On Friday, Volkswagen pleaded guilty to three criminal charges related to its use of illegal "defeat device" software in diesel cars to cheat on emissions tests.

Entry of the plea is the latest step toward resolving the criminal aspect of Volkswagen's diesel scandal in the U.S.

A settlement between VW and the U.S. Justice Department was announced just under two months ago, calling for the automaker to plead guilty, pay $2.8 billion in criminal fines, and $1.45 billion in civil fines.

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In Detroit, attorneys for both Volkswagen and the government asked U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox to accept the guilty plea, and immediately sentence the carmaker, according to The Detroit News.

But Cox said he would hold off sentencing—and with it, the final determination of fines—until April 21 because the offense was "very, very serious."

Before issuing a sentencing decision, Cox is expected to consider an objection filed by an attorney for 300 affected VW diesel owners.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI

Attorney Craig Hillborn asked Cox to reject the government's plea deal because owners would not get restitution through the criminal court, and because it does not charge Volkswagen Group of America with a crime, just the Volkswagen Group itself.

VW and Justice Department attorneys argued that restitution funds awarded to diesel owners under a separate civil settlement were sufficient.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Neal told Cox that federal guidelines for this case called for a fine between $17 billion and $34 billion, based on the depth of the conspiracy.

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But because Volkswagen eventually disclosed its own behavior to the government, and agreed to a three-year independent monitor, he government settled on the $2.8 billion in fines it is now advocating for.

Even with the delay in sentencing, pleading guilty represents a significant step for Volkswagen in resolving its criminal issues.

The company is still buying back affected diesel cars, a process that is expected to continue into 2018.

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

It has also received approval from regulators to modify a relatively small number of cars to meet emissions standards.

While the company works to get the situation under control, though, it may face bigger problems in its home market.

VW faces an increasing number of investigations and consumer lawsuits in Europe, reports The New York Times (subscription required).

These may prove more troublesome to resolve, as Volkswagen sold vastly more affected diesel cars in Europe—where diesels regularly outsell gasoline cars—than the U.S.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that class-action lawsuits are not commonplace in Europe, meaning individual owner suits cannot be combined.

That makes it more difficult for customers to sue a company, but it also means Volkswagen must fight scores of individual suits, rather than dealing with one group of representatives for all affected owners.


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