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Volkswagen To Buy Back Diesel Engine Cars With Emissions Software


The other big car company in the news this week is Volkswagen. If everything goes the way it's supposed to, that company will start buying back hundreds of thousands of its own diesel engine vehicles this fall. These are the cars that came with software designed to cheat on emissions tests. That means VW stands to own a lot of used cars, and now it has a big incentive to figure out how to fix those cars' emissions. That incentive is this. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, said if VW doesn't fix them, they will be scrapped. NPR's...


GINA MCCARTHY: These are not going to be shipped elsewhere in their current form. This is about taking care of the air pollution that was emitted here in the U.S., but we are not shipping that air pollution elsewhere.

MCEVERS: NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports on what's likely to happen to all those cars.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Cynthia Giles says there's almost no way to estimate how many of the bought-back cars will end up as scrap.

CYNTHIA GILES: This is the first of the buyback that we have ordered, so this deal is unprecedented.

NOGUCHI: Giles is assisted administrator for enforcement at the EPA and worked on the settlement proposal. She says for starters, Volkswagen still has to propose a plan for how it will re-engineer its engines to fix the emissions problems, then that plan must win approval from federal and state regulators.

Nearly half a million current owners will have to decide whether to fix or sell back. VW has promised to buy back or fix 85 percent of the 2-liter diesel engine cars. It will also have to decide what to do with the cars it repurchases because VW hasn't announced what the fix might be. It's impossible to know what it might cost. Giles says the EPA wants to minimize waste.

GILES: We encourage the maximum amount of recycling for the vehicles that they repurchase for those that are not fixed. And we explicitly say that the resale of parts from those vehicles is OK, except, of course, for the parts that were involved in the emissions problem.

NOGUCHI: Alberto Ayala is deputy executive director of the California Air Resources Board which helped find the original cheating mechanism that led to the unmasking of VW. Ayala says the settlement was designed to be as clear as possible. Consumers will need to know exactly what the fix is, how it might affect the car's performance, driveability or gas mileage. But the settlement was designed, he says, so Volkswagen would still have a financial incentive to fix the bulk of the cars so they could still be used.

ALBERTO AYALA: You know the company was interested in coming up with a technical solution because they see a remaining value in those vehicles.

NOGUCHI: Ayala says preliminary proposals would cut back the problem cars' emissions by up to 90 percent. If that's achieved, he says, he doesn't see why they can't avoid the junkyard. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Science Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She started covering consumer health in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on everything from vaccination and racial inequities in access to health, to cancer care, obesity and mental health.