HERNDON, Virginia — As most major automakers enjoyed a double-digit surge in U.S. sales last month, Volkswagen, embroiled in a diesel emissions scandal, managed to eke out a modest 0.56 percent increase over September 2014.
But VW's September sales of 26,141 units represented a 19 percent drop from August 2015 and a 16.5 percent decrease from July. Year-to-date sales totaled 264,215 vehicles, compared to 270,874 last year at this time.
And since the emissions debacle just broke in mid-September, it's possible that the German automaker has yet to feel its full impact on U.S. sales.
On Friday, September 18, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent notice to Volkswagen that its 2.0-liter diesel engine, used since 2009 in some models of the Audi A3, Volkswagen Beetle, Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen Jetta, and since 2014 in Volkswagen Passat models, violates U.S. emissions regulations.
The EPA charged that the engine is controlled by software that senses when emissions testing is taking place and alters its running characteristics to allow the vehicle to meet regulations. Once testing is complete, the software automatically reconfigures engine management to improve performance at the expense of fuel economy.
As a result, said the EPA, the affected models "emit nitrogen oxides, or NOx, at up to 40 times the standard." The EPA noted that NOx pollution is linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Within days Volkswagen admitted that it had doctored the diesel engines, announced that about 11 million vehicles were affected worldwide and halted further sales of those models. Within a week, the scandal resulted in the resignation of the company's CEO, Martin Winterkorn, and caused VW stock to begin to plummet.
While other manufacturers reported their significant gains for September, Volkswagen took comfort in its 0.56 percent U.S. sales increase and called attention to the fact that the Golf family of vehicles delivered 5,251 units last month and the Tiguan SUV accounted for 2,972 units, both increases over the prior year.
"We would like to thank dealers and customers for the support of the Volkswagen brand," said Mark McNabb, CEO of Volkswagen of America, in a statement. "Volkswagen will continue to work diligently to regain trust and confidence in our brand."
Edmunds says: As Volkswagen and the EPA deal with the emissions debacle, its impact on consumer opinion, as well as sales results, may be just beginning.