Dozens of Volkswagen TDIs Missing from Michigan Storage Lot, Resold out of State

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Somewhere, among hundreds of thousands of Volkswagen and Audi vehicles that were bought back by the automaker under terms of the diesel emissions scandal settlement, at least 69 have gone astray. The cars were supposed to have been stored in the parking lot of the abandoned Pontiac Silverdome football stadium in Michigan with thousands of others awaiting an emissions fix. Instead of sitting near the former home of the NFL Detroit Lions, these TDI-badged cars wound up with fake Michigan titles, parked near a used-car dealer in Kentucky and at a wholesale auction in Indiana. At least one even made its way to a consumer. The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office in Michigan is trying to figure out how this happened.

“It’s still kind of a work in progress to determine whether they were taken from the lot [at the Silverdome],” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard told Car and Driver. “Did they even make it to the lot in the first place? Was there inside involvement?”

In other words, the idea that the cars were lifted at some point in the buyback process, rather than having been stolen directly from the Pontiac lot, is an angle police are at least considering. The sheriff’s office also is trying to determine how the fraudulent titles were created. “It’s just a complex situation,” Bouchard said.

Volkswagen had first approached a sheriff’s substation in the county seat of Pontiac and said that it suspected nine cars were missing, Bouchard related. As the auto-theft unit got involved, it discovered more vehicles unaccounted for among the approximately 8700 TDIs that were supposed to be at the blighted stadium site.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Jerry Goodin said at least 32 of the missing vehicles came through southern Indiana, where 12 were recovered at a Manheim auction lot in Clarksville, Indiana, just north of Louisville, Kentucky. Goodin said a “vast majority” of those 32 cars have been located. Bouchard said about a dozen cars had already been auctioned; at least one made it to a dealer and then to an unfortunate consumer, whose stolen TDI legally belongs to Volkswagen. Bouchard noted that in that situation, there is still the question of “who ends up getting stuck with the bill.” A Volkswagen spokesperson said in an email that the company cannot comment on the ongoing investigation.

About 45 miles from Clarksville, in Radcliff, Kentucky, nine of the diesel vehicles were reportedly towed from a lot situated between an abandoned carwash and a used-car shop called Last Stop Auto. Lawyers for the dealer told WDRB in Louisville that the business bought the cars for $11,000 from a Michigan-based supplier and sold them at auction for about $18,000. The lawyers said the dealer did not know they were stolen.

WDRB also reports that 15 TDIs already sold through Manheim went to dealers in California, Georgia, and Illinois. Bouchard said his office is aware of cars making it to Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, and Wisconsin.

Volkswagen has been storing TDI vehicles in different parts of the country as it works through its diesel emissions settlement. The German automaker admitted in September 2015 to using software to trick U.S. emissions tests in the 2009-2015 Audi A3s and VW Beetle, Golf, Jetta, and Passat TDI cars with 2.0-liter diesel engines. Some 475,000 of those cars, plus more than 83,000 3.0-liter Audi, Porsche, and VW vehicles from the 2009-2016 model years, are involved in the scandal; see our master post for the full list.

As of June, Volkswagen has bought back about 275,000 of the 2.0-liter TDI vehicles as part of a $14.7 billion settlement with U.S. federal agencies. The company has agreed to buy back almost 20,000 older 3.0-liter TDI vehicles and to modify emissions systems for about 60,000 newer 3.0-liter vehicles as part of a similar, $1.2 billion settlement. Some 2015-model TDIs have been modified and put back on sale at dealers, and we hear they’ve been doing quite well.

Older cars, the ones with the so-called Gen 1 engine, are still awaiting final approval of a repair plan before they can be resold. They make up a majority of the bought-back cars, and they’ve been sitting in holding areas-such as the Silverdome-where Volkswagen has been keeping them regularly maintained. Some higher-mileage cars will be scrapped, but the ones that are resold could command decent prices at wholesale and retail.

“Enough people out there still like the diesel, and the other thing is, it’s all a game of supply and demand,” Anil Goyal, an analyst for Black Book, said of the already fixed 2015 TDIs that have been selling so far. “The other manufacturers have shied away from diesel, especially in sedans, and so Volkswagen Group is still the name in town, at least in the U.S., for diesels.”