Bavarian prosecutors discovered thousands of Audis produced with identical vehicle identification numbers, or VINs, according to a new report out of Germany. The Audis were primarily exported to China, Korea, and Japan—but the question is, why did they exist in the first place?
The findings are a result of the ongoing Dieselgate scandal, for which investigators searched countless Audi and Volkswagen documents while looking for evidence of a coverup. In speaking to German business newspaper Handelsblatt, an Audi spokesperson said the company was unaware of any VIN repetition.
A VIN is a unique string of letters and numbers that is assigned to a vehicle in the manufacturing process and can never be changed. It is essentially a code that doubles as a serial number, stamped onto every body panel, that informs everything from the year and specific factory in which a given vehicle was produced, to the body style, engine, and other information. The final six numbers indicate the vehicle’s specific sequence for a given year; a 2015 Audi A4 with a VIN ending in 000123, for example, would be the 123rd A4 produced in 2015.
According to Handelsblatt, Audi’s auditors had the VIN issue marked in a color coded system that prioritized “risk of discovery.”
What remains unclear is whether the repeating VINs is the result of a mistake or a deliberate attempt at a coverup. Indeed, whether the issue is confined to a spreadsheet error or if the vehicles in question really do have identical numbers stamped on their body panels remains a mystery.
Beyond a Hollywood-style car-stealing scheme, there would be little real world benefit to mass-repetition of a single VIN. The numbers allow carmakers, governments, and owners to track a car’s history, accident and maintenance records, and so forth.
For now, it appears to remain a mystery.
-- by Aaron Miller