By on April 22, 2016

Volkswagen Passats being crushed after testing, Image Source: BentParrot/YouTube

Update: I made a decimal flub. The math is corrected. Thanks to commenter ChemEng for pointing it out. We’ll post a new piece on Monday.

There’s no denying it: Volkswagen cheated. It confessed to the crime of emitting up to 40 times over the legal limit allowed for NOx. We learned yesterday (and the day before, to some degree), that Volkswagen will fix the vehicles that can be fixed, if owners so choose.

But what happens to all those diesel cars, which are perfectly good aside from emitting more NOx than they should, if owners decide to cut and run? And what happens to all those vehicles that can’t be fixed? Volkswagen has vowed to buy them back from customers — to which I ask, what then?

There are few options Volkswagen can employ to unload the massive windfall of cars coming its way, and none of them are particularly environmentally friendly.

First, let’s make some assumptions

At the risk of making an ass of you and me, we need to make some assumptions to get the ball rolling.

Some Volkswagen TDI owners are going to hang onto their cars even as VW dangles cash carrots in front of their faces. Those owners will get their cars fixed, grab a $5,000 check, and move on with their lives. However, another subset of Volkswagen owners is going to look at that aging 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI in the driveway and say, “Yeah, I can do without that.”

The diesel emissions scandal affects nearly 500,000 2.0-liter TDI vehicles. Let’s say close to half of affected vehicle owners decide to cut and run, putting the total number of buybacks at, eh, 225,000.

How will Volkswagen dispose of 225,000 cars? How will it handle a number of cars equal to 65 percent of its total sales for 2015?

Volkswagen needs to get all those vehicles somewhere first

Volkswagen TDI owners will likely do the following: read that VW is willing to buy back that 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI sitting in the driveway, drive down to the local dealer, sign some papers, and get a check for the value of the car plus an extra $5,000.

What happens to that car after the buyback? That’s what could be a nightmare for Volkswagen — and the environment.

Obviously, there aren’t 225,000 dealer lot jockeys working in the entirety of the United States. Hell, there aren’t even half that number of people working in dealerships who can drive two vehicles to their final destinations. Those vehicles will be sent on trucks, trains, or ships to meet their fates elsewhere (unless Volkswagen decides to buy a car crusher for each and every dealership in the United States).

It’s infinitely difficult to figure out how much fuel will be spent to move all that metal around. However, the U.S. Department of Energy Transportation Energy Data Book (2010) provides average energy efficiency numbers on the two most common methods of shipping large cargo over land:

Class 1 Railroads: 289 BTUs per short ton mile
Heavy Trucks: 3,357 BTUs per short ton mile

Locomotives and heavy trucks both use diesel, which has an energy density of 129,500 BTUs per gallon. A 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI has a curb weight of about 3,300 pounds. So how much fuel will be burned to, let’s say, move that Jetta 800 miles if the train and truck are fully laden?

By rail:

289 BTUs per short ton mile / 129,500 BTUs per gallon of diesel =
0.00223166023166 gallons of diesel per short ton mile

0.00223166023166 gallons of diesel per short ton mile / 2,000 pounds x 3,300 pounds =
0.003682239396 gallons of diesel per Jetta mile

0.003682239396 gallons of diesel per Jetta mile x 800 miles =
2.9457915168 gallons of diesel per Jetta for 800 miles

By truck:

3,367 BTUs per short ton mile / 129,500 BTUs per gallon of diesel =
0.026 gallons of diesel per short ton mile

0.026 gallons of diesel per short ton mile / 2,000 pounds x 3,300 pounds =
0.0429 gallons of diesel per Jetta mile

0.0429 gallons of diesel per Jetta mile x 800 miles =
34.32 gallons of diesel per Jetta for 800 miles

Those numbers in and of themselves aren’t particularly impressive. 3 gallons and 34 gallons to move a Jetta around? That’s no big deal. But this buyback won’t include just a single Jetta; in this exercise, there are 225,000 Volkswagens to move!

By rail:

2.9457915168 gallons of diesel per Jetta for 800 miles x 225,000 =
662,803 gallons of diesel fuel to move 225,000 Volkswagens 800 miles

By truck:

34.32 gallons of diesel per Jetta for 800 miles x 225,000 =
7,722.000 gallons of diesel fuel to move 225,000 Volkswagens 800 miles

That’s a lot of diesel fuel.

Burning fuel creates emissions, though, so what of the emissions coming from heavy trucks? It’s fairly easy to figure out truck emissions on a per mile basis thanks to averages provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (2008).

The GVWR of a car carrier truck is typically rated at 80,000 pounds. The EPA averages NOx emissions for Class VIIIb trucks (> 60,000 pounds, GVWR) at 10.990 grams per mile. If an average car carrier can hold nine vehicles at a time, that means 25,000 one-way trips of 800 miles.

25,000 trips x 800 miles = 20,000,000 miles

20,000,000 miles x 10.990 grams/mile = 219,800,000 grams of NOx

Converting that to Imperial units, those one-way trips will produce 484,576 pounds, or 242.288 short tons, of NOx.

Those trucks also have to drive back to home base unladen, so multiply those numbers by 1.5 to get somewhere close to the real-world environmental impact of transporting 225,000 cars. That means those trucks alone could emit 363.432 short tons of NOx.

Let’s put this into perspective, shall we?

The Guardian did some of its own math when the scandal broke, and it came up with a high-side estimate of 45,824.18 short tons of NOx per year produced by dirty 2.0-liter Volkswagen diesels in the United States. That means all TDI cars will need to be off the road for almost eight years before the environmental impact of these truck trips equals out. But we’re only taking half of those vehicles off the road, so the amount of time those vehicles need to be off the road doubles before it makes any kind of environmental sense — nearly 16 years.

Decimals, man: So, I made a flub and a commenter corrected it. (Thank you, ChemEng!) The above, struckout math doesn’t add up anymore. The new (corrected) math means that all affected 2.0-liter TDIs would have to be off the road for just 3 days to equal the number of truck trips. We’ll post a new piece on Monday.

And remember: Volkswagen still hasn’t disposed of the cars at this point.

All this math could be for naught. Volkswagen could throw its current distribution network in reverse, with the product of that move being significant savings in fuel and reduced emissions.

Crush ’em

The simplest solution might be the worst one: crush ’em all and let the Chinese recycling industry sort it out.

When the dirty diesels do finally arrive at the gates of twisted metal heaven, they’ll have to be processed. Before a car is crushed, it needs to be drained of fluids, and its recyclable parts (such as engines, wheels, tires, batteries, and other components) must be removed. The manpower needed to process 225,000 vehicles is immense, to be sure.

After processing, a crusher will be waiting for them that isn’t powered by the EPA’s good intentions. Instead, big diesel generators provide the power crushers need to stomp all those dirty cars into neat little cubes.

Overbuilt is one of the lead manufacturers of car crushers in the United States. According to sales manager Steve Besch, one of Overbuilt’s crushers can — with an experienced crew running at the top of their game — crush 40 processed cars per hour. That same car crusher will burn around 2.5 to 3 gallons of diesel fuel per hour, meaning it will burn 16,875 gallons of diesel to crush 225,000 cars. That fuel estimate does not include the many gallons of fuel needed to get crusher operators and support crews to and from the work site.

After a car is crushed, the raw materials need to be recycled. This is something that would happen at the end of a vehicle’s life anyway, as would all the  car crushing. However, the fact that these cars are being taken off the road prior to their best-before dates causes undue strain on the environment, just like the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) program.

We’ve been using the 225,000 unit figure for the purpose of this exercise, and it corresponds nicely with the number of vehicles crushed by the CARS program. In 2009, the U.S. government’s CARS (or “cash for clunkers”) program crushed nearly 700,000 cars, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, and accounted for a boost in economic growth of 0.3 to 0.4 percent.

Considering our assumed number of vehicles, 225,000 crushed Volkswagens could account for proportional economic growth of 0.1 to 0.13 percent, but without CARS’ effect of increasing fleet-wide fuel economy in the United States. If anything, the fuel economy average would likely go down, as these vehicles will be replaced with thirstier, albeit cleaner, alternatives.

Ship ’em elsewhere

Volkswagen could ship all these cars to some overseas locale where there’s no local word for “emissions.”

Should Volkswagen choose this option, there’s a very convenient shipping route from Baltimore to West Africa. EUKOR Car Carriers Inc. operates a ship on the route with a 5,000-6,000 vehicle capacity, and it runs once or twice per month. Trying to sort out the emissions of such a ship without knowing the specific powerplant used is akin to throwing darts in the dark. Therefore, let’s focus on the lowest common denominator here: the number of round trips.

To ship 225,000 cars from Baltimore to Africa on the route detailed by EUKOR would make 38 round trips. It would take about three years for Volkswagen to rid America of half of its dirty diesels.

Oh, and after all this shipping, Volkswagen has only moved the problem. We all breathe the same air eventually.

Fix and resell

Volkswagen stated in court Thursday that it plans to fix some vehicles at the request of owners. Even some of those buyback vehicles will likely be fixed and resold at the same dealer, or fixed and sent off to auction where they will be picked up by another dealer and resold.

However, Volkswagen has leased new Jettas at obscenely low prices, just like other automakers lately, all to keep the flow of cars unrestricted at Volkswagen’s about 650 dealerships in the United States. Those cheap leases are going to come back to bite automakers, as a record number of vehicles are expected to come off lease in 2016.

Should Volkswagen begin fixing and reselling cars this year, the used TDI market is going to bottom out, even as Volkswagen expends significant energy and resources to fix those cars.

Maybe it’s better to leave those dirty diesels on the road as-is

We assume at the beginning of this article that Volkswagen is buying back 225,000 cars. Some may consider this number high, low, or on the money. In reality, it doesn’t matter.

Regardless of the number of cars — whether it be one or all of them — Volkswagen, EPA, CARB, and many other parties need to look beyond the law and realize the spirit in which it was written. If the amount of pollution produced and energy expended outweighs the benefit of any fix or solution, U.S. regulators and Volkswagen have only one real option: do nothing.

Well, not absolutely nothing.

There are many solutions outside of the cars themselves that Volkswagen can employ to offset the extra environmental damage of these cars. Those options must be explored before a decision based purely on politics and populist views is made.

Should the EPA, CARB, and Volkswagen come to an agreement where moving thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of cars around the United States is part of the solution, all parties are cutting off their nose to spite face — and in this case, the face is ours.

[Image Source: BentParrot/YouTube]

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94 Comments on “Volkswagen’s Buyback Might Be Worse (Environmentally) Than the Crime...”


  • avatar

    Just give everyone a CC or a new version of their car that gets proper MPG.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This was never about the “environmental impact” of the cheating scandal for me – it was about defrauding defrauding dealers, ripping off consumers, and to a lesser extent, defrauding the government.

    And good luck to the guy with the ’09 Jetta who passes on the buyback…he’s going to be in for a rude surprise when plate renewal time comes ’round.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I still have doubts many states are going to restrict registrations, but it sounds like VW is going to additionally offer a “fix” for people that don’t want a buyback. And, it appears those people still will get $5000.

      So the TDI true-believer in nontesting states will just remove the fix once it is applied and the government will never know about it. People on the diesel forums are already talking about taking their $5K and tuning their Passats into no emission coal-rollers.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Cars or trucks with intentionally defeated emissions hardware should be subject to immediate impound and then to crushing after a hearing. I have no patience for that crap.

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          Me too. Every time I see someone rolling coal, I picture in my mind a cop pulling him over. It’s obviously not in compliance. “Sorry sir, you’ll have to get this towed home.”

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          But apparently you are OK with actually causing a far greater deal of pollution by destroying a car that could be used for several more years, plus all of the additional environmental pollution caused by making another car that wouldn’t have been needed otherwise. You apparently missed the entire point of this article.

          Guess what? Driving around a 1995 well-tuned Civic is less-damaging to the environment overall than crushing it and making another car no matter how clean the tailpipe of that other car is. You’ve got to look at the cradle-to-grave big picture.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Pointing out that destroying perfectly serviceable cars is worse for the environment than non-compliance with arbitrary emissions targets is immaterial to climate change believers, who see no connection between their religious figures’ CO2 footprints and the farcical nature of their religion.

        • 0 avatar
          namesakeone

          What will that do for the current owner–who likely bought that car in good faith? Why should they have to suffer for Volkswagen’s misdeeds?

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        CARB states would be the most likely to block registrations. IDGAF states like MI and FL probably won’t bother.

        • 0 avatar
          brettc

          Maine is a CARB state that doesn’t do emissions testing. In Southern Maine the yearly inspection sticker process involves an “enhanced” inspection which involves an OBD readiness test. Basically , your car fails if the check engine light is on. If it’s off, you’re fine.

          TDI tuners have no problem disabling the check engine light after deleting the DPF.

          It’ll be interesting to see how it’s handled here.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Many areas do not have emissions testing and the emissions testing that is done will not show whether the vehicles have been fixed or not as it didn’t catch the non compliance in the first place. Many areas that have emissions testing do not test diesel passenger vehicles, that is the case in the areas that require testing in my state. My state also doesn’t test 2009 and newer vehicles period. That made the fact that the van I just purchased is a 2009 all the sweeter knowing I shouldn’t have to have it tested ever.

      For those areas that do test diesels they may check to see if the fix was done and they most likely check will be to lift the hood and see if the sticker that says “campaign xxx completed” and a space for the date and maybe dealer. It will take all of 5 minutes for some guy to make a copy of that. So on your favorite TDI forum you’ll probably find a PDF to print your repair sticker yourself. There will also be someone selling them on E-bay before too long.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        They could take all those cars that failed emissions testing and resell them in places without emissions testing.

        Then again, there isn’t much call for anything VW in MY area. They’re scarce, usually driven by people passing through, or brought here by people from an area where VW is popular.

        Nearest VW dealers are 120miles South and 256miles North, away.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Mark, you’re overlooking (or, more precisely, you’re admitting, but then totally ignoring) that all of the consequences you describe would happen anyway at the end of the vehicles’ useful lives. Every car made is going to be transported and crushed eventually. It’s just part of the environmental footprint of building a car (which is really pretty immense).

    This isn’t finance, where it “costs” more to pay the “expense” sooner. The net environmental impact of crushing those cars now or later is exactly the same… except that if they’re crushed now then they won’t be out there emitting many times the legal limit of NOx.

    Well, not *exactly* the same. If you crush them, you are probably going to end up causing a few extra cars to be manufactured, as people replace their TDIs early and then replace the replacements earlier than they would have otherwise, etc. That’s the only real environmental difference. This article would have had merit if you had sought to quantify the impact of making more new cars than would otherwise have been made as a result of crushing the TDIs.

    • 0 avatar

      “Mark, you’re overlooking (or, more precisely, you’re admitting, but then totally ignoring) that all of the consequences you describe would happen anyway at the end of the vehicles’ useful lives.”

      The crushing part: sure. I’ll give you that, just like I said in the article. However, in this scenario, there’s an organized, coordinated effort to transport affected vehicles to recycling facilities. Unlike “cash for clunkers”, these cars likely won’t simply go to the recycling yard down the road from the dealer. Volkswagen will have to ensure the destruction of these cars at facilities either run by Volkswagen or, more likely, contracted recycling yards. It’s the transportation process that could provide an extra wallop of pollution.

      “Well, not *exactly* the same. If you crush them, you are probably going to end up causing a few extra cars to be manufactured, as people replace their TDIs early and then replace the replacements earlier than they would have otherwise, etc. That’s the only real environmental difference. This article would have had merit if you had sought to quantify the impact of making more new cars than would otherwise have been made as a result of crushing the TDIs.”

      A few extra? Even if its a 2:1 ratio, that would be 112,500 extra cars in this case. That’s not an insignificant number of vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      +1, dal20402; Beat me to it.

      All VW is doing is moving up the timeline.

      They really ought to just dump them in the ocean, fluids and all.

      • 0 avatar

        But it isn’t simply moving up the timeline. Using that logic, we could use a new car every day and it won’t have a negative environmental impact. Let’s just throw a car out as soon as the first tank of gas is dry.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          But that is not what you focused on. You focused on crushing cost, which will be the same no matter what, and transport cost, which probably won’t be all that different. I don’t see why these would be shipped cross country. Like C4C cars, once bought back they’ll be taken to a local yard, killed, and crushed. Local yards in this country are crushing millions of cars a year, and they can absorb 200,000 more.

          • 0 avatar

            “But that is not what you focused on. You focused on crushing cost, which will be the same no matter what, and transport cost, which probably won’t be all that different.”

            I focused more on transportation cost than crushing cost, because the comparison is much easier to make — NOx for NOx.

            “Like C4C cars, once bought back they’ll be taken to a local yard, killed, and crushed.”

            And maybe they will. Maybe all this math is for not. I’m not saying this is what _will_ happen, but I’m making a point to open the discussion on the possible environmental impact of prematurely disposing of good cars (save your VW reliability jokes).

            It’s up to the EPA, CARB, and Volkswagen to figure out the best possible way to fix or get rid of these cars.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Yes if the vehicles are scrapped they will be done so at the local yard. I do suspect that part of the agreement will mean seizing those engines just like the C4C cars.

            They will not get crushed just then however they will go in the yards and get C4C scrawled across the windshield so people know the engine is worthless.

            The tires and wheels will go to the used tire place next door or on their own racks, reducing the environmental impact of making new tires, ditto for the batteries. People will pick the common crash parts as well as the newer, nicer condition interior parts, ect.

            Then once the vehicle has sat long enough or is stripped enough they will go to the crusher/shredder.

            The only vehicles that will be shipped significant distances before being turned into a block or metal chips will be those cars VW plans to export to a place they can be sold. So as someone mentioned I can see a flood of TDIs on the Mexican market.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            dal20102,

            I agree. No way Jettas are being shipped 800 miles to be crushed. On top of that, the article accounts for dead-heading trucks coming back from from the crusher, but not for loaded trucks coming back from dealerships (they typically make the trip back empty, but now they will be loaded with TDIs).

            Logically speaking, one assumes that older VWs are more likely to be crushed, and that newer ones are more likely to be fixed. That means that most cars that will be crushed are coming to the end of their service life anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “The net environmental impact of crushing those cars now or later is exactly the same”

      That’s not quite true. Crushing cars should lead to an overall increase in total vehicle production, and that increase should add to pollution levels (although it could be offset by the lower emissions.)

      On the other hand, cars that were exported to developing countries may be cleaner that the cars that would have been sold there otherwise.

    • 0 avatar
      jb0001

      You’re overlooking the fact that some of the emissions components are made from materials that have extremely limited or no means for recycling and are now being disposed of well before they reached their practical end of life, such as cordierite in the particulate filter. Although disposing of the car at its EOL is no different now than it would be years from now, the premature destruction of otherwise workable components will net increased production that otherwise probably would not have taken place at all.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Can someone (Mark or whoever) break down exactly what the plan is? It hasn’t been made quite clear enough anywhere yet. Or maybe it hasn’t been completely hashed out yet.

    Are they going to offer to buy back a TDI from anyone who wants to do that or are they only offering to buy back cars that can’t be fixed?

    Also, if they are buying back a car, are they offering additional compensation above the determined value of the car?

    I guess I understand that they are going to offer to fix the car and then add compensation for the loss of value due to the fix and because of the perceived lower value because of the scandal. Am I right?

    My coworker bought a 2013 Jetta TDI in August and he’s trying to decide if he wants to get the EGR filter replaced (which is apparently a thing) or just hold off if he’s going to have it bought back.

    • 0 avatar

      The rumor mill says:

      Fix your car and you get $5,000.
      Have VW buyback your car and you receive the pre-scandal FMV for your car plus $5,000.
      Buybacks will be offered to everyone affected.

      Feel free to correct if I’m wrong.

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        Thanks, Mark, for at least confirming I wasn’t just missing where it was clearly laid out.
        Though I thought the whole point of the deadline was to have an absolute resolution. It doesn’t sound like that happened.

        I would agree that the $5,000 will probably have an “up to” somewhere preceding it.

      • 0 avatar
        mydecember1985

        The only problem is that we’re not getting FMV plus $5k. I bought my Certified Jetta wagon 4 months before the scandal broke. I paid right at estimated FMV. $18k plus T/T/T and all that. It came to $20.4k out the door.

        Now I’m getting a check for just at $17.3k. The key issue is that they’re giving us “fair market TRADE value” plus restitution. Read the forums. A good 40%+ of owners are NOT happy. The media is making it look like we all come out ahead. Most of us are losing a bit off of what we were expecting and we are left with no comparable car. Nothing out there has the power these cars have or the cargo area my wagon has… all while getting 45MPG

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The details are not set yet, but this is what it sounds like to me.

      VW will offer to buy back each and every vehicle. If the owner says yes they get the pre scandal value plus the time and trouble bonus, which I believe will probably be “up to” $5000 and not a flat $5000.

      There are 3 classes of vehicles and I bet VW will separate those classes and take a different action for each class of vehicle.

      09’s should be a cheap and easy fix. The strict emissions laws did not take effect until 2010my vehicles. Virtually every other mfg made theirs pass with “in-cylinder” tech, IE EGR and not SCR after treatment. So actually running the EGR all the time and at the right rates should make those pass. So if you have an 09 and want to keep it VW will likely fix it for you and make you sign an agreement releasing VW from any loss of value claims in the future.

      2010+ cars that don’t have a SCR system will potentially be buy back only. Fitting SCR is cost prohibitive and using in cyl tech only will not create an acceptable balance of emissions, performance and fuel economy. So VW will push hard to buy back and I suspect they will go so far as throwing in another bonus if you trade in for one of the 2016’s that have been in impound waiting for the fix to be approved. If your vehicle is new enough you may get a one for one trade with only licensing fees out of your pocket.

      Cars with SCR, VW will probably push those people into getting their cars fixed and if the owner chooses the buy back VW will fix them and remarket them. Potentially to those people who turned in their non-SCR 2010+ vehicles.

      To do all of this and because of the volume I suspect that VW will stage the buyback/fix procedures.

      They will first focus on the fix for the SCR and 09 vehicles. Once those are approved they will start the buy back/repair campaigns for those vehicles.

      Once those are well underway they will then release the fix or admit that they can’t fix the 2010 vehicles w/o SCR and start that campaign.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        Before the settlement was announced, I really thought they were going to crush them all.

        This path only lengthens the timeline for VW’s demise, and exposes them to pitched criticism when the ‘fixed’ cars are road-tested.

        It’s interesting – and telling – that they haven’t actually announced what the fix is.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    That’s a formidable demonstration of speculative mathematics, with results as good as the assumptions used. But the author’s grasp of atmospheric chemistry is shallow, at best. TTAC’s usual visual illustration of this issue, a smoking tailpipe, seems to have convinced him that there are only two kinds of cars: clean and “dirty.” Every car sits within a range of emissions levels, from bad to worst. Since ozone requires sunlight to from, the NOx emitted by these TDIs would be less reactive if operating in a cloudy climate. So I’m tempted to regulate these regulate these vehicles by zoning codes, not national and global regs. Allow them only in northern Europe. Especially in Europe’s cloudiest country, Germany. Let them live with what they’re wrought.

    I was tempted to leave it at that, but a quick Wikipedia search informed me that NOx is also a greenhouse gas, more short-lived than CO2 but more influential in some locales.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, the speculation is needed at this point. We asked Volkswagen how many vehicles it expects to buy back, but it isn’t releasing numbers due to the gag order.

      And I am no atmospheric chemistry major. We also need to keep the scope narrow, or we will have a 20,000 word piece.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    My guess is these cars will be going south to Mexico and latin America, so maybe that will save some fuel. What about the 2016 TDI’s that are sitting on docks somewhere? After all VW is hoping to get folks into new VW’s so I assume they will need cars to replace the ones they take in. Also since I will be on the fence to sell them my 11 TDI or have them fix it , do they have a fix????

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      At this point they don’t have a fix for the 2010+ vehicles that don’t have SCR and it is unlikely they will come up with one that will preserve the driveablity, reliability and mpg you currently have. So the smart thing is to take the money and run. You can be certain that as part of opting to have it fixed you will have to sign a contract stating that you accept the fix as is and that fix may (will) result in lower MPG and power. So yeah do not spend a penny of the vehicle, other than fuel until you can sell it to VW. That includes doing oil changes or any other scheduled maintenance and repairs that aren’t required to keep it driving. If you need new tires park it or see the used tires store or craigslist.

      • 0 avatar
        Notadude

        I’m glad VW is finally giving us the option to take the money and run. I keep wondering who is willing to stay with this company and who (like my husband and me) is totally and completely DONE with them. When this scandal was in its infancy, I toyed with the idea of trading for a GTI; however, the way VW handled this mess has made me so anxious to just dump their products and find another company to do business with.

        Mark, are you planning to do a poll of your TDI owning readers to see what we all end up doing about our cars?

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    One big flaw with all those calculations of the cost to move the vehicles. See the thing is that the new cars get delivered to the dealers on trucks. Those trucks are specialized for carrying cars and trucks. So they head back to the rail yard or port empty. Yes the fact that they will go back with a vehicle on them will reduce their mpg so it will burn a little more fuel going back full rather than empty but not to the extent of the calculations. Ditto for the vehicles that take the train after they make it to the storage yard at the rail head.

    Sure those numbers tell you the cost per pound but that is factoring a full load and disregards the fact that many times the transporter is deadheading and still uses a significant amount of fuel.

    I do expect that a much higher percentage of the people will opt for the buy back though so the total number of vehicles shipped will be higher.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    This is what happens when a monumental material fraud is allowed to live out it’s entire life cycle…more often than not the perpetrators of the fraud are bankrupt or incarcerated before the offenses can be recouped.

    But since VW is very much alive and well they are picking the best option for the company and one which is also satisfactory to the regulators and consumers…the disposal/re-purposing costs are only a side effect.

    IMO a buy back has been the only real meaningful solution once we really knew the full breadth of the scandal.

    As a non-TDI VW owner in NA, I am satisfied

  • avatar
    jmo

    How hard would it be to just re-engine them? Swap a TDI for a TSI? I assume all the hard points are the same? You’d need a new exhaust system but would the transmission be reflashed?

    • 0 avatar

      That’s an interesting thought.

    • 0 avatar
      jacob_coulter

      Would that then violate their CAFE rating since the gas engines don’t have the same fuel economy as the diesel models?

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      Believe it or not, the MQB based Golfs are all designed specifically so that the engine and transmission and exhaust mounting is identical across the diesel and gasoline lineup, so in theory, yes, you could accomplish that with some of the cars.

      In practice, of course, I have no idea how feasible this would be.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Or… they could do what I suggested below and fit mine with Golf R hardware.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        That is nothing new there was nothing special about the vehicles that got the Olds 350 diesel and lots and lots of people re-powered them with gas engines. (And in many cases reaped the benefit of not needing an emissions test because diesels were exempt in their areas.) There was a time when if you wanted to build a hot G body for the street you looked for that Cutlass diesel. Then drop in a big block built to the hilt and go w/o the need to see a tail pipe sniffer.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Sort of like the infamous GM 350-diesel to gas engine swaps.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Ah, yes. The engine that was mostly responsible for Americans’ perceptions on diesel engines. I have a friend who—seriously—had a diesel Buick Riviera.

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      Probably technically possible but not economically viable

    • 0 avatar
      NickS

      Re-engine a TDI SW into a TSI one? In theory it’s possible.

      Let’s assume:
      – the hard points are the same or “easily” adapted with some new hardware, etc
      – that there won’t be NVH, ride quality, etc, from the power plant conversion
      – that a new gasoline exhaust system can be easily fitted into a SW
      – all fuel delivery hardware is easily swappable or compatible
      – transmission characteristics are compatible with both engines and the various controllers that must talk to each other can be adapted with reflashes etc.

      (those are all BIG, no, make that YUUUUGE assumptions)

      What do you do with the wiring harness? The various components plugged into the TDI and TSI ECUs are very different. It would be one incredibly messy retrofit. A DIYer with keen dedication and unlimited time and access to junkyard can probably do this.

      BTW, on some cars it is far easier to pull out engine and transm. as one and doing the swap outside the engine bay.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I think they would need to swap the engine, fuel system (including the tank) and the instrument cluster at a minimum. The DSG and the 6 speed manual transmissions should be compatible with the 1.8TSI as far as I know.

      So it’s probably doable but I wouldn’t trust VW dealer techs with a surgical operation like that.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        I think Brett is right. The whole fuel system needs replacing along with exhaust and engine. The transmissions are no problem at all EXCEPT that vw hasn’t homologated a manual 6 or dsg 1.8t front driver aside from the a3 auto.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I have the perfect solution, Volkswagen. Strip my car down to the bodyshell and convert it to a Golf R SportWagen. Paint it Lapiz Blue, while you’re at it.

    Yeah, that’ll work.

    • 0 avatar
      seth1065

      Kyree,
      You leaning to keep your TDI or get rid of it?

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        That’s a good question. You just bought the car, so you just took the biggest part of the depreciation hit. Would the $5,000 let you break even at this point?

        If you do take the fix, I hope VW is at least willing to extend the warranties. Who knows how that fix is going to work out.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Given that I got a steep discount on it (to the tune of $7K), we’ll see if I break even. It was just involved in an accident—I’ll get it back today, actually—but that might not have an impact on what VW offers.

          • 0 avatar
            TMA1

            $7K, that’s pretty impressive. That must have been before the scandal hit too, right?

            I wonder what they’re offering on GTI’s.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            It was. I was affiliated with the dealership at the time.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          IIRC, whatever “the fix” ends up being would reset the Federal emissions warranty, at least.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Awesome analysis, Mark Stevenson.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    The idea that these cars need to be taken off the road is over the top in my opinion.
    They are obviously FAR cleaner than diesels were even a few years ago that are still on the road.

    Some sort of recall with offsetting fine and punishment for VW can be figured out and then move on.

    But our litigious culture is not going to allow a logical solution.

    • 0 avatar
      jeoff

      I agree, be as punative as necessary with VW. But, the whole purpose of the law is to protect the environment–and really, at this point, having the cars live out their useful life on American roads, is probably better than any alternative.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      These cars do not need to be taken off the road IMO.

      We don’t need another C4C debacle.

      C4C damaged the used-car market beyond repair and drove up the prices of used-cars to where many people could not afford to replace their rolling Detroit junk, skipping necessary repairs and putting more unsafe cars on the roads.

    • 0 avatar
      mic

      +1
      Levy a big fine and put it in the Road Repair account and lets get on with something more important.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      No they are not far cleaner than the earlier diesels that are still on the road, they are in fact far dirtier. Diesel emissions standards did lag gas standards but they still existed and were not that hard or expensive to meet. VW however said well if we are cheating screw worrying about emissions in situations that do not look like the test. So their 2010+ vehicles pollute way more than the 07-09 from other mfgs and more than the vehicles from the time before that.

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        I’m referring to older diesels, like say from the 90’s and older. They are FAR cleaner burning than those, yet we still allow these cars to be on the road.

        And let’s not even compare these “cheating” diesels to something like a 2 stroke weed wacker or lawnmower in terms of pollution. Or someone having a wood burning fireplace.

        Keeping these cars on the road is not some environmental hazard for the general public. There are better ways to address this than scrapping hundreds of thousands of cars.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          For the most part, exempt and pre emissions, “grandfathered in” diesels will die out eventually, especially on the commercial end. Sure they’re far dirtier than TDIs, but we can just let this kind of fraud just side through.

          Prices on pre emissions diesels will increase exponentially if you ask me, especially on hard loaded 4X4 diesel pickups, starting from early ’80s to mid ’00s.

          On obscure diesels too, like the Rabbit pickup trucklette. You could probably name a few others from the early/mid ’80s.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    VW dealers collect them except get to keep them to use as loaners, parts delivery, gofers or whatever they want. Also at 10 years old, they’re all eligible for Mexico importation/wholesale, as normal.

    Or VW dealers can scrap them at any point they chose, or drive them ’til the wheels fall off. Also note, when cars get “scrapped” it doesn’t mean the salvage company isn’t dismantling them and putting their parts back into circulation.

  • avatar
    blope

    the whole thing makes me v sad. Give me a big chunk of money for my Sportwagen and I’ll be less sad, but still sad.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The devil is in the details, which are not yet available.

    Without those details, it’s difficult to speculate intelligently about exactly what will happen. However, I suspect that the “fix” option won’t be a real fix, while the buyback offer will be structured in such a way that many owners will be expected to choose the faux-fix over the buyback.

    This allows the feds and CARB to save face and keep VWoA out of bankruptcy while punishing VAG to such a degree that it deters other automakers from cheating.

    If I am correct, then there won’t be that many cars that will require export or disposal. Not great for the company, but a manageable problem.

    (You can use NHTSA’s negotiations with FCA for the Jeep fuel tank problem as a sort of comp. When NHTSA’s full-blown recall plan proved to be excessive, FCA negotiated a less costly recall fix that really accomplished nothing but still allowed NHTSA to claim that it had done something to make the cars safer.)

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Some of the vehicles can be fixed. If the 07 and 08 vehicles are actually compliant then making the 09’s compliant against the lower standards of 07-09 should be relatively easy. The newer cars that have a SCR system should also be a relatively easy fix to bring them into full compliance.

      The EPA is not the NHTSA and they have been known to be overly zealous in enforcement actions so they may not roll over as easily as the NHTSA.

      I do agree that before the dust settles the VW legal team will do a lot of negotiating to minimize the impact on their bottom line and they will structure the settlements with the consumers to steer the majority of them in the direction that will minimize the impact to VW, whether that is a fix for one class of vehicles or a buy back for others.

      You have to keep in mind that VW (and dealers) probably wants to keep as many of them on the road as possible so they can continue to profit from the real source of profit where VWs are concerned and that is the replacement parts market (and labor).

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “The EPA is not the NHTSA and they have been known to be overly zealous in enforcement actions”

        Based upon EPA’s track record of modest fines, I would surmise that the opposite is true.

  • avatar
    dingram01

    “All this math could be for not.”

    For naught. Naught=”nothing.”

  • avatar
    Testacles Megalos

    If it were really all about the environment, VW’s BoD would be going to jail, there would be huge fines levied that would be used to build light rail and bikepath systems, and EPA would take this opportunity to require special permits and fees to be allowed to purchase and operate any vehicle > 2000# GVRW. Existing cars would be given a “pass” valid as long as the number of full-size pickups and SUVs exceeds the number of diesel cars on the road.

    This is about VW doing what they all do, getting too big and now being spanked by the World Police a.k.a. US Gov’t. Since the ATLA services the World Police, that organization’s members have been thrown the bone of the class action lawsuits.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    “The simplest solution might be the worst one: crush ’em all and let the Chinese recycling industry sort it out.

    When the dirty diesels do finally arrive at the gates of twisted metal heaven, they’ll have to be processed. Before a car is crushed, it needs to be drained of fluids, and its recyclable parts (such as engines, wheels, tires, batteries, and other components) must be removed. The manpower needed to process 225,000 vehicles is immense, to be sure.

    After processing, a crusher will be waiting for them that isn’t powered by the EPA’s good intentions. Instead, big diesel generators provide the power crushers need to stomp all those dirty cars into neat little cubes.”

    Yep. I think of the logistics and manpower it took to recycle the 4,703 brand new Mazdas aboard the ro-ro Cougar Ace – draining the fluids, removing the wheels and tires (and cutting holes in the tires, to make them unusable), and firing all the airbags, using a special machine they built just for the task. Hell, they even put the lug nuts in buckets, so they could be melted down later.

    Now take that 4,703, and multiply it by 48. Plus, the Mazdas were all in one place – the VWs are scattered all over the US. It boggles the mind.

  • avatar
    George B

    Photochemical smog is a local seasonal problem. Adding up total NOx emissions makes no sense. Instead, the lowest environmental impact plan would move the non-compliant TDI cars away from Ozone non-attainment areas like the Los Angeles basin with the car moving activity mostly occurring in the winter months when there are fewer hours of daylight to convert NOx into ground level ozone.

    8-Hour Ozone Nonattainment Area Map
    https://www3.epa.gov/airquality/greenbook/map8hr_2008.html

    I’ve always thought Volkswagen should try to get Jetta TDI owners in Southern California to trade in their diesel car for a Jetta hybrid and then ship those diesel cars just about anywhere else.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I knew there was something hypocritical about this whole scandal. If things had been left alone we would have been subject to about a thousandth of the overall pollution that is now going to be generated disposing of the cars, as well as the energy and resources used for the replacement cars.

    But at least all of us have more confidence in our EPA now right?

  • avatar
    DanDotDan

    Put an LS in it.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Ship ’em to China. Not like their air can get any worse.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Shipping is funny this way; if there’s more demand, they’ll just change which routes some other ship sails. They can ship them anywhere, but if they flood a local market they’ll see less $$, so they’ll ship them almost everywhere. If there’s $200 more to be made shipping and resselling than crushing and recycling, they’d be sued by shareholders for anything else.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Any reason they can’t be hauled to and sold in Mexico? (or even Canada?) Mexico likes VW, has laxer regulations… these would be safer and likely cleaner than local market cars. Am I crazy or is this the obvious go to for VW?

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Send them up here to Saskatchewan, where it’s legal to remove your catalytic converter. We have no concept of smog.

      Not that I think it should be legal to drive without a cat here. I consider being behind a stinky vehicle an opportunity to have fun breaking any laws necessary to get around them. But modern TDIs never seem to have noticeable emissions except for a faint smell when the engine is still cold, just like any other ICE.

      Given our small population, Mexico is probably a more practical option. Either way, it would be a horrible waste to destroy them before they’ve fulfilled their useful life.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    This a fun exercise.
    If the cars are to be crushed, you can be sure they will bbe completely dismantled with a flood of VW used crash parts or repair parts hitting the market. I can’t see VW willing to take a bath on OEM parts for the next several years. The power window switch doesn’t care what type of engine is under the hood. Perhaps Kyree will report a drop in his insurance premiums soon, ya never know….sorry you just got it back from the body shop maybe next time you can use already painted to match panels.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Certified used parts at your local VW store?. Box em up and put them in stock and offer them with a reasonable warranty at 60% of the new price.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        With a glut of used VW parts, their prices would drop to nothing, and then why stack them to the roof? Never mind the labour/overhead involved. No, most would have to be crushed on the spot.

        Mexico doesn’t accept US (used) cars for import, unless they’re 10 years old, no newer, no older. If Mexico would agree to waive their rules, it would be the “cleanest” solution/destination, at least for us. We could knock a few billions off of what they owe us. Monopoly Money anyways. But we should remind Mexico of NAFTA; it should work both ways!

  • avatar
    ChemEng

    Um – maybe you should re-check your numbers…I find your NOx estimate to be 1,000 times too high. The “oops” occurred when you converted from grams to pounds (453.6 gm/lb). Interesting that 77 people drank your kool-aid and commented on what now seems to be a less than compelling argument – I’m not a VW apologist, just a fact checker.

    Check my math…

    For car carrier trucks;

    225,000 cars divide by 9 cars per truck = 25,000 truck trips
    25,000 trips x 800 miles per trip = 20,000,000 truck miles driven
    11 gm NOx/mile x 20,000,000 miles / 453.6 gm/lb = 485,009 lbs of NOx
    485,009 lbs NOx / 2,000 short lbs per short ton = 243 tons

    According to the EPA in 2005, the US vehicle fleet emitted 19,000,000 tons of NOx that year.

    So your fleet of 25,000 car-carrying trucks on their mission to remove the offending VW’s contributes 0.0013% to the USA’s total.

    Assuming I still have your attention, let’s consider this further….

    What if all 225,000 cheatin’ VW’s cars were to operate for one year on US roads, how much NOx would they emit? Assume 15,000 miles driver per year

    Case 1 – using the highest NOx emissions measured by West Virginia University’s expose (1.5 gm NOx/km = 2.4 gm NOx/mile)
    225,000 cars x 15,000 miles/year/car = 3,375,000,000 miles (3.4 billion miles)

    3.4 billion miles x 2.4 gm NOx/mile / 453.6 / 2000 = 9,001 tons NOx/year

    Case 2 – using the US EPA Tier 2 / Bin 5 emission standard of 0.07 gm NOx/mile

    3.4 billion miles x 0.07 gm NOx/mile / 453.6 / 2000 = 258 tons NOx/year

    Using the worst case numbers from West Virg. U, the VW’s are about 35x over the EPA limit.

    So the fleet of trucks bum-rushing these VW’s out to America’s ports will help clean the US, but the NOx pollution will just get exported to some other country. On Earth Day 2016, the planet will not be any cleaner as a result, unless VW fixes their emission systems.

  • avatar
    tekdemon

    These assumptions are all rather silly. They’re not going to be adding brand new shipping routes just to go recycle a bunch of VWs, these ships are traversing the world anyways and the VW scrap metal would just get added onto a big ship that was going to sail anyways.

    It’s like booking the 6AM flight from JFK to LAX and claiming that because you booked the flight the environment is now far worse off, the reality is that they were going to fly that plane whether or not it was fully booked. So it’s rather silly to make it sound like they’re going to go get a new shipping ship just to go ship VW scrap around the world, these are just going to added to existing hauling and recycling routes.

    I doubt they’re just going to crush and recycle otherwise perfectly fine cars anyways, more likely VW will buy them back and repair them or something.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      “Collectively”, yeah the crushed VWs would book several or dozens of ships across the oceans, just for TDI VWs alone. Logistically, they’ll be spread out with other recycled, everyday junk metal.

      And most “perfectly fine” VW cars will be crushed/recycled, no different than Cash 4 Clunkers “perfectly fine” cars and trucks.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    They should fix all the cars as best they can (I.e. your 2010 would only meet 2009 standards), and then buy offsets for the rest. For example, at a state level, California had a fund that gave grants to re-power or retrofit older buses, boats, trucks etc. for cleaner emissions… they could refill it with enough settlement money to offset the remaining unlawful emissions within the state.

  • avatar
    amca

    Do we suppose the fixable ones will get fixed and re-sold on the used market? The new buyer will get a cheap car with no lies or misrepresentations attached. A it’ll be a very nice car, too (my sister has a ’14 Golf TDI, and it’s really nice – really nice), a car the buyer will love and may well make him a TDI buyer in the future.

    That’s a reasonably plausible way to handle a bunch of these. Not all of ’em, surely. But a bunch of ’em.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    One thing I haven’t seen but would bet on is that these VW cars that have the defeat device are still cleaner than those classic cars sitting in garages NOT driving around.

  • avatar
    Ezra Finkin - DTF

    This analysis concerning the shipping of cars assumes g/mi NOX emissions of a pre-MY 1988 truck at 10.9 g/mi. Using the analysis in the article, assuming the Class 8 tractor is powered by a diesel engine that meets the most recent emissions standard required of truck engines manufactured as of 2010 with 0.5 g/mile of NOx, we get ~1 ton of NOx to move all of the 225,000 cars. A bit more than one-in-four Class 8 tractors is model year 2010 or newer.

  • avatar
    Jasper2

    Can’t wait to buy my next VW (yeah, right)


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