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FTC sues VW over 'Clean Diesel' ad claims

| Tuesday, March 29, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
This is a framegrab from a Volkswagen commercial for a vehicle with the TDI Clean Diesel engine. The Federal Trade Commission sued Volkswagen on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, charging the company made false claims in commercials promoting its 'Clean Diesel' vehicles as environmentally friendly. (Volkswagen/Youtube via AP)
This is a framegrab from a Volkswagen commercial for a vehicle with the TDI Clean Diesel engine. The Federal Trade Commission sued Volkswagen on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, charging the company made false claims in commercials promoting its 'Clean Diesel' vehicles as environmentally friendly. (Volkswagen/Youtube via AP)

WASHINGTON — A federal consumer watchdog sued Volkswagen on Tuesday, charging the company made false claims in commercials promoting its “Clean Diesel” vehicles as environmentally friendly.

The German automaker hastily pulled the ads following last year's admission it had installed illegal software on its diesel vehicles to cheat emissions tests. Federal regulators say Volkswagen's engines spewed up to 40 times the allowed levels of air pollutants in real-world driving conditions.

The Federal Trade Commission alleges that Volkswagen deceived customers during a seven-year period by selling its diesel cars based on fraudulent claims made through its marketing campaigns. That campaign included Super Bowl ads, online social media campaigns and print advertising targeted to “environmentally conscious” consumers.

“Hybrids? They're so last year,” Volkswagen proclaimed in a mailer to customers promoting its 2009 Jetta TDI. “Now, going green doesn't have to feel like you're going green.”

The FTC's action is the latest blow to VW, which faces more than $20 billion in potential fines for violating U.S. clean-air regulations.

“For years, Volkswagen's ads touted the company's ‘Clean Diesel' cars even though it now appears Volkswagen rigged the cars with devices designed to defeat emissions tests,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said. “Our lawsuit seeks compensation for the consumers who bought affected cars based on Volkswagen's deceptive and unfair practices.”

The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency are weighing potential criminal charges against the company and senior executives. The company also faces hundreds of class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of angry customers.

A federal judge in California overseeing the raft of civil litigation has given the company until April 21 to come up with a recall and compensation plan covering the nearly 600,000 diesel cars sold in the United States containing the so-called “defeat devices” designed to game government emissions tests.

Volkswagen Group of America spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said Tuesday the company is reviewing the latest lawsuit and “continues to cooperate with all relevant U.S. regulators.”

Legal and auto industry analysts predicted the company's woes will continue to deepen.

“Every government agency that is even remotely impacted by this situation will sue to recoup what they consider damages to the agency's constituents,” said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. There's really no end in sight to this situation and all VW can do is continue to cooperate and work on a fix.”

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