'I felt really betrayed': Volkswagen TDI owners say buyback process too lengthy, confusing
PORTLAND, Ore. —
Buyback Blues - Part 2
"I will never buy a Volkswagen ever again in my life," Daniel Rhoads, a Volkswagen TDI owner and father living in Portland, told KATU. "It's just a shame. It's shameful what they've done."
Nearly a year-and-a-half after a massive emissions cheating scandal came to light, Rhoads and other Volkswagen diesel owners say the company is taking too long to buy back vehicles. And they say the lengthy, complex process impacts their families financially.
The auto scandal settlement is the largest in U.S. history, affecting more than 13,000 people in Oregon, the most per capita in the U.S.
In Washington, more than 22,000 people are impacted.
After talking with KATU, the two Volkswagen TDI owners profiled in this story were able to schedule appointments with the company to buy back their cars but they still describe the process as frustrating, confusing and slow-moving.
Volkswagen would not comment on their specific cases.
Jeannine Ginivan, spokeswoman for Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., sent KATU a statement saying in part:
“Overall, we are encouraged by the customer response to the 2.0L TDI settlement program and the exceptional participation rate so far. We're not even four months into a two-year program and already we've extended offers to more than half of all affected current and former drivers and modified or removed from the road more than 25 percent of the 475,000 affected 2.0L TDI vehicles."
With the weather typically cold and rainy, business was slow on Feb. 3 so Rhoads took time out to play with his 4-year-old daughter inside the Hot Box BBQ food cart he runs with his wife in Southwest Portland.
He also talked with KATU about some of his problems.
"The weather has been brutal to food truck businesses," Rhoads said. "Every pipe in this truck broke. Every pipe!"
Also on his mind was his 2010 Volkswagen TDI Sportwagen. It's one of a huge line of cars the company marketed as having "clean diesel" engines.
"Honestly, when I did the research I thought, 'It's too good to be true,'" Rhoads said. "I thought, 'I'm getting a nice, little car -- wonderful fuel efficiency, room for my family and a very green car."
Kevin Pack, another dad, shared similar thoughts about his 2015 Golf TDI diesel on Jan. 25.
"Bought it really for the miles per gallon," Pack said. "I live out here in Damascus but I work in Tualatin so it's about a 50-mile round trip."
On Sept. 18, 2015 Pack, Rhoads and other Volkswagen diesel owners got some very bad news.
"Our company was dishonest with the EPA and the California Air Resources Board and with all of you," Michael Horn, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., said three days after the scandal broke. "In my German words, 'We have totally screwed up.'"
Federal investigators discovered the company engineered nearly 600,000 of its diesel cars in the U.S. to cheat on emissions tests. They included certain 2009 to 2016 Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche vehicles.
"The company created illegal software to defeat pollution tests," Andrew McCabe, deputy director of the FBI, said on Jan. 11, "and to make it look like the cars were emitting far less pollution than they actually were."
During normal driving situations, investigators said the cars emitted up to 40 times the amount of nitrogen oxides allowed by federal law.
"I felt really betrayed when I found this out," Rhoads said.
"All I knew was my car was one of 'em and … disappointing," Pack said.
As the criminal investigation ratcheted up, owners filed a tidal wave of lawsuits.
"We still have to make payments on this car," said Pack. "We still own it and so it's kind of a financial burden."
"We're trying to right now get a loan for a new house and we need this car off of our record," Rhoads said. "Our whole lives are on hold because of this!"
Owners were told to register with Volkswagen by mid-September 2016 to make claims under a massive settlement, which Rhoads and Pack said they did.
"On October 31st, Halloween, I got an email saying all of your paperwork is in order, you should be receiving an offer within 10 days. Great. So I went out and bought a new car 'cause I didn't want to be without and then the days just kept adding on and kept piling on. And then they changed on their website from 10 days to 20 days, then it was a month. And then they just took all of the deadlines off," said Pack on Jan. 25. "And here I am on day 84 as of today and I still haven't gotten that offer that was supposed to take 10 days."
"From the point where they accepted our information to when they sent us that offer was more like a month. We finally got the offer in January," Rhoads said. "And it said take the offer to a notary, get it notarized and then fax it to this phone number. And I did that immediately same day I got it."
Rhoads said he called three days later and workers couldn't confirm they'd received his fax.
"Two hours later I received an email saying, 'We received your fax, we're processing your request and we will contact you when you can come and bring your Volkswagen back,'" said Rhoads.
More than two weeks later, Rhoads said he called Volkswagen directly to ask why an appointment hadn't been set up.
"They said, 'We never received your fax,' and I said, 'How can that possibly be? You sent me an email saying you received my fax?' and they just said, first they said that was an email agreeing to let you fax it and then I read it to them and they said, 'OK, that's an email saying we received your fax but it wasn't sent to you properly.'" Rhoads said. "And I said, 'All right, I'll go fax it right now again. Can you insure me that you're gonna expedite this process or that you're going to, you know, insure that you got it this time?' And they just said, 'Nope.'"
Both Rhoads and Pack said they now have buyback appointments in March.
But they said they'll never buy Volkswagens again.
"I just think that it's wrong that they did this to Americans, another country," Rhoads said. "They just foisted this on."
"Now, it's bitter. It's cynical," Pack said. "And it's not the kind of person that I wanna be for sure."
Regarding the buyback, Ginivan, the Volkswagen spokeswoman, said via email:
"This program is unprecedented in terms of its size and scope and we have hired approximately 1,300 contract employees to help accommodate demand. We know that there have been some issues along the way and our teams have been working tirelessly to make necessary adjustments and continually improve the process."
"The scale of this buyback operation is staggering," David Tracy, a writer for the auto industry blog, Jalopnik, told KATU. "They weren't prepared for that rush."
Tracy has covered the emissions scandal and fallout extensively and says he was contacted by more than 100 affected Volkswagen owners.
"If I had to give (Volkswagen) advice, it's just: Be clear, communicate timing with your customers," Tracy said. "They should never be left in the dark, obviously. They need to know when they should expect money."
As for car owners, Tracy said, "Number one: Understand the timeline. Volkswagen has a site called Volkswagencourtsettlement.com. You can go (there), You can read through a long-form notice and it will tell you what the timeline's supposed to be. And if you are falling behind you should contact Volkswagen's support network, which can be helpful, or it can't."