Volkswagen approved to sell repaired 2015 diesels, but will anyone want them?

March 30, 2017

Volkswagen has been prohibited from selling diesel vehicles in the U.S. since news of its emissions-test-cheating fiasco first broke in September 2015. According to company spokesperson Jeannine Ginivan, however, that's about to change.

Well, sort of. Don't get too excited just yet, diesel fans.

The good news

In a statement, Ginivan says that the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board have given Volkswagen the go-ahead to sell diesels from model-year 2015--the last year that diesels from VW or its upmarket sibling brands like Audi and Porsche were approved by U.S. regulators. 

Before those cars can roll into showrooms, they'll need to undergo a software update to disable the defeat devices that allow them to fib their way through emissions tests. However, Ginivan notes that dealers won't be required to equip 2015 models with new hardware that's included in the official fix.

That's a major bonus for eager dealers and diesel fans because the hardware isn't yet available and probably won't be until 2018. When it does become available, the 2015 models will likely be included in a broader recall of Volkswagen diesels that were bought before sales were suspended. 

And now the bad news

But even with approval from the EPA and CARB, there won't be that many Volkswagen diesels up for sale. The offer only applies to new 2015 model-year vehicles--that is, 2015 vehicles that have been sitting in storage since they were pulled from lots some 18 months ago. Volkswagen only produced 67,000 diesels for the U.S. in 2015, and of them, just 12,000 remain in dealer inventories.

What about 2015 diesels that dealers have acquired via trade-ins? Volkswagen isn't allowed to sell those just yet, though that could change before long.

What about used diesels from previous model years? There's no word on that just yet.

Will Volkswagen offer more diesels in the future? For the VW brand, the answer is a fairly solid "no". Audi is more like a "probably not". And if any of that should change, no diesels would be likely to arrive before the 2018 model year at the earliest. 

And the biggest question of all: after these 2015 model-year diesels are repaired, will anyone want them? Time will tell, but according to at least one VW owner in the U.K., the software update makes diesels essentially undriveable: 

“The car has begun to stall intermittently, and is difficult to restart. It used to go into ‘regeneration mode’ [whereby soot collected in a filter is burnt off at high temperature to leave only a tiny ash residue] a few times a year, but now does it on almost every journey."

Our take

We haven't seen anything from the EPA about this issue yet, so we don't know what spurred the agency's decision.

Perhaps it's simply due to timing: though there are plenty of pending cases against Volkswagen, the federal government's investigation reached a major milestone back in January when Volkswagen agreed to admit wrongdoing and finalized fixes for its illegally rigged vehicles. Surely it was only a matter of time before those fixes began rolling out, making diesels eligible for sale again. 

Then again, the EPA's new chief may have had some influence. He and his boss don't care much for regulation, so perhaps he decided enough foot-dragging on this issue was enough. 

Hopefully, the Dieselgate movie will clear up those and other burning questions. 

Will you be lining up to get your hands on one of these 12,000 "new" diesels? Share your thoughts below.

Note: for purposes of clarity, "Volkswagen" has been used to refer to the Volkswagen Group parent company, while "VW" has been used to refer to the company's popular mass-market brand of automobiles.

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