Volkswagen launches cash-for-clunkers program in Germany to get older diesels off the road

August 9, 2017

In Germany, 2.6 million consumers bought diesel vehicles that were secretly equipped with Volkswagen's defeat devices. Those devices allow vehicles to cheat on emissions tests and may be responsible for 1,200 or more premature deaths across Europe.

And yet, unlike the 560,000 owners of similarly rigged diesels in the U.S., German owners have gotten nothing in the way of compensation from Volkswagen.

That's about to change. Well, kinda.

Volkswagen has announced its own cash-for-clunkers trade-in program, designed to get older diesel models off the road. Consumers can receive bonuses of up to €10,000 ($11,708 U.S.) if they trade in an older diesel made by any automaker for a new VW model.

What qualifies as an "older diesel"? According to Volkswagen, it's targeting vehicles that comply with European emissions standards 1 - 4, which allow diesels to emit up to 0.50g/km of nitrogen oxide. (For reference, the most recent Euro 6 standards drop the limit to 0.08g/km.)

Depending on the car you're purchasing, you could be in for quite a deal. Trading your old diesel for a VW Golf would earn you a €5,000 ($5,853) bonus. A Passat Sedan would be worth €8,000 ($9,369), and a Touareg would get you the max €10,000. 

If you're buying an especially eco-friendly model, your trade-in could be worth even more. Those buying natural gas vehicles will receive an allowance of €1,000 ($1,171), hybrid buyers will get €1,785 ($2,090), and those going fully electric can expect €2,380 ($2,789).

The program runs through December 31, 2017, and again, it applies to all older diesels, not just those made by Volkswagen brands. 

Why now?

The timing of Volkswagen's announcement isn't a coincidence. The Dieselgate scandal has fostered a growing distrust of diesels, even in Europe, where diesels have historically been very popular with shoppers. There's also been plenty of criticism of government regulators, which have seemingly allowed automakers to write their own rules

Those worries, paired with increasingly dire predictions about the effects of global warming, have led many city and state governments throughout Europe to launch initiatives that would curtail or even ban the sale of combustion-engine vehicles as early as 2025

This program is Volkswagen's way of capitalizing on those concerns to make the company look thoughtful and eco-friendly. It also allows consumers to purchase more efficient Volkswagen vehicles and feel as though they're doing something good for the planet, not just throwing money at a criminally polluting automaker. 

But the cash-for-clunkers program isn't simply a marketing ploy to rehabilitate Volkswagen's tarnished image and sell more high-tech, efficient vehicles. It's also a means for Volkswagen to sell more diesels. 

Yes, under the program, consumers can trade in old diesels for new ones. Like a handful of other brands (looking at you, Mazda), Volkswagen has long resisted the shift toward electrification, and this program allows it to drag its feet a little bit longer. 

As proof of that, consider this statement from Jürgen Stackmann, who sits on VW's board of management and is apparently a fan of both having cake and eating it:

"Volkswagen is convinced that clean, efficient diesel engines with highly advanced exhaust gas treatment systems are an indispensable powertrain technology for reaching carbon dioxide emission targets. At the same time, we want to forge ahead with the changeover to e-mobility."

In other words, "Our new diesels are super clean--we mean it this time!--and you should totally buy one. But be prepared to trade it for one of our electric cars after diesels are outlawed."

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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