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Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Volkswagen Over Emissions Software


Volkswagen would probably like to start the new year with a clean slate, but that is not going to happen. Today, the Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against VW for allegedly violating the U.S. Clean Air Act. The company faces billions in penalties. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: The Volkswagen scandal where the company admitted to installing software that cheated during emissions tests? That part of the story may be unprecedented, but it's a part of a larger industry narrative. General Motors had its ignition scandal, Toyota, unintended acceleration and Takatas, faulty airbags. Carl Tobias with the University of Richmond School of Law says the Justice Department has become expert at dealing with car company misdeeds.

CARL TOBIAS: This is meant to send a message to the company and other companies that the U.S. government takes very seriously these defeat devices, and I think is meant to move VW to some resolution.

GLINTON: Volkswagen says it will continue to cooperate with the various criminal and civil investigations. Tobias says speed is of essence for VW.

TOBIAS: The longer it lingers, the worse it is because it drags the reputation of the company down.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, Steve Byars teaches ethics and corporate communications at the USC Marshall School of Business.

STEVE BYARS: The ethical hit to the company's reputation will outstrip even billions of dollars in fines or liabilities that might be assessed against the company over the years to come.

GLINTON: And if recent past is prologue, the monetary hit will likely be in the billions. Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.