lake County, Utah, and a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court declining to dismiss certain claims brought by the State of Ohio.
In January 2022, Volkswagen settled environmental claims brought by Ohio.
In March 2019, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a lawsuit against, among others, Volkswagen AG, Volkswagen Group of America Finance, LLC, and VW Credit, Inc., asserting claims under US federal securities law based, among other things, on alleged misstatements and omissions in connection with the offer and sale of certain bonds and asset-backed securities. In August 2020, the US District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed, among other things, all claims against VW Credit, Inc. relating to asset-backed securities. In September 2020, the SEC filed an amended complaint that, among other things, removed the dismissed claims. The pre-trial discovery phase is still ongoing.
As to private civil law matters, the Superior Court of Quebec approved the settlement of an environmental class action lawsuit seeking punitive damages on behalf of the residents of the Province of Quebec in June 2022; an appeal of that approval on the limited subject of counsel fees has been dismissed in the meantime so that the settlement may now proceed.
In line with IAS 37.92, no statements have been made concerning estimates of financial impact or regarding uncertainty as to the amount or maturity of provisions and contingent liabilities in relation to proceedings in the USA/Canada. This is so as to not compromise the results of the proceedings or the interests of the Company.
5. Special audit
In a November 2017 ruling, the Higher Regional Court of Celle ordered, upon the request of three US funds, the appointment of a special auditor for Volkswagen AG. The special auditor was supposed to examine whether the members of the Board of Management and Supervisory Board of Volkswagen AG breached their duties in connection with the diesel issue from June 22, 2006 onwards and, if so, whether this resulted in damages for Volkswagen AG. Volkswagen AG had filed a constitutional complaint with the German Federal Constitutional Court against this decision, which was originally unappealable as a formal matter. Volkswagen AG also filed a constitutional complaint against the subsequent (and likewise formally unappealable) decision by the Higher Regional Court of Celle to appoint a special auditor other than the one initially appointed. In rulings announced in November 2022, the Federal Constitutional Court found both constitutional complaints to be meritorious and held that the decisions of the Higher Regional Court of Celle violated the constitutional rights of Volkswagen AG in multiple respects. The decisions of the Higher Regional Court were vacated and the case was remanded to this court. Volkswagen AG had in addition previously filed an action before the Braunschweig Regional Court seeking to enjoin the special auditor from performing the audit as long as he had not furnished sufficient proof of his independence. The Braunschweig Regional Court dismissed the action for injunctive relief in the summer of 2022; Volkswagen AG then appealed this decision to the Braunschweig Higher Regional Court.
A second motion seeking appointment of a special auditor for Volkswagen AG to examine matters relating to the diesel issue was filed with the Regional Court of Hanover. This proceeding was stayed pending the decision by the Federal Constitutional Court in the initial special auditor litigation. No decision whether to resume the proceeding has as yet been issued.
6. Risk assessment regarding the diesel issue
An amount of around €1.4 billion (previous year: €2.1 billion) has been included in the provisions for litigation and legal risks as of December 31, 2022 to account for the currently known legal risks related to the diesel issue based on the presently available information and the current assessments. Where adequately measurable at this stage, contingent liabilities relating to the diesel issue have been disclosed in the notes in an aggregate amount of €4.2 billion (previous year: €4.3 billion), whereby roughly €3.6 billion (previous year: €3.6 billion) of this amount results from lawsuits filed by investors in Germany. The provisions recognized, the contingent liabilities disclosed, and the other latent legal risks in the context of the diesel issue are in part subject to substantial estimation risks given the complexity of the individual relevant factors, the ongoing coordination with the authorities, and the fact that the fact-finding efforts have not yet been concluded. Should these legal or estimation risks materialize, this could result in further substantial financial charges. In particular, adjustment of the provisions recognized in light of knowledge acquired or events occurring in the future cannot be ruled out.
In line with IAS 37.92, no further statements have been made concerning estimates of financial impact or regarding uncertainty as to the amount or maturity of provisions and contingent liabilities in relation to the diesel issue. This is so as to not compromise the results of the proceedings or the interests of the Company.
Additional important legal cases
In 2011, ARFB Anlegerschutz UG (haftungsbeschränkt) filed a claim for damages against Volkswagen AG and Porsche SE for allegedly violating disclosure requirements under capital market law in connection with the acquisition of ordinary shares in Volkswagen AG by Porsche SE in 2008. The damages being sought based on allegedly assigned rights currently amount to approximately €2.26 billion plus interest. In late September 2022 the 1st Antitrust Chamber of the Higher Regional Court of Celle issued a model case ruling by which all of the plaintiffs’ objects of declaratory judgment were either dismissed or declared to be irrelevant. The legal positions of the model case defendants were thus upheld in their entirety. Under the court’s decision, Volkswagen AG is not liable because, among other things, the plaintiffs failed to make a sufficient showing that the Board of Management of Volkswagen AG had knowledge of the capital market information that was allegedly incorrect or subject to disclosure. The court further held that, even assuming members of the Supervisory Board to have had knowledge as alleged, such knowledge could not be imputed to the Board of Management. Two appeals alleging error of law in the model case ruling have been received, one of which is also directed against Volkswagen AG.
In Brazil, the Brazilian tax authorities commenced tax proceedings against Volkswagen Truck & Bus (formerly: MAN Latin America); at issue in these proceedings are the tax consequences of the acquisition structure chosen for Volkswagen Truck & Bus in 2009. In December 2017, an adverse administrative appeal ruling was rendered against Volkswagen Truck & Bus. Volkswagen Truck & Bus challenged this ruling before the regular court in 2018. Estimation of the risk in the event the tax authorities prevail on all points is subject to uncertainty because of differences in the amount of penalties and interest that might then apply under Brazilian law. However, a positive outcome for Volkswagen Truck & Bus remains the expectation. Should this not occur, a risk of about BRL 3.5 billion could result for the contested period from 2009 onwards; this amount has been included in contingent liabilities in the notes.
In 2011, the European Commission conducted searches at European truck manufacturers for suspected unlawful exchange of information during the period from 1997 to 2011; in November 2014, the Commission issued a statement of objections to MAN, Scania, and the other truck manufacturers concerned. In its settlement decision of July 2016, the European Commission assessed fines against five European truck manufacturers. MAN’s fine was waived in full as the company had informed the European Commission about the irregularities as a key witness. In September 2017, the European Commission fined Scania €0.88 billion.
In a judgment rendered in February 2022, the European General Court (Court of First Instance) rejected in its entirety the appeal filed by Scania in this connection. Scania appealed this judgment to the European Court of Justice in April 2022. Furthermore, antitrust lawsuits seeking damages have been received from customers. As is the case in any antitrust proceedings, this may result in further lawsuits for damages. No provisions have been recognized or contingent liabilities disclosed for these cases as most of them are still in an early stage and currently cannot be assessed for this reason. In other cases, the chance of a decision by a court of last resort awarding antitrust damages against MAN or Scania currently appears remote.
In July 2021, the European Commission assessed a fine totaling roughly €502 million against Volkswagen AG, AUDI AG, and Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG pursuant to a settlement decision. Volkswagen declined to file an appeal, hence the decision became final in 2021. The subject matter scope of the decision is limited to the cooperation of German automobile manufacturers on individual technical questions in connection with the development and introduction of SCR (selective catalytic reduction) systems for passenger cars that were sold in the European Economic Area. The manufacturers are not charged with any other misconduct such as price fixing or allocating markets and customers.
The Korean competition authority KFTC is analyzing potential violations based on the facts of the EU case. The final report of the appointed KFTC case handler was issued in November 2021. Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche have replied to this report. In February 2023, the KFTC published a press release stating that an administrative fine decision would be issued against four automobile manufacturers in the SCR context. According to the press release, no fine is to be imposed on Volkswagen AG and the decision would not affect Porsche AG. However, an administrative fine decision would be issued against AUDI AG in the SCR matter. The competition authority’s final decision and the grounds thereof have not yet been served; service is currently expected in the first half of 2023. The Turkish competition authorities, who investigated similar matters, issued a final decision in January 2022 in which they determined anticompetitive behavior to allegedly exist, but found that it had no effect on Türkiye, for which reason they refrained from imposing fines on the German automakers. Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche are currently considering whether to file an appeal. Based on comparable matters, the Chinese competition authority has instituted proceedings against Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche, among others, and issued requests for information.
In connection with the amended antitrust class action, which was initially dismissed with prejudice by the Northern District of California and which alleged that several automobile manufacturers, including Volkswagen AG and other Group companies, had conspired to unlawfully increase vehicle prices in violation of US antitrust and consumer protection law, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in January 2022 denied plaintiffs’ motion (filed at the end of 2021) for rehearing on the decision in which the court had affirmed the judgment of the US District Court. In February 2022, the District Court also denied plaintiffs’ motion to set aside its judgment and to be allowed to file a new complaint. In June 2022, the US Supreme Court denied the petition filed by the plaintiffs seeking review of this decision.
Plaintiffs in Canada filed claims with similar allegations on behalf of putative classes of purchasers against several automobile manufacturers, including Volkswagen Group Canada Inc., Audi Canada Inc., and other Volkswagen Group companies. Neither provisions nor contingent liabilities are stated because the early stage of the proceedings makes an assessment of the realistic risk exposure currently impossible.
In March 2022, the European Commission and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the English antitrust authorities, searched the premises of various automotive manufacturers and automotive industry organizations and/or served them with formal requests for information. In the Volkswagen Group, the investigation affects Volkswagen Group UK, which was searched by the
CMA, and Volkswagen AG, which has received a Group-wide information request from the European Commission. The investigation relates to European, Japanese, and Korean manufacturers as well as national organizations operating in such countries and the European organization European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), which are suspected of having agreed from 2001/2002 to the initiation of the proceedings to avoid paying for the services of recycling companies that dispose of end-of-life vehicles (ELV) (specifically passenger cars and vans up to 3.75 tons). Also alleged is an agreement to refrain from competitive use of ELV issues, that is, not to publicize relevant recycling data (recyclates, recyclability, recovery) for competitive purposes. The violation under investigation is alleged to have taken place in particular in the “ACEA” Working Group Recycling and related sub-groups thereof. Volkswagen AG is responding to the European Commission’s information requests. Volkswagen Group UK is cooperating with the CMA. In this matter, CMA has furthermore issued requests for information to Volkswagen AG. In July 2022, Volkswagen AG filed an action for judicial review challenging the CMA’s requests for information in particular because Volkswagen AG believes that they exceed the CMA’s jurisdiction. In February 2023, the court granted the claim. The court’s decision may still be appealed by the CMA. Concurrent therewith, Volkswagen AG continues to examine the possibilities for reasonable cooperation.
In addition, a few national and international authorities have initiated antitrust investigations. Volkswagen is cooperating closely with the responsible authorities in these investigations. An assessment of the underlying situation is not possible at this early stage.
Porsche AG has discovered potential regulatory issues relating to vehicles for various markets worldwide. There are questions as to the permissibility of specific hardware and software components used in type approval measurements. Differences compared with production versions may also have occurred in certain cases. Based on the information presently available, current production is not affected, however. The issues are unrelated to the defeat devices that were at the root of the diesel issue. Porsche AG is cooperating with the relevant authorities including the Stuttgart Office of the Public Prosecutor, which is investigating the matter in Germany. Based on the available information, no formal criminal investigation has been opened against the company, however. Porsche’s own internal investigations are still in progress. In November 2022, the US District Court for the Northern District of California granted final approval of a USD80 million class action settlement resolving claims brought against Volkswagen AG, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG, and Porsche Cars North America, Inc. that certain Porsche gasoline vehicles allegedly used software and/or hardware that resulted in increased emissions and/or overstated fuel economy estimates as compared to the results of certification testing.
The final Profit Sharing Settlement Agreement entered into by Navistar in December 2021 to resolve disputes concerning the calculation of profit sharing amounts for purposes of Navistar’s corporate retiree healthcare commitments received final approval from the relevant court in June 2022. In the reporting period, Navistar paid the entire amount of all remaining sums required to fulfill the agreement of about €0.4 billion.
In November 2021, three claimants accompanied by Greenpeace filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen AG before the Braunschweig Regional Court. The action seeks to compel Volkswagen to initially reduce in stages and by 2029 completely cease its production and placement into the stream of commerce of vehicles with internal combustion engines as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from development, production, and marketing (including third party vehicle use). The lawsuit further seeks to compel Volkswagen to exercise influence over Group companies, subsidiaries, and joint ventures so as to cause them to fulfill these demands as well. In February 2023, the Braunschweig Regional Court dismissed the action as unfounded. In addition, another action with similar requests for relief and by and large the same rationale has been filed against Volkswagen AG by an organic farmer with the support of Greenpeace before the Detmold Regional Court. This action was dismissed by the Detmold Regional Court also as unfounded in February 2023.
Provisions were recognized by Volkswagen Bank GmbH and Volkswagen Leasing GmbH for possible claims in connection with financial services provided to consumers. These relate to actions involving certain features of customer loan and leasing agreements that may toll the running of the statutory cancellation time periods.
In September 2022, GT Gettaxi Ltd. discontinued the lawsuit it had filed against Volkswagen AG and another defendant, alleging in particular large damage claims. In August 2021, the lawsuit had been dismissed at the trial level on the grounds that the Cypriot courts lacked jurisdiction, but GT Gettaxi Ltd. appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, the court of final appeal in Cyprus.
In line with IAS 37.92, no further statements have been made concerning estimates of financial impact or regarding uncertainty as to the amount or maturity of provisions and contingent liabilities in relation to additional important legal cases. This is so as to not compromise the results of the proceedings or the interests of the Company.