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Dieselgate Negotiators Spend Tense Weekend At Table; Hearing Set Monday

Playing a game of speed-up, negotiators burned the midnight oil much of this weekend as they sought to find a way to conclude this section of Volkswagen's self-inflicted diesel-rigging scandal. They have move into the 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel area.
Posted: December 17, 2016 - 10:27PM
Author: Marc Stern

Having come a long way, Volkswagen and negotiators have a bit more distance to travel before they can put a check in the box that says the 3.0-liter V-6 Dieselgate settlement is finished. At a hearing Friday in the San Francisco courtroom of U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer attorneys for the automaker, consumers and the Justice Department assured the court that negotiations are continuing.

Though the talks are continuing, Judge Breyer appeared to ratchet up the pressure a bit more when he asked attorneys for possible trial dates. The parties appeared before Judge Breyer as they continued to seek an agreement that would affect about 80,000 rigged 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesels that remain on the road. The turbodiesels are in Audi, Porsche and VW cars and SUVs.

Must Return To Court Monday

Negotiators, who were told to come back to court Monday to discuss the status of open issues on Monday, were set for another long weekend of talks as they tried to meet the judge’s directions.

Judge Breyer did acknowledge the “intense discussions” taking place and credited the negotiation teams with making “substantial progress” on open issues. But that did not keep the jurist from using his turning up the heat by discussing court dates.

The negotiations have been ongoing for more than a year. At that time Judge Breyer demanded swift progress to get all of the vehicles affected by Dieselgate – about 600,000 2.0- and 3.0-liter turbodiesels – off the roads. The court may not be the only place from where the negotiators are feeling pressure. In a Saturday report, Bloomberg speculated that with administrations to change mediators may be trying to push things ahead quickly “as President-elect Donald Trump is expected to move quickly after his Jan. 20 inauguration to deregulate the energy industry and scale back the EPA’s role.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one of the key players in the Dieselgate drama.

Interestingly, dealing with the 3.0-liter turbodiesels is one of the last matters for VW. If the automaker can find a solution it would mark a huge milestone as it tries to put its self-inflicted, diesel-rigging scandal in the rearview.

In an earlier phase of the negotiations, lawyers told the judge they would seek a non-jury trial where Breyer said he would consider a “bench trial” seriously if there were no concrete solution to the case. In August, in fact, Judge Breyer requested trial date proposals from plaintiffs.

Attorneys Have No Comment

Elizabeth Cabraser, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, declined comment on the status of the talks while Jeannine Ginivan, a VW spokeswoman said that the automaker is “working hard to make things right, and we thank our affected customers in the United States for their continued patience.”

Reaching out for some background, Bloomberg contacted Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

The legal expert told the news service that VW should move get things done now, rather than waiting for an unpredictable Trump administration to see if there were a better deal.

There are too many unknowns, Tobias hinted. “Trump could just say, ‘Stuff it,’ to VW,” since it is a foreign company. And, any remaining plaintiffs could still seek a trial – a risk for VW and a “reputational hit” as well.

Wrap It All Up Now

“They’d be wise to try to wrap up the civil given all the uncertainties of a new administration especially if they can get a figure they can live with,” Tobias advised strongly.