London (AFP)

Thousands of car owners in Britain have signed up to a collective legal action against German carmaker Volkswagen over the emissions-cheating "Dieselgate" scandal, lawyers said Monday.

Law firm Harcus Sinclair UK said in a statement that it had filed a group litigation order at London's High Court, which will hold its first hearing on January 30.

Damon Parker, head of litigation at Harcus Sinclair, added that 10,000 individuals and a handful of companies are part of the action, seeking compensation of several thousand pounds per car.

The law firm added it was the first group litigation order in relation to the scandal in Britain, where it affected 1.2 million Audi, Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen vehicles.

The Dieselgate scandal blew open when Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 that it installed software in 11 million cars worldwide that reduced emissions of harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) when it detected the vehicle was undergoing tests.

"We have paved the way for consumers who trusted but were let down by VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda to seek redress through our courts," said Parker in a statement.

"It is only right that UK car owners affected by the scandal have the opportunity to seek compensation. We have secured funding so that those affected can bring this claim against VW at no cost to themselves.

"The group action aims to ensure that, if VW is found to have misled consumers about the environmental damage caused by their cars, they are penalised accordingly so as to discourage this sort of behaviour from happening again."

In reaction, Volkswagen said it would defend itself "robustly", adding it had not yet received the claims.

"We have been notified that Harcus Sinclair intends to bring proceedings against Volkswagen on behalf of 77 claimants in the English High court in relation to the NOx emissions issue," VW said in a brief statement.

"As we have previously said, we intend to defend such claims robustly. We haven’t received the claim yet, so we cannot comment further."

The scandal sparked an avalanche of compensation demands from customers, investors and regulatory authorities.

VW has set aside about 18 billion euros ($19 billion) to cover repairs, buy-backs and legal costs linked to the scandal, but experts believe the final bill will be much higher.

Volkswagen has already agreed a $15.7 billion settlement with the US authorities and owners of affected vehicles.

However the company has thus far refused to compensate its customers in Europe.

Separately on Monday, VW announced that sales revved 2.8 percent higher to 5.99 million vehicles in 2016, despite strong headwinds from Dieselgate.

Agence France-Presse

AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.

© 2017 AFP