There’s been some talk in the industry and media circles about what will happen to the cars Volkswagen is forced to buy back under terms of its far-reaching settlement with the U.S. government for diesel emissions violations.
In my view, the situation presents VW with a terrific opportunity to repair its battered image -- although you might not think so after reading this portion of the agreement with the EPA and California’s Air Resources Board:
“Volkswagen cannot export or sell the vehicles it buys back unless it modifies them with Approved Emissions Modifications. If EPA/CARB do not approve an emissions modification for certain types of cars, Volkswagen is prohibited from re-selling those cars in the U.S. or abroad. Eligible Vehicles returned to Volkswagen that are not modified must be responsibly recycled, such as salvaged for parts.”
Yet, if I were the VW executive in charge of disposing of the repurchased cars, I would implement a five-point plan that uses the vehicles to improve safety, bolster education, boost dealer profitability and reduce costs for VW drivers.
Here’s how it can be done:
- Education: Every high school, community college, vocational school and technical school in the nation with an auto repair program is offered three cars each to be used for hands-on training. Future technicians get experience working on modern turbocharged engines with high pressure fuel injection systems, advanced electronics, and vehicles with some degree of connectivity.
- Safety: Any government, educational or private testing organization working to improve safety and reduce injuries, both passenger and pedestrian, is offered cars in which to conduct research. This even includes other automakers, some of whom build their own test dummies and crash them in order to measure impact forces and predict injuries. The nation’s fire departments are offered cars for training purposes.
- Electrification: To jump-start interest in battery electric vehicles among engineering students, VW removes the diesel drivetrains from the returned vehicles and donates the gliders to engineering schools. Students design, engineer and build their own battery electric powertrains for the cars and then meet in Detroit for a competition to see which car performs best, goes the furthest on a single charge and is the most professionally engineered.
- Conversion: VW engineers develop factory kits for dealers that contain all the components to convert the cars from diesel to gasoline. The kits include a new gasoline engine, all the electronics, exhaust and fuel system components. Then the converted cars are legal for sale and can be offered as certified used by dealers. This keeps dealership technicians busy and opens up a new revenue stream for VW’s angry dealers.
- Certified used parts: VW becomes the first manufacturer to offer used parts with a factory guarantee. Low-mileage cars that are bought back and that have components designed for long life, such as brake master cylinders, wheels, radiators, air conditioning components, seats and body parts, are tested and inspected and then offered for less money than new parts.
The certified used parts plan is especially beneficial for VW drivers who have been in accidents. Now, they can buy a used door or fascia already painted and ready to install for less than the new part. This saves them time, cuts insurance costs and gives VW dealers’ parts and service departments more work. Another bonus: Certified used parts at a discount probably doom poorly made aftermarket parts from the marketplace.
In all likelihood, few of the above ideas will be implemented. The legal hurdles would be many and the costs would be high. Sadly, the cars that VW buys back will likely be crushed. When you consider the resources and energy it took to build the cars and ship them here and the energy it will take to destroy, dispose and recycle the metal, plastic and other parts, it’s such a massive waste.