Undermining dealer faith is the drip-drip of confusing signals from Germany, none of them reassuring.
Volkswagen's internal probe has yet to reveal details about the scandal's origins or who was involved. Meanwhile, the churn of German executives continues, with Ulrich Hackenberg leaving his post as Audi's chief engineer last week after his reported suspension in the scandal's wake.
Stateside, VW is awaiting regulatory approval on its plan to get its diesels back into compliance -- a plan filed just hours before a California deadline on Nov. 20. In a statement to Automotive News, Horn said VW continues to cooperate with regulators and is working "as quickly as possible" to get a fix in place.
Meanwhile, an information vacuum has put the value of affected VW diesels under a cloud of uncertainty. Competing brands' dealers won't accept the used TDIs on trade, and VW dealers feel pressure to absorb them at depressed prices to reflect their more than 15 percent price drop at auctions since the scandal.
A VW offer to repurchase used TDIs from dealers at guaranteed pre-crisis prices turned out to be a one-time program for vehicles in stock as of Oct. 22, and customers looking to unload their TDIs now are seeing offers that leave them "very frustrated," Brown said.
"It's scaring [dealers] because we don't know how long we're going to sit on the cars," Brown said.
Meanwhile, low inventories of salable gasoline vehicles could continue to hamper sales.
Fred Emich, general manager of Emich Volkswagen in Denver, says he began December with just two Tiguan crossovers among his vehicles in stock, though he has more than 40 on the way. Overall, inventories are slightly better than last month, when limited product drove away deals despite showroom traffic being on a par with October, he said.
"You're selling from empty shelves," Emich said.
Steve Kalafer, owner of the 17-franchise Flemington Car & Truck Country, says his VW store in Flemington, N.J., has fewer than 50 salable new VWs in stock, compared with the more than 100 he would normally stock ahead of the year-end sales push. His December sales prospects look "bleak," he said.
"We would be hopeful that Volkswagen would ship these cars on overtime," Kalafer said, but during the holiday season, "the auto business from the manufacturer side basically shuts down."