Lost in the flurry of corporate malfeasance and consumer outrage over the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal is another victim -- the Volkswagen dealer.
Neither employed by Volkswagen nor legally liable for the auto manufacturer's misdeeds, VW dealers find themselves caught in the middle. The product they sell is tainted, and the consumers they serve are furious, while the world waits to learn what the car company will do to resolve the problem.
"Our dealers don't manufacture Volkswagens, they sell them," said Brian Maas, president of the California New Car Dealers Assn., which represents 50 VW dealers across the state. "They have worked hard to build their brand and customer loyalty but have been harmed by the dishonesty of their own business partner, VW."
Following an independent investigation, Volkswagen has admitted installing "defeat devices" in as many as 11 million diesel engines in model year 2009 to 2015 Golf, Passat, Beetle and Jetta cars. The engines are also in some Audi A3 vehicles. The devices enabled the cars to pass emissions tests while, in normal operation, spewing 40 times more than the legal amount of pollution-causing nitrogen oxide.
The result has been a total freeze on all new and some used VW diesel-engine cars. The Environmental Protection Agency has refused to certify the 2016 line of Volkswagen diesels, and the company has issued a stop-sell order to its dealers, preventing them from selling new diesel cars and certified used ones.
The problem is nationwide, as is the dealer discomfort with having to wait until Volkswagen finds a fix for the diesel problem and issues a product recall. After that happens, VW dealers will perform the recall work and get the affected automobiles legally back on the road. Until then, they are stymied.
"Volkswagen's acknowledged misconduct regarding its vehicle emissions has been extremely disappointing, and dealers are deeply concerned about how this breach of trust will affect their customers," said Charles Cyrill, spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Assn., which represents 16,000 new car and truck sales entities. "Dealers stand ready to perform recall work and do whatever they can to help affected customers deal with the fallout from Volkswagen's egregious misconduct."
The independent national used car chain CarMax said there were several hundred of the affected vehicles in its inventory of approximately 50,000 used cars in its network.
"We are currently evaluating the situation and have not been provided any direction from federal or state regulators," a spokesman for the company said.
Individual dealers contacted were wary, and reluctant to speak publicly about the matter.
One who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was glad the emissions problem had not resulted in any deaths or injuries, unlike recalls issued in recent years by Toyota and General Motors. But he said he hoped people understood that dealers didn't cause the diesel problem.
"Unlike the runaway Toyotas or the GM ignition switches, no one has died because of this problem -- and people seem to forget that," said the manager of a prominent Southern California VW dealership. "They also seem to forget that we are not Volkswagen. We're just a franchise of the mother ship."
Los Angeles attorney Christian Scali, who has represented car dealers in class action lawsuits in the past, said there may be legal recourse for VW franchises hurt by the diesel deception.
"If this was intentional wrong doing by Volkswagen, they are going to have to be accountable to the government, the public and the dealerships," Scali said. "The dealers would have a right to sue Volkswagen just as the public does."