ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — University of New Mexico freshman Alice Vernon bought her very first car this summer, a gleaming white diesel-powered Volkswagen Jetta.
“I thought it would be economically speaking a good car that would last me a long time and get me really good gas mileage,” said Vernon.
She is making payments toward the $21,000 basic model she purchased, and is frustrated by the manufacturer’s admission it installed software that enabled the cars to run cleaner during emission tests than under driving conditions.
Researchers at West Virginia University found the engines released much higher levels of the smog-producing pollutant nitrogen oxide when on the road.
The emissions cheating scandal has rocked the German company to its foundations, with investigations, fines and even criminal prosecutions possible in multiple jurisdictions around the world.
The issue potentially affects around 500,000 diesel-powered cars sold in the U.S., including the Jetta, Golf, Beetle, Passat and Audi 3 models made between 2009 and 2015.
“I thought I picked a good safe car, and hearing that it has a lot of hazardous waste, it really puts a damper on things,” Vernon said.
Meanwhile, a Santa Fe law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against Volkswagen of America and two Albuquerque auto dealerships over revelations that Volkswagen rigged its 2.0L TDI Diesel engine to pass Environmental Protection Agency emission tests.
While dozens of other lawsuits have been filed since the allegations – which Volkswagen has admitted to – came to light earlier this month, Santa Fe attorney John Day says the one filed by his firm, Egolf + Ferlic + Day LLC, is the first one filed in New Mexico.
Randy Price, dealer principal at University Volkswagen Mazda, said the dealership was caught by surprise when the Volkswagen news surfaced.
“We had no forewarning that this was going to happen,” Price said.
Diesel models account for about 20 percent of the roughly 130 Volkswagens the dealership sold in 2014. Price said the dealership has been getting up to a dozen calls a day from buyers, mostly those like Vernon who purchased their cars in recent months.
“Most people have been really understanding that we’re going to fix it,” Price said.
He said the dealership is compiling an email list of those who call and will send them information when it becomes available from the manufacturer. Meanwhile, the dealer has about 20 of the diesel-powered vehicles that VW has instructed it not to sell.
At Uptown Volkswagen, General Manager Scott Lewis said he, too, is waiting for the manufacturer to determine how the fix will be handled.
The dealership is one of several owned by the Garcia Automotive Group, and Lewis emailed a statement from company President Edward T. Garcia, which said the dealership shared customers’ concerns.
“We understand that the factory is cooperating with official emissions investigations and is working with government authorities on a remedy. We as a dealer have no defined authority regarding any remedy at this time, and we have no present details as to the form any remedy may take,” the statement said.
In a speech to VW managers in Germany on Monday evening, newly appointed CEO Matthias Mueller said customers will be informed in the coming days if their vehicles need work and that authorities will be presented with “technical solutions” in October.
Price ventured that the remedy would probably be a form of software modification similar to the way computer manufacturers update operating systems.
Paul Crespin, manager at Foreign Aide Auto Parts & Services in Albuquerque, which services a small percentage of diesel-powered Volkswagens and Audis, speculated that the fix could affect performance. “People that purchased those vehicles purchase them for economy and performance,” Crespin said, “Right now they are running a little richer; they’re getting more fuel. If you cut the amount of fuel, it will cut the performance and will cut the emissions.”