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VW says off the hook on CO² emissions in Europe

Volkswagen has said that 36,000 diesel cars in Europe, not 800,000, emit more carbon dioxide than officially stated. However, this does not affect the separate accusations, mainly in the US, pertaining to another gas.

Volkswagen said on Wednesday the number of cars impacted by falsified carbon dioxide emissions reports is significantly lower than what had originally been reported.

Last month, the German automaker said an internal investigation had found inconsistencies in the fuel usage and carbon dioxide emissions from 800,000 diesel and petrol-powered cars in Europe. As a consequence, the company was expecting at least 2 billion euros ($2.19 billion) in costs.

Now, VW is saying it overstated the number, and that only around 36,000 cars were affected. As a result, the negative impact on the company's earnings will not be as large as once feared.

Wednesday's news is as a small ray of light amid a particularly bleak period in Volkswagen's 78-year history. In September, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based carmaker was exposed for having rigged as many as 11 million of its purported "clean diesel" engines so they would pass pollution tests, drawing the wrath of millions of disillusioned customers around the globe, who accuse the company of fraud and breach of contract.

Lawsuit avalanche

While VW appears to be off the hook on the lesser issue of lying about carbon emissions, the company is not nearly out of the woods. The fuel usage debacle is separate from the wider emissions cheating scandal, as are the accompanying investigations.

That fact was brought home on Tuesday, when the Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation, based in New Orleans, Louisiana, issued a decision to consolidate more than 500 individual and class-action consumer lawsuits over Volkswagen's emissions cheating.

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Volkswagen spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan pledged to "vigorously defend the company in these cases."

In a statement, the US court panel said the cases would be tried centrally in a San Francisco district court, noting that while the litigation is "international in scope," nearly a fifth of the cases filed so far were brought in California. The California Air Resources Board played a key role in uncovering fraudulent emissions test results that involved at least 482,000 Volkswagen vehicles nationwide.

Across-the-board cheating

While VW's namesake car brand makes up the lion's share of the tainted fleet, many of Volkswagen Group's other brands, such as Audi, Seat and Skoda, are also affected.

Volkswagen has already set aside more than 6.5 billion euros ($7.1 billion) to cover resultant recall costs. But the final bill could be more than triple that figure, as the US Environmental Protection Agency has warned that the automaker could be facing penalties of up to $18 billion in the US alone.

Worse still, the scandal threatens to do irreparable damage to the iconic company's image around the globe. Domestic sale numbers showed that VW sales dropped last month, although the Wolfsburg-based giant retained the largest market share.

Suspended from sustainable index

In a further blow to VW's reputation - and possibly to its balance sheet - the company was suspended from the widely-followed FTSE4Good sustainable index series on Tuesday. The index lists companies that meet certain environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria. According to FTSE Russell, which launched the index in 2001, more than 100 of its clients worldwide use the list to make investment decisions.

"The company is deemed to have misled government agencies and consumers over vehicle emissions through the application of software designed to circumvent test requirements," FTSE Russell said in a statement.

"The suspension follows an assessment of Volkswagen through FTSE's Controversy Monitor, which considers the significance of crises or controversies; how the company has responded; and the extent to which it impacts wider industry," according to the statement.

The suspension means VW will be "benched" through December 2017, when it will be eligible to apply for reinclusion on the list.

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pad,blc/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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