DETROIT (Reuters) -- Volkswagen has expanded its diesel emissions compensation program to owners of VW SUVs powered by its 3.0-liter V-6 diesel engine, Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn said today.
The expansion will extend the offer of $500 in cash and $500 in credits at dealerships to tens of thousands of owners of 2009-16 diesel VW Touareg SUVs. Previously the “goodwill” program was only available for owners of 2.0-liter diesel cars.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen AG CEO Mattias Mueller told CNBC the automaker may end up buying back some cars affected by the emissions scandal.
"In some cases it's very easy to repair the cars, in other cases it's very expensive and in that case we have to negotiate whether it would be better to bring back some of the cars to Volkswagen," Matthias Mueller told CNBC at the Detroit auto show today.
"In theory it's possible," he said.
Some U.S. regulators and lawmakers have said VW may have to buy back older models. German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported last week that VW assumed it would have to buy back about 115,000 cars in the United States.
In November, VW announced it would offer compensation for 482,000 owners of 2009-15 2.0-liter diesel cars. At VW’s press conference at the Detroit auto show today, Horn said 265,000 customers have registered for the card and 135,000 have received them.
In November, VW also admitted it failed to disclose emissions controls in about 80,000 3.0-liter SUVs -- including the 2009-16 VW Touareg, 2013-16 Porsche Cayenne and 2014-16 Audi A6 Quattro, Audi A7 Quattro, Audi A8, Audi A8L, Audi Q5 and 2009-16 Audi Q7. That allowed vehicles up to 9 times legally allowable pollution levels.
An Audi spokesman said on Sunday a similar goodwill program is in the works for its 3.0-liter vehicles.
Expanding the compensation program could add as much as 80,000 vehicles and $80 million to the compensation program if Porsche and Audi expand the program to all larger diesel vehicles.
Horn told reporters on Sunday that the portion of VW owners that have complained or sought buybacks is "minimal." He said VW polls at least 1,000 owners every two weeks to gauge how consumers are reacting to the emissions scandal.
Horn said he didn't expect U.S. sales to rise in 2016 -- after VW brand sales fell 5 percent in 2015.
He said things have changed at Volkswagen, the world's second-largest automaker. Horn said he has the mobile phone number of VW CEO Matthias Mueller, something he never had with former CEO Martin Winterkorn, and is getting quicker answers to questions.
Horn said it took VW's management team in Germany two weeks to approve the $1,000 U.S. goodwill compensation program -- something that under the prior management would have taken six months.
Mueller is meeting with EPA chief Gina McCarthy on Wednesday, but not to hammer out the details of a fix. That discussion, Horn said, "is predominantly a political discussion and it's not a technical discussion."
VW has also hired lawyer Ken Feinberg to create an independent claims program for diesel owners.
Ryan Beene contributed to this story.