WASHINGTON -- A U.S. judge approved Volkswagen Group's record-setting $14.7 billion settlement with regulators and owners of 475,000 polluting diesel vehicles. VW said it would begin buying back the vehicles in mid-November.
The action by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco marked the latest development in a scandal that has rocked VW since it admitted in September 2015 using secret software in its diesel cars to cheat exhaust emissions tests and make them appear cleaner than they really were.
Under the settlement, Volkswagen agreed to spend up to $10.03 billion on the buybacks and owner compensation and $4.7 billion on programs to offset excess emissions and boost zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and other clean vehicle projects.
“Final approval of the 2.0-liter TDI settlement is an important milestone in our journey to making things right in the United States, and we appreciate the efforts of all parties involved in this process," Hinrich Woebcken, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Volkswagen is committed to ensuring that the program is now carried out as seamlessly as possible for our affected customers and has devoted significant resources and personnel to making their experience a positive one,” he said.
The affected vehicles emit up to 40 times legally allowable pollution levels. Volkswagen may also be allowed to repair vehicles if regulators approve fixes.
In total, Volkswagen has agreed to date to spend up to $16.5 billion in connection with the diesel-emissions scandal, including payments to dealers, states and attorneys for owners. The scandal rattled VW's global business, harmed its reputation and prompted the ouster of CEO Martin Winterkorn a year ago.
The automaker still faces billions more in costs to address 85,000 polluting 3.0-liter vehicles and U.S. Justice Department fines for violating clean air laws. It also faces lawsuits from at least 16 U.S. states for additional claims that could hike the company's overall costs.
Breyer turned away objections from owners who thought the settlement did not provide enough money, saying the agreement "adequately and fairly compensates" owners. In addition to the pre-scandal "trade in" value of the vehicle, owners will also receive $5,100 to $10,000 in additional compensation.
"Given the risks of prolonged litigation, the immediate settlement of this matter is far preferable," Breyer wrote.
Volkswagen agreed to make up to $1.21 billion in payments to 652 U.S. VW brand dealers and $600 million to 44 U.S. states to address some state claims.
To date, nearly 340,000 owners have registered to take part in the settlement, and only about 3,500 owners have opted out. Volkswagen must fix or buy back 85 percent of the 475,000 vehicles under the agreement within two years or face additional costs.
Under the Justice Department agreement, VW will provide $2 billion over 10 years to fund programs to promote construction of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, development of zero-emission ride-sharing fleets and other efforts to boost sales of cars that do not burn petroleum.
VW also agreed to put up $2.7 billion over three years to enable government agencies and agencies on Native American tribal lands to replace old buses or to fund infrastructure to reduce diesel emissions and award states about $600 million.
Volkswagen spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said the automaker expects to begin buying back vehicles in mid-November. The automaker has hired 900 people, including one to be stationed at each dealership, to handle buybacks.