For Volkswagen dealers, successfully navigating the last five years has required different strategies, a recognition of their place in the industry and a belief in each other.
Early on, Volkswagen dealers were lining up to sue the manufacturer for what it had done, and some did. Factory-dealer relations were frustratingly poor, exacerbated by years of feeling ignored or dictated to by Germany, and franchise values were at rock bottom.
"We used to be lower than whale shit, or whatever the lowest thing on Earth is," Luciano said. But the crisis changed Volkswagen, convinced the company to listen to its U.S. dealers and invested those dealers in their shared survival.
One reason relations improved was economic: Volkswagen subsidized its dealer network heavily during the buyback period to keep its franchises alive. It also was able to resell many of the turbodiesels that its dealers had repurchased after repairs.
With its diesel customers, Volkswagen offered generous premiums during the buyback period — often 130 or 140 percent of the vehicle's value. It didn't convince most to stay — the majority of consumers didn't purchase another Volkswagen with the proceeds — but the offers did lay the groundwork for their potential return to the brand, Luciano said.
"When this first hit the news, a lot of people thought their car was going to be worth $1," he said. "Once we bought the first few cars back, and those deals were so strong, it eased customers' minds. It was a smart play. It was the right play."
Some dealers, such as Church, found success in reselling the fixed turbodiesels that once were parked in lots across the country, such as the one in Baltimore. It required a "pivot" in her store's strategy, she said, to focus on remarketing the TDIs, but it was made easier because Volkswagen again opened its checkbook, offering unlimited-mile warranties and generous financing terms.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen of America concentrated on changing its culture.
"We are a much better company now, by far," Luciano said. "What was created and where we are is a product of our surroundings, of the TDI crisis and our history. The transparency, the concern for each other, trying to be a much better company, like Toyota or Honda — it all changed."