When the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal first began making headlines in September 2015, many diesel owners expressed concern--not that Volkswagen had equipped their cars with illegal defeat devices, but that they might be forced to have their vehicles repaired, and the repairs would ruin their cars' performance.
That, in turn, led many to believe that most diesel owners would choose not to have their cars fixed at all. Just a few months into the process, though, it's clear that that's not the case. Very clear, in fact.
By the numbers
To date, Volkswagen says that it has bought back or repaired 244,200 of the 475,000 illegally rigged Audi and VW 2.0-liter diesels registered in the U.S. Of that number, only 6,200 owners opted for repairs. The remaining 238,000 chose to have Volkswagen buy back their cars or terminate their leases.
In case your calculator is beyond arm's reach, that means that just 2.5 percent of diesel owners chose to have Volkswagen fix their cars so that they could comply with federal regulation. A whopping 97.5 percent got out while the getting was good.
Is it what it seems?
To be fair, the fix for 2.0-liter diesels was only approved in January, while the buyback plan was approved a few months earlier, in October 2016, so the company has been cutting checks and cancelling leases for about twice as long as it's been fixing cars. Even so, the hugely lopsided number of buybacks suggests that many owners were chomping at the bit to unload their not-so-clean diesels.
But those inclined to enjoy the schadenfreude of watching Volkswagen pay for its mistakes should pause before celebrating. Volkswagen's U.S. sales numbers suggest that some folks who've opted for buybacks are simply sliding behind the wheel of other VW and Audi models. VW sales are up 10.1 percent for the year, and Audi's are up 8.8 percent.
Clearly, those figures don't show that every Volkswagen customer is ready to forgive and forget, but some likely are. As the scandal recedes further into history, more shoppers will join those ranks.
What about the remaining 51 percent of Volkswagen diesel owners who haven't yet taken in their cars for service or buyback? A few are probably holdouts, wary of losing performance after their cars are fixed. Others may be weighing the pros and cons of the two options. And quite a few are likely already scheduled for visits, just waiting for their number to be called.
At any rate, those who haven't acted in response to the recall will need to do so within the next couple of years. Part of Volkswagen's agreement with regulators said that if 85 percent of the vehicles equipped with defeat devices hadn't been fixed by 2019, the automaker would be forced to pony up additional fines. Given how much the company has spent to date, additional fines are the last thing Volkswagen needs.
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 mass-market brand of automobiles.