Volkswagen AG's "goodwill gesture" of $1,000 worth of gift cards to owners of cars with engines that pollute more than the law allows is helping the company identify those autos when it comes time to fix them, Audi of America President Scott Keogh said Tuesday.
VW is offering owners of diesel-powered cars with 2.0-liter engines under investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a prepaid Visa gift card worth $500. The owners would also get $500 in dealership credits and three years of free roadside assistance.
By offering the gifts, VW is not only trying to strengthen its customer relations, it's acknowledging how difficult it can be to get car owners to respond to recalls. In most cases, automakers are lucky to get half of the owners go to dealerships even for safety-related repairs.
"This is only an initial step, but clearly an important one," Keogh said in a speech on the eve of the Los Angeles Auto Show. "Additionally, this goodwill package gives us a chance to locate many of the affected vehicles and their owners. By getting people to raise their hand and engage now, we can be as effective as possible once we have the remedy."
Audi has only one model, the A3, that's offered with the four-cylinder diesel engine that Volkswagen has admitted employed a so-called defeat device to trick emissions tests. The parent company faces a Friday deadline to present a fix for the cars to California regulators. The automaker will present German authorities with a remedy on Monday, said a person familiar with the plans, who asked not to be identified because they aren't public.
The EPA said it has identified similar software in the larger, six-cylinder diesel engine that's used in several Audi models. The company denied that the engine uses a defeat device, but the Audi, VW and Porsche brands have halted the sale of those models for now.
While diesel engines have been important to the company's fuel economy strategy, they account for only 6 percent of the Audis on the road, he said. Indicating a future more reliant on electric-drive autos, Keogh said that on Wednesday he will reveal the A3 e-tron, the brand's first plug-in hybrid. He cited electric-drive cars as vital to the industry's future along with connected and self-driving technology.
For now, he said the company is building for the future while it addresses the sins of the recent past.
"We will solve the TDI problem," he said, referring to the diesel engine line. "We aren't ducking."