Chinese environmental group sues Volkswagen over emissions scandal

A man walks past a Volkswagen Touran along a busy street in downtown Shanghai in this March 20, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese environmental group said it has sued Volkswagen AG VOWG_p.DE over its use of software to rig emissions tests, in what state-owned media calls the first public interest lawsuit over the scandal in the German company's biggest global market.

The Volkswagen emission cheating scandal that affects up to 11 million diesel cars globally has spurred investigations, lawsuits and a major leadership shake-up at the company since it was first discovered in September.

The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation said in a three-sentence statement on its website that it has filed a public interest suit in a court in the eastern port city of Tianjin.

State-owned China Daily reported the lawsuit on Tuesday, quoting the group as saying it filed the case because Volkswagen “produced the problematic vehicles for the pursuit of higher profits and circumvented Chinese laws, which has worsened the air pollution and affected public health and rights”.

Volkswagen has said it made 3.2 million vehicle deliveries in China in the first 11 months of 2015. While the rigged testing software affects only 1,950 vehicles in the country, China’s quality watchdog said in October it was “highly concerned” about the misleading software and would take appropriate follow-up measures.

The German car maker’s subsidiary responsible for importing the 1,950 affected vehicles has “learned and paid utmost attention to the legal action”, although it has yet to receive the indictment from the court, a Volkswagen spokeswoman said in a written statement.

Volkswagen plans to update the engine software on the affected vehicles and present a technical solution to authorities when it becomes available, the statement said.

Executives at the German automaker apologized to Chinese consumers about the scandal at events connected to last month’s Guangzhou auto show.

Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman