[BRUSSELS] Volkswagen AG agreed to repair cars affected by the diesel-emissions scandal as EU regulators at least temporarily backed down from demands the company offer compensation to consumers on the continent.
VW will carry out an "EU-wide action plan" to inform customers and repair the vehicles, EU Justice and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Vera Jourova said after meeting with Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz, VW's top negotiator for diesel issues, in Brussels Wednesday.
There has been anger among consumer groups about the wide disparity between the packages offered to American car owners compared to their European counterparts. While Americans are getting packages worth thousands of US dollars, those in the EU were simply offered repairs.
While Ms Jourova called the agreement an "important step," she had previously said she was working with consumer groups to ensure that the 8.5 million European owners are treated fairly. Volkswagen has consistently said that it wouldn't offer anything beyond repairs in the region.
Following the meeting with Garcia Sanz, an EU official said it wasn't the commission's role to impose fines or order compensation. The official said that was ultimately a matter for national courts and enforcement authorities to decide on a case- by-case basis.
Ms Jourova said in a statement that she "will closely monitor this commitment and continue to work with consumer organisations, authorities and Volkswagen." Volkswagen declined to immediately comment on the talks with the EU.
It's just more than a year since the Wolfsburg, Germany-based company admitted installing software that allowed diesel cars to cheat emissions tests.
VW is already facing the wrath of investors, with shareholders demanding more than 8.2 billion euros (S$12.5 billion) in German courts alone.
For EU consumers, VW "agreed that all the vehicles affected by the diesel emissions issue have to be brought in full conformity with the applicable (NOx) emissions regulations," European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said in a statement.
VW "agreed to offer a comprehensive and transparent action plan for all affected consumers in the EU, including proof of conformity." He said the plan "will be carried out within a defined time-frame and include explanation on the process for affected consumers in each country" and that "Volkswagen commits to inform the customers by end 2016 and to have all cars repaired by autumn 2017."
Volkswagen officials, including chief financial officer Frank Witter, justified better terms in the US$15 billion settlement with the US government, saying the technology fix in Europe is easier, and that customers in its home market don't face the same drop in their cars' value.
Volkswagen's cheating on tests of smog-causing emissions has reverberated across the globe in the last 12 months. Investors have lined up to sue in Germany, where VW shares plunged in the first two trading days after the mid-September 2015 disclosure of the emissions scandal by US regulators.
Some 1,400 lawsuits are currently pending at a court about 20 miles from Volkswagen's headquarters, a judicial spokeswoman said Wednesday.