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Mercedes threatened with UK recalls, legal action, over diesel emissions

By Graeme Roberts | 17 June 2020

An automaker allegedly installing software to 'cheat' diesel engine emissions testing - by detecting when a vehicle is being driven on a test cycle and altering engine control settings to achieve a pass - is in the news again here in the UK this week. This time it's Daimler's Mercedes-Benz in media and lawyers' cross-hairs.

Reports said Mercedes could be forced to recall up to 500,000 vehicles in the UK over claims of a new 'dieselgate' emissions scandal. Meanwhile, over 10,000 British owners have signed up to join a possible legal case against the automaker amid fears that they were misled into buying polluting cars, the Daily Mail and other media outlets reported.

A Google search for 'Mercedes diesel emissions' returns multiple results including from solicitors such as this, inviting affected vehicle owners to join a UK "group action" (equivalent of a US class action lawsuit).

Slater and Gordon tells would-be litigants "the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) found that Mercedes installed a cheating software in their diesel engines that limited emissions readings during vehicle emissions testing and therefore misrepresenting the actual emissions during real-world driving. The nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions of the engines as a result didn't comply with EU regulatory requirements". Daimler had been fined the equivalent of GBP776m by German prosecutors and the KBA had ordered Mercedes to recall around 90,000 vehicles in England and Wales.

The Daily Mail reported this week Slater and Gordon had estimated 160,000 vehicles had been affected by recall notices in the UK so far but predicted the number could reach half a million based on historic sales figures of cars with the affected engine types.

In all, around one million British Mercedes drivers, including previous owners, could be eligible for compensation payouts worth up to GBP20,000 each, the report added.

The recalls affect a range of Mercedes models fitted with five engine types and include GLC, E, SLK, G and M class as well as Sprinter (van) and GLE 166 series.

The Mail noted many of the recalled models us AdBlue [SCR or select catalyst reduction with urea injection] technology which Mercedes had claimed would reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions to create "our cleanest cars ever". They also include models made as recently as 2018, three years after the Volkswagen scandal, which broke initially in the US in 2015, sparked global outrage.

Gareth Pope, of Slater and Gordon, which is representing 7,500 Mercedes customers in England and Wales, told the Mail: "The dieselgate scandal is now rapidly engulfing Mercedes-Benz. Tens of thousands of cars have been earmarked for recall over concerns they produce dangerous levels of pollution in real world conditions, but that's looking like just the tip of the iceberg.

"There was global outrage at VW's attempts to dupe consumers and regulators. If it is proven that other manufacturers continued to produce vehicles with unlawful cheat software, then it seems even more cynical."

Mercedes-Benz Cars UK PR manager corporate communications & events, Andrew Dean said in an emailed statement: "We believe these claims are without merit, and will vigorously defend against any group action."

UK law firms have a precedent as some are already involved in a similar action against Volkswagen.

Slater and Gordon says on its website it's joint lead lawyers in the Volkswagen Emissions Group litigation and acting for around 70,000 people. It adds that claim is thought to be the largest group action in British legal history in terms of numbers of claimants and is "worth hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation".

"We've recently achieved a major victory for the claimants by proving that VW fitted 1.2m vehicles with 'defeat devices'," the firm claims, citing a favourable High Court ruling handed down in the UK last April. According to a Guardian report at the time, a judge found VW subverted key air pollution tests by using special software to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides under test conditions.

See also: EU accuses BMW, Daimler and VW over emissions technology