Volkswagen has one month left to come up with a way to fix 600,000 diesel vehicles still on the road after it admitted in September to rigging its emissions testing software in violation of U.S. environmental standards.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ordered the company to produce a solution before its next court date on March 24, according to a transcript of Thursday’s hearing in San Francisco.
“Certain decisions may have to be made by the company that will not be the most advantageous economically,” Breyer said while setting the deadline. “But it’s a decision that they must make in what I will call the very near future.”
Volkswagen admitted last year that it had rigged diesel engines on about 11 million cars worldwide so that emissions controls came on only during testing. Those controls shut off while the car was on the road, producing nitrogen oxide emissions well in excess of the U.S. legal standard.
The automaker is facing lawsuits by the Department of Justice and state attorneys general, and fines of as much as $46 billion, as well as hundreds of private suits, for using deceptive software to subvert emissions standards.
Lawyers for the carmaker told Breyer on Thursday that it has made head way in settlement talks over the Justice Department suit after multiple meetings in the last week, including one Wednesday in Washington.
“We’re making a lot of progress," attorney Robert Giuffra said in court. “My belief is that within a month or so, I think we’ll have something more definitive to say to the court."
The court isn’t waiting for Volkswagen’s own settlement program overseen by attorney Kenneth Steinberg, said Elizabeth Cabraser, lead attorney for consumers suing the company.
Breyer ordered Volkswagen “to come to court with an answer on which cars can be fixed and details on how soon that can happen,’’ Cabraser said Thursday. “Those that can’t be fixed will have to be taken off the road,’’ with consumers getting buybacks, she said.
The case is In Re: Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2672, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco)
By Kartikay Mehrotra and Margaret Cronin Fisk