VW has been engulfed in scandal since it admitted in September
Beijing - AFP
A Chinese court has agreed to hear a case brought by a local environmental organisation against Volkswagen over its emissions-cheating scandal, the campaign group said Tuesday.
The German car giant -- the world's number two automaker -- has been engulfed in scandal since it admitted in September that it had installed software in 11 million diesel engine vehicles worldwide to cheat pollution tests.
The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation will take VW to court over 1,950 vehicles it imported to China equipped with the software, saying the company broke Chinese laws and worsened air pollution.
"This is the first case of public-interest litigation against vehicle pollution, and for us it is only the beginning," said Ma Yong, deputy secretary general of the Beijing-based group.
"We feel this lawsuit is bound to have a definite impact on other car companies guilty of environmental violations."
The No. 2 Intermediate People's Court of Tianjin formally accepted the case last week, according to official documents posted to the NGO's social media account.
China is the world's biggest auto market but the vast majority of cars in the country are petrol-driven, hence the small number of vehicles implicated in the scandal.
The action is being brought under a revision to China's environmental protection law that came into force this year, granting certain NGOs the right to sue polluters.
"Before this law came into force, we could only participate in environmental protection through supervision and by giving recommendations -- we couldn't take legal action," Ma explained.
His NGO will accuse Volkswagen of violating Chinese laws on product quality, environmental protection and tort liability, its lawyer told the China Daily newspaper.
Volkswagen China did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The firm has admitted using so-called "defeat devices" to activate emissions controls during vehicle testing, then turn them off under normal operation -- allowing illegal amounts of nitrogen oxide to spew into the air.
In recent years Beijing has carried out a series of anti-monopoly probes which appeared to target overseas firms, including in the auto industry. VW unit Audi was one of those affected.