It’s hardly the first time that Bosch, the world’s largest car-parts supplier, has been pulled into the Dieselgate affair that has already cost German carmaker Volkswagen tens of billions in fines. This week, Bosch was accused of playing a pivotol role in handing emissions-cheating software to Ford, the second-largest automaker in the United States.
A class-action lawsuit from truck owners, filed on Wednesday in a US district court in Michigan, alleges that Ford knowingly installed cheat devices in two of its trucks, the F-250 and F-350 Super Duty, to evade emissions tests in the United States. Ford denied the charges as “baseless” and said it would fight them in court. So far, VW is the only global carmaker that has actually admitted to manipulating diesel engines.
But in addition to Ford, the lawsuit once again shines a spotlight on Bosch, which is listed as a co-defendant. The plaintiffs allege that Bosch played “a key role in implementing the Ford emission strategy.”
The key question at the heart of this lawsuit and others is this: Did Bosch merely supply the parts, or did its employees play an active role in manipulating those parts to cheat emissions tests in the US and elsewhere?
Bosch denied that it played a role in the manipulation itself.
The allegations are not new. The law firm representing the truckers, Hagens Berman, filed similar class-action suits against General Motors and Fiat Chrysler in the US. In each case, the charges are based partly on Bosch’s alleged role in providing the software that was designed to cheat the emissions tests. Some of Bosch’s US subsidiaries are also subject to class-action suits in relation to Mercedes-Benz cars.
At the very least, Bosch supplied the engine control devices that housed the software VW used to manipulate diesel emissions during testing by regulators – a role that last year prompted the supplier to pay $327.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by VW owners in the United States. But Bosch denied that it played a role in the manipulation itself, arguing that it made the components according to Volkswagen’s specifications and was not responsible for how they were used. That same argument extends to other carmakers using Bosch’s engine control devices, including Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz.
The law firm Hagens Berman insists that Bosch’s role went much further, alleging the supplier had “actual knowledge that its software could be operated as a defeat device” and played a role in “concealing the true functionality of the device from US regulators.” Unnamed employees of the car supplier “were knowing and active participants in the creation, development, marketing and sale of illegal defeat devices specifically designed to evade US emissions requirements in vehicles sold solely in the United States and Europe.”
In a statement on the Ford lawsuit issued on Wednesday, Bosch said it takes the latest allegations “very seriously” and noted that its actions “remain the subject of investigations and civil litigation.” The investigations referenced by Bosch, which is based in the town of Gerlingen near Stuttgart, are centered at home in Germany.
Prosecutors in Stuttgart now have three separate and ongoing investigations running into the actions of Bosch employees. The third investigation, launched toward the end of 2017, is examining possible manipulation of emissions in Audi's diesel cars, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office confirmed to WirtschaftsWoche, a sister publication of Handelsblatt, on Thursday. One of the other investigations is looking at whether Bosch played a similar role with Mercedes-Benz.
The Ford lawsuit could depend on what the German criminal investigations uncover – and whether Bosch was an accomplice or an innocent bystander.
Christopher Cermak is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author: [email protected]