Japanese car giant Toyota has been hit with a new legal class action in Australia that alleges emissions cheating on almost half a million Toyota diesel models sold locally since 2016.

A new legal class action alleges Toyota Australia misled customers by selling an estimated half a million diesel vehicles with emissions cheating devices.

Lawyers representing a Toyota owner have filed proceedings against the local arm of the world’s biggest car maker in the Supreme Court of Victoria, alleging as many as half a million Toyota vehicles have been sold in Australia which do not comply with local emissions regulations.

The lawsuit includes diesel-powered Toyota models currently on sale, including LandCruiser Prado, LandCruiser 70 Series, LandCruiser 200 Series, LandCruiser 300 Series, HiAce, Granvia, Fortuner, and HiLux – Australia’s top-selling new vehicle for the past six years in a row.

Other models no longer on sale, such as the diesel RAV4, are also listed in the legal action.

Petrol-powered vehicles are not impacted by the claim, however the action does include all Toyota diesel vehicles sold since early 2016 – when the statute of limitations ends.

“​​Toyota Australia stands by its reporting, monitoring and evaluation standards in relation to the emissions for all its vehicles,” the company said in a written statement.

“We will defend the class action announced today rigorously.”

The latest allegations are entirely separate from a class action in which the Federal Court found more than 250,000 Toyota diesel vehicles were fitted with faulty diesel particulate filters (DPF) – a case which potentially exposes Toyota Australia to $2 billion of compensation.

Though only one owner is currently represented in this newest action at this stage, a spokesperson for Maddens Lawyers said this latest class action affects more than 500,000 Toyota models, and does not exclude those who participated in the DPF class action.

“This is a separate claim and does not extend to Toyota’s use of defeat devices,” Maddens Lawyers said in a statement.

“The allegations in the Maddens’ class action concerning the use of defeat devices are a much broader issue and impact a larger range of Toyota cars.”

While the DPF class action found Toyota vehicles were faulty, this latest action claims Toyota Australia misled its customers under Australian Consumer Law – knowingly under-reporting the level of harmful emissions its vehicles produced.

In 2015, Volkswagen Group was found to have maliciously engineered software into Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen cars in order to cheat emissions testing within a laboratory environment.

As a result of the damaged reputation of diesel-powered cars in Europe, Toyota announced in 2018 it would stop selling diesel vehicles on the continent.

“The number of impacted vehicles means that the potential ramifications for Toyota are enormous. This could completely overshadow Volkswagen’s dieselgate scandal,” the law firm said.

When asked by Drive about the perceived differences between Volkswagen’s actions and Toyota’s alleged defeat device, Brendan Pendergast, Special Counsel for Maddens Lawyers, explained the Volkswagen cheating software had a mode for laboratory testing and another for normal road driving, whereas he alleges the Toyota software gradually changed the engine setting until the vehicle produced more harmful emissions than were allowed by law.

“So [Volkswagen cars] were either in testing mode, or non-compliant mode (road use mode), and it was in this mode for testing and then once it went out on the road it flicked into [the non-compliant mode],” Mr Pendergast said.

“So it was a one or the other situation. As we understand the technology for Toyota, it’s a gradual introduction of the defeat devices.

“As the loads on the vehicle increase, as the acceleration rates increase, as the road speed increases … as those loads come on, the defeat devices come on, which then increases the discharge of nitrous oxide – NOx emissions – and as that occurs, the NOx emissions exceed the standards.”

Mr Pendergast said sensors fitted to diesel Toyota models were able to recognise when these vehicles were being used outside of the “clearly defined and conservative parameters for testing”.

Drive asked whether the law firm had engineering data from Australia showing Toyota’s diesel models don’t comply with emissions laws, and was told it had “strictly confidential material that forms the basis for what we’re alleging”.

Maddens Lawyers have received the financial backing of Woodsford – a UK-based litigation funding firm – with the case having the potential to be heard in Australian courts for years to come.

Ben Zachariah

Ben Zachariah is an experienced writer and motoring journalist from Melbourne, having worked in the automotive industry for more than 15 years. Ben was previously an interstate truck driver and completed his MBA in Finance in early 2021. He is considered an expert in the area of classic car investment.

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