Thousands of VW’s continue to await their fate at Pikes Peak International Raceway
Everyday Ben Wiggins makes his commute from his home in Pueblo to Colorado Springs where he works as a car dealer. It was mid-January when he started to notice an influx of cars at the Pikes Peak International Raceway in Fountain.
“It was a Monday or a Tuesday, but I’m pretty sure it was Monday and I saw hundreds of cars in the parking lot,” Wiggins, 52, said. “I’m not an avid race fan, but I go to the raceway now and again for a change of pace…even I knew there was no way an event was happening in January on a weekday. It seemed very strange.”
What was strange almost nine months ago has become commonplace for Wiggins and commuters along the southern portion of I-25 as they pass PPIR. Since Volkswagen went through the 2015 public relations nightmare dubbed “Dieselgate”, the German automaker has been doing all it can to save face. The scandal was tied to the “defeat devices” built in VW’s “Clean Diesel” line of vehicles with 2.0-liter TDI engines. Approximately 600,000 of those vehicles, which included well-known VW models such as Jetta, Golf, Beetle and the Audi A3, were sold between 2009 and 2014. Each was equipped with a “defeat device” designed to beat U.S. emissions tests.
In 2015 Volkswagen admitted that the cars were sold with illegal software programmed to turn on emissions controls during government lab tests and turn them off during normal driving. Investigators determined that the cars emitted more than 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide, which can cause respiratory problems in humans. The scheme reportedly lasted for seven years before independent researchers reported it to government regulators.
As a result of those findings, Volkswagen agreed to pay more than $15 billion (the initial amount of $14.7 was incremented as another 85,000 vehicles with 3.0-liter V6 engines were also impacted) to settle criminal and civil claims making it by far the largest auto-scandal settlement in the U.S. On a global scale VW is spending more than $20 billion to cover the cost of 11 million vehicles worldwide.
“We take our commitment to make things right very seriously and believe this agreements are a significant step forward,” said Volkswagen’s chief executive officer, Matthias Müller at the time of the settlement. “We know that we still have a great deal of work to do to earn back the trust of the American people.”
A visual of just how much work is left to be done can be seen at PPIR where thousands of cars still fill the parking lot in a make-shift storage as they still await a mostly undecided fate. The 2015 scandal has led VW to offer to buy back or fix the vehicles in which the “defeat device” was implemented. As of the most recent data released through Consumer Reports about 275,000 current and former VW owners have taken the company up on the buyback offer and those vehicles are being stored in temporary lots around the country, such as PPIR.
“It’s a bit of an eyesore,” Wiggins said. “Not that the raceway was like some gem in the desert to begin with, but now it kind of looks like a giant used car lot and - as someone who works at a car dealership - I can tell you that people don’t tend to find beauty in a giant used car lot.”
As for when the temporary lots around the nation will once again just become regular parking lots, that information is more difficult to come by. Neither the German automaker nor PPIR have commented on how long the lots will exist as the fate of the vehicles in question remains unanswered.