CEDAR FALLS | Most years, when a Volkswagen Touareg TDI arrives at Witham Auto Center lot in Cedar Falls, it doesn’t sit there long.
A Toureg with a turbo diesel injection engine gets up to about 25 mpg of fuel in town and 35 mpg on the highway.
“That kind of fuel economy with a vehicle that heavy is amazing,” said Shane Williams, sales manager at Witham Auto Centers, a VW-affiliated dealership.
This year, three days after Witham received their first 2016 Touareg TDI, Volkswagen put a stop sale order on the model. It, and four other VW TDI models were found to have software that causes the car to drive differently under diesel emission testing. Audi and Porsche diesel models were also identified as having the software.
In test mode, the cars comply with federal emissions levels for nitrogen oxide — the exhaust exhaust gas the diesel engines produce. However, when driving normally, the vehicles switch to a separate mode that generates higher emissions. The emissions are often above federal standards but it gives the vehicles higher gas mileage and more power.
Until Volkswagen corrects the problem, no new or certified pre-owned VW TDI models cited by the EPA for emissions violations can be sold. These models take up valuable space on the Witham lot.
“It hurts,” Williams said. “We’d like to be able to fill those spaces with gas cars or be able to sell those TDIs.”
The emissions problem was first announced by Volkswagen in September. Not all TDI models were on the initial list. When Witham ordered the Touareg, that model wasn’t yet on the list of effected models. Normally the Touareg, which according to Motor Authority has a starting price of approximately $42,750, would be gone in about 30 days, Williams said.
“And that’s probably on the long end,” he said.
Volkswagen initially stemmed some of the lost sales in October by offering current Volkswagen owners $2,000 in credit for a new vehicle. Some people who weren’t TDI drivers took advantage of that. Other buyers who considered becoming a first-time TDI owner likely found another fuel efficient model to buy, Williams said.
“A lot of it is being able to counsel driving habits,” Williams said. “Some folks come in here looking for a TDI but find a gas model better meets their needs.”
Witham didn’t see current TDI owners take advantage of the $2,000 credit, Williams said. Those who would normally trade in their TDI are instead waiting, he added.
“It seems like those folks are extremely patient,” he said.
However, TDI owners are taking advantage of a Volkswagen compensation package that offered drivers of the effected models a $500 Visa debit card and $500 in dealership credit. Williams said he processed about seven to 10 of those per day through most of December.
Those trends mean that as new TDI models can’t leave the lot, used ones aren’t coming in either. When the stop-sale was announced in September, Witham had four used VW TDIs the dealership was able to sell. Later, another one was traded in to the dealership by a owner who bought a hybrid. Of those five vehicles, one remains — a red 2012 VW Jetta TDI.
“Owners aren’t going to get rid of (TDIs) without getting something similar,” Williams said. “Once someone gets one, they don’t want to go back to gas.”
The diesel engines are known for their longevity as much as their fuel efficiency. The surrounding smaller communities in the Cedar Valley are likely a reason why the models are popular at Witham, Williams said.
Yolanda Geer, of Plainfield, said her family got their 2003 TDI Passat because her husband, Shawn Geer drove a diesel Volkswagen in high school and liked the efficiency and longevity of that vehicle. Her family owns five Volkswagens she said.
“Volkswagens last,” she said, adding the Passat has more than 200,000 miles so far.
Jim Hauser, who lives in Waverly, has two VW TDI models — a 2003 with more than 230,000 miles and a 2013 Jetta. He is considering selling the 2003, because he has the newer vehicle.
“It’s a good little car,” he said.
However, Hauser said he wouldn’t get rid of both. He makes trips to Minnesota and said he gets good fuel economy — about 43 miles per gallon — from the TDIs.
“That’s why I’ve kept it,” he said. “I’m all about economy.”
Jettas going back to the 2009 model have been cited by the EPA as violating federal emission standards. If Volkswagen issues a recall to fix effected models, some states could prevent owners from renewing their vehicle registration if they don’t complete the fix.
Hauser said he doubts he voluntarily fix his 2013 Jetta since Iowa doesn’t have state-enforced emission standards.
“Not until I find out what they’re going to do,” he said. “It drives great; it’s got so much torque out of the hole and I wouldn’t want to lose that.”
Williams said TDIs are still cleaner than most gas vehicles and much cleaner than commercial diesel vehicles. Whatever Volkswagen does to meet federal standards will only make them better in a category in which they already excel, he said. Once that happens, Williams said he expects TDI sales to pick back up and the Volkswagen brand to eventually recover. That’s due in part to the type of customers the company has attracted, Williams said.
“Volkswagen customers are typically very loyal,” he said. “They know they get what they pay for in terms of longevity and quality.”