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Opinion

Opinion: No milestone yet for VW in the US

VW and US officials have struck a first deal and there's no court trial yet. After months of insecurity, VW has won some breathing space. But that's not a breakthrough for the company, says DW's Henrik Böhme.

Compensation for owners of manipulated VW vehicles in the US, a buyback option, damage payments and money to help fight air pollution – that's doesn't sound like a big deal yet, and it isn't.

But knowing that it can cost you a fortune in the US to cheat customers, Thursday's agreement is nevertheless quite a success for the German carmaker. US judge Charles Breyer has been appeased, at least for the time being, and US environmental authorities may also have been mollified for a while.

Playing for time at the cost of customers

What has been tabled now is still no detailed plan. Many open questions remain. Which cars will be refitted, and when? Just take Germany where similar recalls have got off to a slow start. An SUV model with modified software made the headlines recently, but there are only a couple of them on the road in Germany. Technical refitting solutions are still not around when it comes to mass-market cars such as the Passat. And a solution for the Golf is being worked on feverishly, but things are taking a lot of time.

Obviously, the cheating engineers at the company did a proper job. Rectifying the damage done does not work by replacing a few cheap components. Each model seems to require a different approach. VW commissioned US lawyer firm Jones Day to process the huge amount of data it had secured, but we have yet to hear much from it either.

On Friday, VW's supervisory council will look into an interim report. Whether the general public will learn what's in it remains to be seen.

So far, VW officials stick to the theory that only a small group of people is responsible for conceiving and implementing the emissions-cheating software. They say the big shots didn't know about it.

But people just don't understand how former CEO Martin Winterkorn, who knew the company inside out, could not have known about it. Did no one ever ask why emissions limits could suddenly be adhered to after not being able to do just that for so many years?

Enormous costs

We're getting a vague idea now of what Dieselgate will cost VW. In the US, the carmaker will pay $5,000 (4.430 euro) to each car owner who's been cheated. And we're talking about fewer than 600,000 vehicles there. Worldwide though, 11 million cars are affected by the cheating software, including more than 2 million in Germany. Why should Germans for instance get a worse deal?

No matter where people bought manipulated cars, they should have the same rights as customers in the US. Lawyers are raring to go, should VW turn out to be of a different opinion. The German carmaker should finally announce that it's not.

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