L.A. Auto Show: VW, Porsche, Audi Execs Address Diesel Emissions Scandal

Audi Electric - H 2015
Michael Walker

Audi Electric - H 2015

The ongoing scandal clouded new model introductions by VW, Porsche and Audi.

Executives from Volkswagen and VW-owned Audi and Porsche had plenty of good news to share at the 2015 L.A. Auto Show, which opened to the public on Friday.

VW earlier this year displaced Toyota as the world's top automobile brand, while Porsche and Audi are on track to set sales records for 2015. Audi's R8 supercar was featured prominently in Avengers: Age of Ultron, which grossed more than $450 million at the U.S. box office and is the No. 2 movie of 2015.

Then came this autumn's diesel emissions scandal.

In September, Volkswagen admitted it had gamed the software controlling TDI diesel engines used in millions of cars so that the engines would comply with U.S. emissions standards while being tested but spew several times the allowed levels of nitrogen oxide when driven. The scandal spread to Porsche and Audi after testing revealed TDI engines used in several Audi models and Porsche's popular Cayenne SUV were also affected. VW rescinded its No. 1 sales position to Toyota in October.

In previous years at the L.A. Auto Show, Volkswagen, like other carmakers, could be counted on to mount splashy parties — last year, Audi rented a private residence in the Hollywood Hills' trendy Birdland neighborhood expressly to unveil its Prologue concept sedan, which perched on a deck overlooking the lights of L.A. while cocktails and champagne flowed.

But this year, with the diesel scandal still unresolved, VW, Porsche and Audi kept a low profile while archrival Mercedes-Benz feted guests at Wolfgang Puck's Cut steakhouse in Beverly Hills and Hyundai threw a bash at the the Hotel Figueroa featuring Kool & the Gang and an open bar.

VW's brands opened their respective press conferences at the Los Angeles Convention Center this week with somber apologies from top executives. The mea culpas, a remarkable departure from the usual auto show tub thumping, were necessary, a VW insider confided to THR, to address "the elephant in the room."

So it was that Scott Keogh, Audi of America's ordinarily affable president, solemnly intoned to journalists that "the rigor that has made Audi the great brand that it is, is the exact same energy and rigor we will put into resolving this issue."

Over at Porsche's elegant, showroom-like display, former North American chief Detlev von Platen announced that Porsche was temporarily suspending sales of the diesel-powered version of its best-selling Cayenne SUV until the emissions issue was resolved.

"I want to tell you Porsche takes this very seriously," von Platen said. "We are fully cooperating with the EPA to clear up all the facts without reservation."

Finally, Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn gave a lengthy, sometimes rambling recount of the scandal and VW's attempts at "making things right," including a $1,000 goodwill package that Horn said 120,000 VW TDI owners had already accepted as recompense. 

"We need a remedy for our customers, our dealers and the American people," Horn said. "We are committed to doing what is necessary as we work on remedies to satisfy our customers and the government."

The L.A Auto Show runs through Nov. 29.