SAN DIEGO -- Volkswagen AG and its American division was sued Thursday on behalf of San Diego-area consumers who allege the automaker misled buyers by cheating on air pollution tests for its "clean diesel" line of vehicles.
According to the proposed class-action complaint -- filed in San Diego federal court -- the German automaker sold 2009-15 diesel Volkswagen and Audi cars rigged with software that turns on full pollution controls only when the vehicle is undergoing official emissions testing.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a San Diego-based Audi owner, alleges that VW falsely marketed the cars as "eco-friendly," leading consumers to pay a premium.
The Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board last week issued notices of violation to Volkswagen Group of America, citing it for equipping almost 500,000 cars with a "defeat device" -- software that would recognize when the vehicle was being tested, and implement the full pollution control systems only under those circumstances.
On the open road, the vehicles were spewing up to 40 times the permitted amount of nitrogen oxide, according to the EPA.
Plaintiffs allege that the device has caused the vehicles to lose value.
A VW spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
But in a statement dated Sept. 20, ex-Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn -- who resigned over the scandal on Wednesday -- said he was "deeply sorry' for violating U.S. emissions standards and ordered an external investigation.
"The Board of Management at Volkswagen AG takes these findings very seriously," he said. "I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public. We will cooperate fully with the responsible agencies, with transparency and urgency, to clearly, openly and completely establish all of the facts of this case. Volkswagen has ordered an external investigation of this matter."
A similar lawsuit was filed on behalf of Los Angeles-area consumers earlier this week in Los Angeles federal court.
California has joined 26 other states in launching a multi-state investigation into the matter.
The Associated Press reported that dozens of 2016 Volkswagen models are stranded at the Port of San Diego because they are unable to pass emission standards.
"There's no question they've misled the customer," said Waleed Najm, who owns a 2013 Volkswagen Golf. "My fear is the prognosis."
Najm worries about what Volkswagen's emissions fix will be.
"There's a definite concern the performance and fuel economy could worsen to the point that I wouldn't have purchased this car," said Najm.
He's also holding his breath when it comes to the impact on his Golf's value.
Najm is also trying to sell a Volkswagen SUV not affected by the recall, but is still worried its value will also be hammered by the negative publicity.