Volkswagen is still working on fixes for its troubled diesels, its U.S. chief told a congressional subcommittee Thursday, but even without any plans cemented, he said he believes that affected owners should still be able to achieve their cars’ EPA fuel economy ratings once a fix is in place.
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Michael Horn, CEO and president of Volkswagen of America, answered questions alongside EPA officials at the congressional hearing on the diesel crisis that affects roughly 500,000 U.S. TDI owners. Cautioning that his answers are still “preliminary” because of VW’s ongoing investigation and testing, Horn said he doesn’t expect the eventual fix to change any car’s EPA-rated fuel economy, but he did say that the fix might affect a car’s performance.
“At this point of time, my understanding is if we correct the nitrogen oxide emissions to the emissions standards, the customer will get the mpg on the Monroney label,” Horn told the subcommittee.
“There might be a slight impact on the performance,” he added. “Maybe on top speed … 1 or 2 mph might be missing, but this is of course something which we will share with the agencies.”
Three Generations, Three Timelines
The crisis involves three different VW engines. Horn shared more details on the timetable for the fixes for each.
Which cars are involved? The first group is the 2009-14 Jetta sedan and Jetta SportWagen TDI, 2010-14 Golf TDI and 2012-14 Beetle TDI, Volkswagen spokesman Mark Gillies told Cars.com. It’s the largest chunk of affected cars, accounting for about 430,000 vehicles in the U.S., Horn said. The 2010-13 Audi A3 TDI is also reportedly part of this group.
What’s in them? This group has VW’s EA189 diesel four-cylinder engine with “Generation 1” exhaust-treatment filters that remove nitrogen oxide from the exhaust.
How long could it take to get a fix? EPA officials told us on Sept. 25 that Generation 1 will take the longest to fix because of engineering complexities, and Horn said today the solution will likely require both hardware and software changes. “I cannot give you a date right now,” he said, acknowledging that unfixed Gen-1 cars could be around for “more than a year, definitely.”
Which cars are involved? The 2012-14 Passat TDI constitutes “Generation 2” diesels.
What’s in them? Generation 2 is an EA189 diesel four-cylinder engine with diesel exhaust fluid that’s sprayed in to cause a chemical reaction that removes nitrogen oxide, Gillies said.
How long will the fix take? The Generation 2 fix “will be most probably a software solution,” Horn told the committee. “It’s still under development. It won’t start from my judgment until the middle of next year.”
Which cars are involved? Volkswagen’s 2015 four-cylinder diesels have “Generation 3” diesel engines, Gillies said. These vehicles are the TDI versions of the Jetta, Golf (including the Golf SportWagen), Passat and Beetle. The 2015 Audi A3 TDI is reportedly part of this group.
What’s in them? Generation 3 is an EA288 diesel four-cylinder with a next-generation diesel-exhaust fluid system.
How long will the fix take? Generation 3 appears to have the most straightforward fix. “The defeat device will be either switched off and, from January onwards, will be completely taken out of the car, and those cars will pass the emissions tests,” Horn said. “The timeline is the beginning of next year.”
Horn said that Volkswagen is looking at compensation for current owners, but he did not say whether VW would repurchase affected TDIs for their full original price, a question asked by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).
“This is one of the areas we’re looking into right now, in terms of how to compensate our customers,” Horn said.
Asked if VW would provide loaner vehicles to affected owners who didn’t want to drive their cars, Horn said Volkswagen would “discuss and consider” it, but “right now, I would say no, honestly, because the EPA has said these cars are legal and safe to drive.” Still, dealers could use “discretionary funds” from VW to provide loaners or to take customers “out of this car.”
For the first group of diesels, Horn said the fix could take from “five to 10 hours” per car, and could take years for the repairs to run their course. Horn added that he’s “very confident” no additional diesel cars in the U.S. have the problem.
Volkswagen hasn’t added any factory cash rebates this month, according to Automotive News, but Horn said dealerships are getting “certain cash incentive[s] that they can manage to bring loyal customers in, whether it’s a TDI customer or a gas customer.”
As of Thursday the automaker had posted a $2,000 loyalty bonus on many cars for current owners, but it was unclear if that’s in response to the crisis.
Will current owners fail state emissions tests while they await a fix? EPA Transportation and Air Quality Director Chris Grundler told the committee it’s unlikely, as the same defeat devices that gamed the EPA will also thwart state tests.
“We do not expect that these vehicles, were they to be called in for an annual or bi-annual inspection, to fail,” Grundler said.