Shattering Consumer Trust — What “Clean Diesel,” Faulty Airbags and Bad Ignition Switches Have in Common

As 2015 comes to a close and we reflect on the year, the really big stories impacting consumers are tough to miss. Volkswagen’s scandal involving “clean diesel” that wasn’t clean at all; Takata’s scandal involving faulty airbags that can cause serious injury and death when they are meant to protect; and, General Motors’ defective ignition switches that have led to catastrophe for drivers are the triumvirate of auto industry scandals. It is tough to imagine a year in which auto consumer trust has been so shaken or in which so many millions of us have been affected by the actions of companies we rely on for safety.

Volkswagen has admitted to committing a major fraud on consumers looking for an environmentally friendly vehicle. A company with such highly-respected brands such as Audi and VW has taken itself through the reputation ringer. The smart VW tech car engineers thought they would outsmart emissions regulations and created a software program for their “clean diesel” cars that fools emissions tests. It allows vehicles that are actually spewing 40 percent higher emissions than are permitted under law, to fake results when tested only to return back to the excessive emissions when the car is driven again. After an avalanche of news and litigation concerning Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” fraud woes, the class actions filed against the car manufacturer have now ended up in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. “Clean diesel” car owners have sued because they have a big problem. Their cars cannot meet emissions standards and dealers won’t take them back. Unless VW comes up with a fix, the cars aren’t worth much. The Multidistrict litigation (MDL) will likely result in a settlement with the car giant since they have admitted to having defrauded consumers. The question is, how much will VW pay for its big “mistake.”

The Takata defective airbag recall is also affecting millions of car owners. These airbags which were installed into vehicles made by at least 10 car manufacturers, have airbags that can suddenly deploy and can cause serious injury and death. The airbags spew shrapnel that has caused catastrophic harm to vehicle occupants. The majority of the vehicles are from model years 2002 through 2008, but has now expanded to 2104 for some vehicles. The problem with these airbags is the inflator, which has a metal cartridge that holds propellant wafers. The defective airbags can spray metal shrapnel inside the vehicle, harming drivers and passengers. Consumers can find out whether their vehicle is part of the recall by visiting the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration’s website that includes the VIN numbers for all recalled vehicles that could have the dangerous airbags.

And last but not least, the trust-shattering scandal involving General Motors’ faulty ignition switches has been in the news for several years now. These switches can cause the vehicle to turn off unexpectedly and have caused about 170 deaths. The company is in the process of settling litigation from a fund established for the benefit of crash victims and their loved ones. For over a decade, GM engineers knew the ignition switches were defective and still allowed them to be installed into their vehicles. GM has admitted to this and has promised to alter the culture that allowed this to happen. The callous and cynical attitude towards their customers is difficult to imagine. Families that have lost loved ones due to these ignition switches are most affected by the utter lack of care or concern for their safety by the iconic American car-maker. But in reality, we are all affected by each of these scandals and frauds, because we should be able to trust the companies that create motor vehicles. Probably the worst damage that has been done to consumers as a whole is the trust that has now been forever shaken in these brands. They will have to work very hard indeed to regain that trust.

Hersh & Hersh is dedicated to helping injured and harmed consumers and their families. For over four decades, we have represented clients harmed by defective products and have been involved in some of the largest recalls in the United States. We have earned a reputation from our clients and our peers for excellence in law practice and compassionate representation. If you have a question about an injury or harm, contact us for a free consultation.