It appears that Volkswagen might have been up to some shenanigans as of late — or, at least, the narrative around its EV sales in Europe has been misleading.
The best place to start the story is perhaps with a Greenpeace report late last year, which called out Volkswagen for sluggish ID.3 sales (the report was published in German in December 2020). Among other things, the report indicates that secret shoppers at 50 Volkswagen dealerships should have been perfect customers to sell an ID.3 to, but the secret shoppers were recommended the ID.3 in only 8 conversations, versus a fossil fuel vehicle being recommended 27 times. The report also found that a large portion of the registered (aka “sold”) ID.3 electric cars were still owned by the manufacturer or its dealers — 24% of them across Europe and 35% of them in Germany.
Greenpeace explained that In Germany, the share of own registrations was 35 %!
The VW Group sells more than 90% climate-damaging diesel & gas engines & has formed a pool with smaller manufacturers of EVs in order to be able to reduce the average emissions of newly sold cars
— Alex (@alex_avoigt) February 13, 2021
Greenpeace stated that, “A particularly large number of ID.3s, VW’s electric flagship, remained in the group’s possession.”
It has been reported that Volkswagen has been selling these new EVs like hotcakes. But do they count as sales when they are to themselves?
Last month, Jessica Meckmann noticed something strange as well, which just backs up the issue above. The Volkswagen ID.3 was supposedly the third most sold EV in Switzerland in Q4 2020. It had 698 registrations. But the number of ID.3s that were available for sale on AutoScout was 392. This is more than 50% of all ID.3s, all brand new vehicles, for sale on just one online auto sales website.
— Jessica Meckmann 👀 (@meckimac) January 20, 2021
This was back in January. Jessica posted another update in early February, below, and the number of available vehicles for sale on AutoScout was significantly higher.
— Jessica Meckmann 👀 (@meckimac) February 6, 2021
As is well known, Volkswagen was producing as many ID.3s last year as humanly possible due to the new EU carbon emissions rule, and every BEV “sold” saved Volkswagen from over €10,000 in fines. “What they seemed to have done is just moving them to dealerships instead of selling them to customers,” Jessica told me. “I barely see any ID.3 on our roads here in Switzerland, but there are 461 to be found for sale online.”
After Greenpeace investigated the sales efforts of the ID.3, the organization wrote about “sluggish sales of the ID.3 to private individuals in national-wide test talks and uncovered a lack of sales incentives and inadequate training for sale people.”
European auto expert Jose Pontes of EV Volumes (and CleanTechnica) talked to CleanTechnica a bit about this. He indicated that it is in fact legal to do this, adding that it is “a bit like how US dealerships work.” That is true, but it’s also an abnormality for the European market, one stimulated purely by European regulations and a supply–demand mismatch at the end of the year that would have left automakers paying huge fines if they didn’t find a way to “sell” a large number of EVs to … no one … at the end of the year. “Yep, it might not be 100% ethical, but it’s legal,” Jose added.
So, Volkswagen’s much heralded success in selling a high number of electric vehicles in Europe in 2020 is apparently misleading. Many of those sales were just “sales” to dealers that would need to lead to actual customer sales later on (in 2021). The booming ID.3 launch was not as spectacular as it was often made out to be. Will Volkswagen find enough actual buyers in 2021 to meet its requirements, or will it sell a bunch of EVs to itself again in December 2021 and push them off onto customers gradually in 2022?
Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess may care about the EV transition enough to meet up with Elon Musk and talk a great talk about Volkswagen’s EVs and such, but the end-of-2020 shenanigans to avoid paying fines for having a dirty fleet are telling a different story. Diess and crew need to find much better ways to sell a large number of EVs in 2021 and beyond or their accounting tricks are going to get more and more difficult. Perhaps they could start with polices that require dealers to try a little harder to understand and sell electric vehicles. If dealers don’t make nearly as much money selling an EV rather than a diesel or petrol vehicle, then they need to be incentivized and trained differently.
Let us know if you find out anything more about these self-registrations. We hear that this is not the only company that engaged in such practices at the end of 2020, but Volkswagen is the largest/most notable to do so, especially given its big ID electrification campaign. What’s the solution? Or will the market work itself out in this regard?