Judge Extends Deadline for VW Diesel-Engine Fix Proposal

A federal judge gave Volkswagen AG another month to come up with a fix for its diesel-powered cars that violate U.S. emissions standards after the German auto maker failed to meet the judge’s initial deadline writes Sara Randazzo of The Wall Street Journal.

An attorney for Volkswagen said at a hearing Thursday in San Francisco that engineers are working “around the clock" on a fix for some 600,000 vehicles sold in the U.S. that Volkswagen has admitted it equipped with software that tricks emissions tests.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, who is overseeing consolidated civil litigation stemming from the scandal, said a “concrete proposal" needs to be made by April 21. That could include a regulator-approved technical fix that allows the cars to stay on the road, a buyback plan, or other remedies.

“Whatever the proposal, by April 21st it must be specific and detailed," said Judge Breyer, who had earlier set a March 24 deadline for the auto maker to propose a solution.

“Volkswagen is committed to resolving the U.S. regulatory investigation into the diesel emissions matter as quickly as possible and to implementing a solution for affected vehicles, as we work to earn back the trust of our customers and dealers and the public," a company spokeswoman said in a statement.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Elizabeth Cabraser didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

If no substantial progress has been made by then, Judge Breyer said he would seriously consider a request by plaintiffs’ lawyers to set a summer trial date, potentially allowing Judge Breyer to dictate how the company should deal with its cars. More than 500 civil lawsuits from around the country have been consolidated in the San Francisco court through a process called multidistrict litigation, which aims to streamline pretrial discovery.

Volkswagen said in a court filing this week that it is “premature" to set such a quick trial date, noting it needs enough time to gather documents, take depositions and develop a defense.

Former Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller is working as a court-appointed settlement master to help Volkswagen, plaintiffs’ lawyers and regulators come to an agreement. Judge Breyer said he will be looking to Mr. Mueller for weekly updates over the next month.

Judge Breyer noted that he was told “substantial progress" has been made since a status hearing last month, though engineering technicalities and other roadblocks still need to be resolved.

“My eight-year-old doesn’t like the case much," Volkswagen lawyer Robert Giuffra said, after noting the past month was one of the busiest in his career. “He says daddy’s never home."

Volkswagen-brand car sales have plummeted in the U.S. since the Environmental Protection Agency said in September that Volkswagen for years cheated on diesel-emissions tests, undermining claims by the company that its diesel vehicles were “green." Last fall, the auto maker halted sales of affected diesel vehicles in the U.S. and in the ensuing months has come under scrutiny from lawmakers and government officials who say Volkswagen isn’t moving fast enough to fix vehicles already on the road.

The auto maker faces criminal investigations in the U.S. and Germany and the U.S. Justice Department is seeking billions of dollars in damages in a civil lawsuit. As its reputation has suffered, the company’s chief executive and top U.S. manager have left the company. Sara Randazzo, The Wall Street Journal

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