Almost 100,000 drivers are demanding compensation from Volkswagen after it cheated on clean air tests as part of the “dieselgate” scandal.
The customers claim they were wronged by the firm, which was found to have used secret devices to cheat on pollution tests in 2015.
At a High Court hearing in London on Monday, lawyers for the drivers accused VW of deceit.
The claimants' QC Tom de la Mare said: "It is difficult to think of a more obvious cheat than the one VW used."
He claimed that data shows around 1,000 people a day are dying in Europe due to pollution, and the emissions tests were meant to save lives.
About 11 million cars worldwide, including 1.2 million in Britain, were affected by VW’s ploy.
Before arguing over whether the British drivers suffered loss as a result of “dieselgate”, their lawyers will need to convince the High Court that the software used by the manufacturer was prohibited under European law.
Gareth Pope, at Slater and Gordon, which is representing the claimants, said: “This trial will establish once and for all whether VW installed prohibited ‘defeat devices’ in affected vehicles and is a significant milestone in our clients’ attempts to hold VW accountable in the UK.”
However, VW is defending the claim, arguing that the claimant drivers are not entitled to redress as their particular vehicles did not contain prohibited defeat devices and they did not suffer any loss.
The company said: “Volkswagen Group continues to defend robustly its position in the High Court in London. It remains Volkswagen Group’s case that the claimants did not suffer any loss at all and that the affected vehicles did not contain a prohibited defeat device. The hearing will not affect any questions of liability or loss.”
VW previously agreed to pay up to $25bn (£19.3bn) to settle claims by US consumers, businesses and regulators but has resisted a similar deal in Europe.
The High Court hearing is expected to last two weeks.
The case is part of a growing trend of class action lawsuits in the UK. Class action cases generally combine relatively low value claims by a large number of claimants, making it economic for them to take on large corporations in court.
The cases are usually funded by litigation finance companies, which take a slice of any damages awarded.