The Island of Unwanted VWs

Thousands of "noncompliant" VWs waiting to be destroyed
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A sea of unloved VW diesels sits awaiting its fate at the former Pontiac Silverdome football stadium.

Except for a handful of 2015 models, VW dealers can’t sell the cars until the company comes up with repairs to satisfy regulators. In the meantime, the company is hauling them to storage lots, such as ones at an abandoned NFL stadium outside Detroit, the Port of Baltimore and a decommissioned Air Force base in California.

“This could get drawn out for a long time,” said Dave Sullivan, an analyst with industry consulting firm AutoPacific Inc. “The question is how long will it take for VW to say ‘I give up?'” The buyback is a costly logistical headache.”

Six VW executives have been indicted and the company has set aside nearly $24 billion (22.5 billion euros) to cover cheat-related costs, including more than $10 billion to buy back vehicles in the U.S. A second buyback of around 20,000 3.0-liter diesel cars is expected to start in the coming months.

About 15,000 VW owners are showing up at dealerships each week now to sell their Jettas, Golfs, Passats, Beetles and Audi A3s to the carmaker in exchange for payments of as much as $40,000. The agreement dictates that the cars can’t be put back on the road without being brought into environmental compliance, something that is almost certainly impractical for most of them. Even exporting them to countries with lesser emissions standards is forbidden.

In all, around 288,000 owners or lessees had opted for a buyback or early lease termination as of Feb. 18, of which 138,000 had been completed, according to the latest update filed with a court overseeing the settlement. Another 52,000 owners have said they want to keep their cars and are awaiting a fix. Depending on the model, it could be a long wait. Regulators are reviewing repair proposals from the company, but the only cleared remedy applies to about 67,000 diesels from model year 2015 that the company recently won approval to market. They are equipped with the latest version of VW’s diesel engine technology and will be fixed in two phases: a software update available now and hardware retrofits when parts become available early next year.

Even with an EPA-approved repair, dealers expect many high-mileage, older diesels from 2009 and 2010 in poor condition to be scrapped. “They’ve determined that there’s a threshold where it’s going to be more cost effective to junk,” said Fred Emich, general manager of Emich Volkswagen in Denver. But receiving any used diesels would be “huge,” Emich said. “Where we’re feeling it the most is service,” he said. “They’ve taken about 200,000 cars off the road at this point, and those were all old cars that were good for service business.”

In the meantime, the buybacks will continue as the clock ticks toward a key date: June 30, 2019. That’s the deadline for VW to buy back or repair at least 85 percent of the 2.0-liter diesels, under the terms of a court-approved settlement with regulators. Falling short would mean the company must pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency $85 million for each percentage point below that threshold, plus $13.5 million to the California Air Resources Board for each percentage point shortfall in the state.

That helps explain the massive operation VW has erected to handle the buybacks. The company has hired around 1,300 contractors, including “settlement specialists” placed at VW and Audi dealerships, who cut buyback checks ranging from $12,500 for a 2009 Jetta to more than $40,000 for a 2015 Audi A3 TDI. “The public doesn’t realize the monumental undertaking that they’ve pulled off to do this in a year and a half,” said Matthew Welch, general manager of Auburn Volkswagen near Seattle. “Nothing like this has ever been done.”

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  1. We can’t be the only ones who have noticed the Kafkaesque contradiction.

    These alphabet soup “environmental” agencies are supposedly dedicated to conserving valuable resources, by avoiding waste.

    But have any of these geniuses noticed that these perfectly sound, environmentally safe vehicles, are going to waste, rusting from exposure while they dig in their heels over some absurd infraction of clover rules?

  2. So the government has destroyed $24 billion in private wealth to make a point/ send a message. That’s $24 billion that could have paid salaries or been invested in clean technology that would soon offset the diesel emissions. The cost/benefit analysis on this is pretty awful.

    • Hi Bill,


      It’s still legal for an individual to possess – and drive – an “unfixed” VW. But these have been turned in to be “fixed” (or destroyed) and I am pretty sure Uncle has forbidden VW to re-sell them to anyone – even people overseas.

      It’s awful.

      • Yes, the settlement with uncle does not allow VW to export the cars. The whole thing is about punishing VW, not the environment. These cars took scarce resources to build and the idea that nobody should get to use them is the sort of monumental waste that government dictates.

  3. “exporting them to countries with lesser emissions standards is forbidden” – this is really, really sick. Government (and those that love to support government) would rather the energy and material used to create these cars be destroyed, add more energy and materials to destroy them, so that someone in another part of the world can’t buy a more efficient & less polluting car, and likely more efficient and less polluting than most other cars sold in that market.

    Sick, sick, sick.


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