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VW names attorney for diesel claims program

Volkswagen has retained attorney Kenneth R. Feinberg to administer a claims program for owners of diesel cars affected by the ongoing emissions-cheating scandal. The announcement comes without any sign of plans to begin a U.S. recall of the cars.

Feinberg will “design and administer an independent claims resolution program,” a Volkswagen statement said. The program will encompass both the 2.0-liter four-cylinder powertrain that was first revealed to have “defeat device” software by independent investigators, and the 3.0-liter V6 powertrain that was implicated after subsequent investigations.

Volkswagen currently faces hundreds of separate civil suits from disgruntled owners. Over 350 lawsuits in 40 states were recently combined and given class-action status (something Volkswagen supported), and will be heard in a court in California. Many owners purchased their cars because of their supposed low environmental impact, and some fear that any fix that lowers their emissions to legal levels will compromise performance or fuel economy.

The “defeat device” software allowed cars to detect the conditions of a laboratory emissions test, and temporarily lower emissions to legal levels. They were programmed to ignore those limits in real-world driving. In the U.S., an estimated 482,000 VW and Audi vehicles with the 2.0-liter powertrain, and 85,000 VW, Audi, and Porsche vehicles with the 3.0-liter powertrain, have the software.

While Volkswagen is now taking steps to resolve owner claims, it still hasn’t set a timeline for recalling the affected cars. It submitted a proposed fix for the 2.0-liter powertrain to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board last month, but no details were made public. Both agencies will have to approve the fix before VW can proceed with a recall.

Audi CEO Rupert Stadler recently told Reuters that the 3.0-liter vehicles may only require a simple software fix, but the 2.0-liter cars may require more extensive modifications. In Europe, where emissions standards are less strict, Volkswagen plans to begin a recall of the 2.0-liter cars next month.