Today marks the initial formal settlement by Volkswagen with U.S. based regulators regarding approximately 500,000 U.S. vehicle owners of two liter diesel engines as a result of the emissions cheating scandal. The financial settlement amounting to more than $15 billion, ranks as one of the highest ever incurred on an automotive manufacturer, a new industry milestone. It further represents what could be one of the largest vehicle buyback offers in U.S. history, one that we believe will test reverse supply chain processes.

Today’s settlement adds additional challenges for VW in its efforts to move beyond this emissions scandal. They include continued damage to brands because some consumers feel deceived and continued heartburn for existing VW dealers and retailers in selling what remains of existing gasoline powered vehicles.

Of the $15 billion total, a little over $10 billion is set aside in a civil settlement to offer vehicle buybacks and additional cash settlements to owners of existing vehicles that were implicated in the software manipulation of diesel powered emissions while $5 billion in allocated to offset excess diesel emissions and eventually boost efforts for new green energy and zero emissions vehicles by VW.

Yet remaining to be eventually settled is the issue of 85,000 4.0 liter diesel powered vehicles involving other primarily Audi and Porsche brands.

According to various published reports, existing owners of 2009-2015 affected vehicles will receive direct compensation of at least $5000 along with the estimated cash value of the impacted vehicles. Prior owners are expected to receive half the compensation of current owners while leased vehicles will also be included in some form of financial settlement. Buybacks are not expected to begin until October at the earliest, pending final judicial approvals of the settlements.

The company faces other fines involving governmental or civil settlements both in the U.S. and other countries as a result of the incident. According to Reuters, regulators will not immediately approve fixes for all three generations of polluting 2009-2015 vehicles. There are still open questions as to whether these vehicles can be economically and logistically repaired.  That opens the potential for a significant reverse supply chain challenge to move such vehicles to recycling or environmentally safe disposal channels.

As noted in our Supply Chain Matters commentary last September, Volkswagen runs the risk of losing the trust and loyalty of its U.S. and global customers if this crisis is not proactively managed. Thus far, it would seem that VW management is trying to move forward in settlements and in executive leadership changes but much more work remains. Many other ongoing supply chain and product related challenges remain as well.

One relates to the inventory of unsold diesel cars that now have had their U.S. and European sales suspended. That adds to the recycling and reverse supply chain challenges. If VW elects to repair or refit some of the diesel powered fleet, there are challenges related to who performs these services, how will compensation be administers and where the refits will be performed.

It is no secret that Volkswagen has struggled with its vehicle line-up for the U.S. market, including a market competitive and fuel efficient mid-sized SUV which was initially promised for 2016 market entry. That model availability problem has become much more complicated and may force VW to reach out to other manufacturers to fill-in holes in the model line-up.

VW continues to learn financially 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 and market needs along with implications of being afoul to governmental emission standards. Now, more than ever in the company’s history, VW needs to take an industry leadership role in alternative powered and green energy powered vehicles.

All of these present a difficult set of challenges in the months to come, when that demands that VW executives move beyond the halls of Wolfsburg.

Bob Ferrari

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