Volkswagen Set to Plead Guilty – Finally

In 2014, regulators began investigating Volkswagen after a study found that their diesel cars polluted far more than their official emissions tests indicated. For over a year, Volkswagen provided misleading or false information to the California Air and Resources Board and the Environmental Protection Agency. Despite this, company officials knew that the cars were programmed to know when they were being tested and to provide lower emission readings.

Now, Volkswagen is set to plead guilty to criminal charges and to pay a $4.3 Billion in fines. While many companies pay fines to resolve criminal investigations, it is uncommon for a company to plead guilty to charges. This means that the company may be required to cooperate with investigations into individual employees’ conduct or lessen Volkswagen’s ability to defend itself from other investigations by state attorney generals.

This resolution is important for a number of reasons. First, this settlement will bring the total costs of Volkswagen’s fraud to almost $20 billion. This can send a message to any other companies seeking to fraudulently bypass environmental regulations that the costs of such conduct is not worth the potential gains. Second, the settlement is important because Volkswagen has consistently lied to consumers who thought they were making a small, positive impact on the environment. For many, the most effective way to engage with environmental issues is through their spending power. Consumers purchased Volkswagen vehicles because they believed they were making a difference in the fight against climate change and carbon emissions. By fraudulently representing the emissions of their vehicles, Volkswagen’s conduct has the potential to limit the ways consumers use their spending power. If consumers cannot trust the representations of environmentally friendly products, then why should they use their spending power for the environment at all? This agreement is one step in restoring the faith consumers have in environmentally friendly products by ensuring any company fraudulently misrepresenting their product will face the consequences.