Between 1938 and 2003, Volkswagen built 21.5 million Type I Beetles, a monumental feat that established the company, and made the Beetle one of the most popular cars ever built. Today, the company announced that it will pull off an equally astonishing feat– albeit one that’s a lot harder to celebrate. It will recall a whopping 11 million cars that have been affected with the company’s diesel emissions software cheat, making it one of the most extensive automotive recalls in history.
As for what it plans to do with the cars, well, for now that’s anyone’s guess. The German government has laid into the automaker, saying it has until October 7 to come up with a comprehensive plan to make the cars compliant, or it will begin pulling the cars off the road. In a statement, Volkswagen says it will inform its customers around the world of its plans “in the next few weeks and months.”
The recall stems from a cheat installed in cars equipped with the company’s EA189 diesel engine, most popularly known as the 2.0 TDI, or until very recently the centerpiece of Volkswagen’s Clean Diesel lineup. Of the 11 million cars affected worldwide, over 482,000 cars are affected in the U.S., including the 2009-15 TDI Passat, Beetle, Golf, Jetta, and Audi A3. Around the world, 700,000 cars built by Spanish brand SEAT, 1.2 million Czechoslovakian Škodas, 1.8 million commercial vehicles, and 1.2 million European and Chinese Audis are affected. To begin the process of customer outreach, Volkswagen has launched a new website that will be updated with the latest recall updates.
Volkswagen seems to have two options when it comes to sorting out this mess. The first would be to install a urea-based AdBlue system, which is common on most diesel cars, including the company’s 2016 models. But the affected cars weren’t designed for this, and retrofitting an AdBlue tank and system could cost a fortune to engineer and be incredibly time consuming to install. The likeliest solution is a software update that keeps the cars running under their current “Test” modes at all time, making them compliant with EPA and CARB standards. But this would effectively neuter the TDI cars of the performance that made them such a bright spot in the Volkswagen lineup, and would likely have a major affect on both daily driving characteristics and fuel economy.
As it stands now, Volkswagen has a decision to make, and it needs to do it quick. On top of the panicked witch hunt going on at the corporate level, a massive number of cars are choking dealer lots that cannot be sold, and the company is facing up to $18 billion in fines – and that’s just in the U.S. alone. Millions of customers around the world are feeling duped and angry, and it isn’t easy for any company to bounce back from selling millions of products in bad faith. We’ve been advocating a competitive buyback program to give owners a chance to get out of this mess as soon as possible, but so far, Volkswagen has made no indication that a program like that is in the cards.
It took 65 years for Volkswagen to make 21.5 million Beetles. More recently, it took six to make 11 million dirty diesel cars – who knows how long it will take to get every one of them up to worldwide environmental standards. Volkswagen is sure to have its plan in order by October 7, for fear of more fines, or worse. Along with 11 million others, we can’t wait to see what that plan exactly is.
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