The German automaker Daimler said Thursday that it had agreed to pay $2.2 billion to settle accusations that Mercedes-Benz cars and vans sold in the United States were programmed to cheat on emissions tests.
The sum, which covers federal fines and a class-action suit brought by owners of Mercedes vehicles, is a substantial financial hit to the company as it deals with plunging sales because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also humbling for a company that has been a symbol of German luxury automaking.
The penalty is only a fraction of the more than $20 billion that Volkswagen paid in the United States to settle criminal charges and civil suits by owners and state governments after it was caught using software to dupe regulators.
The Volkswagen settlement involved about 600,000 diesel passenger cars, while the Daimler settlement covers about 250,000 passenger cars and vans. Daimler may have received more lenient treatment because it cooperated with the authorities after questions were raised about its emissions systems.
Volkswagen misled American investigators for more than a year before it admitted that diesel vehicles sold in the United States were programmed to illegally cloak high emissions.
The federal government and the State of California will receive $1.5 billion from the settlement, while owners in a federal class-action suit will receive $700 million, Daimler said. The agreement between the company and car owners and several government agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, still requires approval by U.S. courts.
Daimler, which had previously disclosed that it was under investigation, has already set aside money to cover the anticipated penalties. Still, the settlement will have a financial impact, the company said.
Like most carmakers, Daimler suffered a steep decline in sales in recent months. The company, which is based in Stuttgart, reported a loss of 1.9 billion euros, or $2.2 billion, for the quarter that ended in June.