The ongoing brand crisis involving Volkswagen and specifically its customers and dealers over the diesel engine emissions alteration admission continues to take on new dimensions.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that VW dealers across the U.S. are fuming regarding the receipt of specific guidance  regarding the estimated 12,000 diesel powered autos that they are not allowed to sell. These unsold and currently prohibited stop-sale vehicles have been sitting in lots for over 10 months while VW and U.S. regulators traverse a legal process for determining next steps. According to this report, U.S. VW dealers are now sitting on approximately 107 days of finished goods inventory of which 12 percent represent currently non-saleable models.

Not wanting unsellable inventory to be clearly visible, many dealers have reverted to moving stop-sale inventory onto adjacent or off-site storage lots. While VW is currently compensating dealers for additional financing and needs for periodic servicing of this large amount of unsold and un-positioned inventory, dealers are not apparently making up the difference in new sales volume because of a lack of new saleable inventory. The long awaited family-sized sport-utility vehicle is not expected to be introduced in the U.S. until early 2017 while anew Alltrack small station wagon is due to be introduced in the next several months adding to dealer frustrations for more models to sell. Plans are very unclear as to whether the new family-sized SUV model will be offered with any diesel powered options as previously planned.

Last week, California regulators rejected a proposed VW fix for cars with the larger 3.0 liter diesel power plant. VW executives indicate that they have a fix related to the 2.0 liter diesel engines but regulators also need to approve this process as well.

In its report, the WSJ quotes one specific VW dealer executive as indicating that the scandal, compounded by the current glut of unsaleable inventory has soured his view of VW senior management. This executive further indicates that VW should take the unsold diesel vehicles back to Germany or some other location in the world where they can comply with emission standards.

On Friday, VW U.S. executives met with 150 Northeast U.S. dealers to review what was termed as a TDI Settlement Program, and pledged  additional compensation to dealers. While the details of such restitution still are not known it was the first time that VW indicated that the dealers themselves will receive direct compensation.

A detailed timeline was reportedly outlined regarding the proposed buyback and repair program across the U.S., one that is expected to extend through the end of 2018.  According to a subsequent report from the WSJ, a software fix would be made available for third-generation diesels by October, followed by a combination hardware and software fix for first-generation diesels beginning in January 2017, and a software update for second-generation diesel powered vehicles in February 2017. VW further indicated that it expects to have a hardware fix ready for third-generation diesels by October 2017.

This overall timeline, if approved by U.S. regulators will affect the nearly 500,000 existing diesel powered vehicles now on U.S. roads in addition to the unsold inventory of 12,000 vehicles.  Thus, it is more than likely that U.S. VW dealer service teams will be very, very busy over the coming months and years. However, VW continues to decline media outlets regarding any specifics related to overall time lines or specific restitution for its dealers. The WSJ report also indicates that for consumers electing to sell their vehicles back to VW, a “third-party settlement specialist” would be inserted to act as an intermediary and direct communicator with dealers.

There is little doubt that U.S. VW dealers face a service management crisis, one that will tax both aftermarket and pre-sales service business segments.

As noted in previous commentaries, VW continues to experience painful lessons regarding its ongoing emissions scandal. A company noted for a somewhat tops-down management style and an engineering-driven culture and among one of the two top global producers will learn some tough lessons as a result of this scandal. The most important when all the dust settles, will be more sensitivity to customer, market and dealer network needs along with implications of being afoul to governmental emission standards.

Once again, all of these challenges in the months to come demand that VW executives move decision-making beyond the halls of Wolfsburg with more emphasis on major geographic based leadership such as VW U.S. The supply chain implications alone place a major emphasis on service management and responsiveness or risk even more erosion to the brand and to customer loyalty. VW needs to think more boldly and more creatively to address fixing the current challenges with non-conforming diesel powered vehicles including the need for augmented resources.

Bob Ferrari

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