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Dieselgate could cost Volkswagen $48 billion in the US alone

Much of that dollar figure comes from fines applied to each diesel vehicle equipped with a defeat device.

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Volkswagen and the EPA still have to decide on a fix for the affected diesel cars in the US.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Volkswagen is likely pining for the days of old, when most analysts assumed that the automaker would pay a maximum of $18 billion for its diesel-emissions issues in the United States. Now, after the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the company, that maximum has reportedly more than doubled.

Reuters reviewed the full complaint, and the total theoretical maximum fine could come in three ways. First, VW could be fined $37,500 per vehicle per violation. The company could also face a $3,750 fine for each defeat device installed, followed by a $37,500 fine for each day the law is being violated.

Considering the suit mentions that some 600,000 vehicles are affected, that's a lot of coin. In fact, it's almost as much as the $58 billion maximum thrust at Toyota when it was sued for environmental violations. As Reuters notes, Toyota paid just $34 million when all was said and done, and it's likely that Volkswagen won't be paying the full bill, either.

Bear in mind, these figures do not take into account any class action lawsuits or any other legal proceedings that are started by a party other than the Department of Justice. To that end, Volkswagen is working with high-profile lawyer Ken Feinberg to ensure that any claims are dealt with quickly and correctly.

Volkswagen remains in hot water after the company admitted to willfully deceiving federal emissions regulations. "Defeat device" software installed on the company's diesel models allowed the cars to pass laboratory tests, only to emit illegal levels of pollution when on the road.

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