(Reuters) — Germany’s top four carmaker and parts supplier Bosch knowingly broke rules when developing a type of emissions software, an environmental activist group said on Thursday, in a year-long legal battle that could open the door to a new wave of lawsuits.
Audi, Volkswagen, Daimler – now Mercedes-Benz – and BMW commissioned Bosch to develop technology that they knew from the outset violated regulatory compliance, Environmental Action Germany (DUH) said at a press conference, citing internal industry documents leaked to the company in summer between 2006 and 2015.
A Bosch spokesperson said the company was aware of the documents, which were not new, and had been working closely with investigators. A BMW spokesperson denied any allegations of wrongdoing, while Volkswagen and Mercedes were not immediately available for comment.
The software was declared banned by a top EU court last week because it limits the use of emissions-reducing technology outside a given temperature window.
The software may cause temporary reductions in the injection of urea, which is used to lower nitrogen oxide emissions. This can help improve engine performance and extend the interval between refueling vehicles with urea.
It differs from the software that triggered Volkswagen̵7;s dieselgate scandal in 2015, which throttled harmful emissions in cars only in test scenarios but not on the road.
Carmakers say temperature-based exhaust controls are covered by EU law because they can protect the engine from damage.
But DUH claimed its intentions went “beyond the reasons for component protection” and said the internal documents showed Bosch repeatedly highlighted legal risks in the development of the software.
“This opens up new opportunities for car owners to recover damages,” emissions expert Axel Friedrich told reporters, speaking alongside DUH.
The software, which is used by almost all diesel car manufacturers, is in over five million cars in Germany alone.
DUH said it planned to submit its findings to an administrative court in Schleswig, northern Germany, which in February 2023 will hear a DUH lawsuit involving 119 diesel car models to determine whether temperature-based software is legal.
“The EU court confirmed with gratifying clarity: it is not,” said DUH head Juergen Resch, adding that he expected the German court to follow this ruling.