Mercedes Escapes Emissions Cheating Case with a Slap on the Wrist

Daimler AG will pay a fraction of what the Volkswagen Group paid for “Dieselgate.”

Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG has been embroiled in litigation with the United States Department of Justice over allegations that the carmaker violated environmental laws with software designed to trick emissions testing technology.

This is the same issue that earned Volkswagen billions of dollars in sanctions. The problem again concerns diesel passenger cars in particular, which have proven to not be nearly as “clean” as VW’s marketing campaign once suggested.

Officials announced that a settlement had been reached in the litigation, with Daimler AG ponying up a publicly available sum to resolve the matter.

The settlement in this case, for $1.5 billion with federal and state agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, and another $700 million for a consumer class-action suit, is a paltry sum compared to the many-billion-dollar hammer that the government dropped on VW.

I’m still a bit sour about how the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal played out. There’s no question that VW deserved the sanctions it received. Nonetheless, the fallout of the scandal resulted in the disappearance of diesel cars from the United States. Meanwhile, there are still plenty of pickup trucks belching out black smoke and rolling coal across the country.

According to Jalopnik, the reason why Daimler AG was able to escape with a settlement many times smaller than VW’s punishment is because Mercedes was far more cooperative in the investigation. This makes sense – having seen what happened to its fellow German auto manufacturer, Daimler certainly had reason to seek a less-costly settlement.

It still smells to me a bit like VW was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Volkswagen’s diesel cars were more prevalent than those made by Mercedes-Benz, and the two companies made up the bulk of diesel passenger vehicles on the road in America. But certainly the emissions testing trickery was occurring simultaneously for both companies. It’s just that VW got caught first and took the worst of the fall for it.

Plus, it’s a shame that small diesel engines apparently are incapable of complying with emissions regulations without cheating, because the fuel economy in Volkswagen’s TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) cars was superb.

Nonetheless, it seems as though Volkswagen has successfully bounced back from the egg it had on its face after Dieselgate. $2 billion is probably a drop in the bucket for the behemoth that is Daimler AG. The biggest loser here, unfortunately, is that rare American who wishes he or she could be driving a diesel compact sedan.